Vacations mean many things to different people. Most people are excited to experience new places and meet new people or catch up with old people and old places. For my 12-year-old self, I wasn’t really concerned about either of those. For me, my vacation experience was directly proportional to my satisfaction with my family’s rental car. For our annual trip to Colorado, as much as I loved skiing, it could be ruined if we, heaven forbid, had a minivan for a rental. Luckily, we always rented 4x4s and a Suburban or Grand Cherokee or Durango was always our (read: my) preferred choice.
March of 2009. As a diehard Mopar fan, (owned a Liberty and Durango at this point, still have the Liberty!), I was interested in renting either a Durango (like ours at home) or Grand Cherokee or Commander. In my wildest dreams I knew that I’d die and go to Heaven if the rental was a Red Rock on tan interior Commander. Maybe a weird fantasy for a 12-year-old, but if you know Red Rock, it is a stunning red – most definitely the stuff of dreams! After arriving at the Denver airport, I could feel the hives of nervousness and excitement sprouting on my back. Judgement Day Rental Car Pickup Time had arrived. As we arrived at the Pearly Gates rental counter, I quickly surveyed the lot. They had mostly Jeeps for SUVs. Great. Splendid. Grand. Grand Cherokees. Already starting to feel a bit more relaxed, we approached the counter (with me wearing a long sleeve Jeep shirt) and they gave us a few spots to choose from. Little did I know what I was in for.
There she sat in her stunning Red Rock Metallic paint. I quickly grabbed any piece of luggage to throw in it to lay claim to it, since marking it with my pee would’ve been slightly illegal. Effective? Probably. Maybe next time. Anyway, we began our trek into the mountains with a vehicle me and my parents were ecstatic to have. They’ve been Jeep people for awhile and always loved Commanders. Just could never get the timing right for buying one. That is another story though. Anyway, we arrived at the condo and I mostly stayed out in the parking lot with it. Checking all its fluids, getting under it, reading the manual – it was my adopted baby. If I cared as much for people I’d probably have a lot more friends now.
Just look at that beauty. Commanders to this day, to me at least, are one of my top five favorite vehicles of all time. Looking back at these pictures reminds me of the sheer joy I experienced then – damn. As the trip went on, I just basked in the glory of it all. Even though I couldn’t drive it legally, I still got to drive around in the snow a bit on the back roads around the condo complex. Coming from Florida, snow was quite the novelty. Still is, even after moving to Wisconsin.
We also went to the local sledding hill. I wasn’t that interested in the sledding, but more the parking lot entrance, being a steep and snow-covered hill. No surprise the Jeep clamored to the top with nary a hiccup. I also learned that week about vehicle painting and laid down a beautiful coat of Brilliant Black paint on it. You know, just for fun. Our condo happened to have a paint booth with all the right tools to make it happen. It wasn’t much harder than checking out a movie from the main office. While one pair of underwear might be enough to last a week, it’d just be awful to go a week without repainting your rental. I will admit, one pair of underwear isn’t enough for a week (2 is usually ok) – and that isn’t the Commander we left the airport with!
One day, we set out to Leadville, CO – I’m not exactly sure why, but you could have offered to take me to the hospital for a lobotomy and I would’ve obliged since I’d be riding shotgun in the Commander. Just as we got into Leadville, my dad looks in the rear-view mirror and asks me if it snowed last night. I replied “No, why?” He said, “Well there’s something smoking or something back there.” We didn’t think much of it. About 30 seconds later, the dash was more lit up than a 70’s Eric Clapton and we coasted into a Shell Gas station. I flung the door open in shock and looked under it – we struck oil!!! We’re gonna be rich! Actually no, some engine part decided it would like to escape and decided to create a hole in the oil pan for its exit. The engine was making some awful sounds – my dad quickly moved it to the outskirts of their parking lot. We went inside and explained the situation and that we might be here awhile. We figured maybe a couple hours. The rental agency was contacted, and they said they have another Commander on the way. A couple hours turned to eight, as we got intimate with every aisle in that Shell station.
Finally, a tow truck driving angel named Eddy appeared on the horizon with a black Commander riding on the flatbed. Black on black. It’s not Red Rock on tan, but all indications were that its 5 quarts of 5W20 (should be 5W30, darn CAFE standards) were in the oil pan and not on the ground. We set off back to home base.
Upon walking around, I didn’t see a 4×4 badge. My heart sank. What the hell? I came from 2WD Jeep land and arrive to this? I crawled under it, and luckily the front differential was present and accounted for. (On a Quadra Trac I Jeep, it’s full time 4WD, no buttons or anything, so nothing inside to look at!)
Being very self-conscious, I improvised and rectified the situation. I had to redraw it a few times throughout the trip but left with my pride in check. The flame still burns for a Commander. I met two of my heros, one in Red Rock and one in Brilliant Black. That lucky Jeep shirt is still in service and providing good luck.
As a side note, I’m quite well versed in the Jeep 3.7 world (still have the aforementioned Liberty, now with 170k miles on it and I am an admin on a Jeep Liberty forum) and I have no idea what happened. 02 3.7s had valve seat issues but other than that, they really don’t have issues if they get routine oil changes and never get overheated. Being a rental, anything could have happened. I can’t recall how many miles it had, but given they were both 2008s and this was March of 2009, so they both had probably seen some beatings, sadly.