Cars Of A Lifetime: 1991 Jeep Cherokee – Tiresome

After I got tired of the GM V6 and the limited seating in my Comanche, I put an ad in CL for it for about double what I had paid for it. One guy was very interested in it and offered to trade me some guns and some cash. But I really didn’t need any more guns.  The only other thing he had was a beat up Jeep Cherokee. It was a two door automatic and I really needed a four door manual, but he really liked the Comanche, so I figured what the heck…..

The Jeep had some of the same issues the Comanche had: bad ball joint, crummy tires, bad exhaust. But it had a few very good points on the Comanche: the engine and transmission were from a 1996 truck with low miles and it showed. It had the much better 4.0 HO straight six mated to a four speed auto, as well as a small chassis lift. It was the Laredo trim level, so it had a full time four wheel drive selection as well as two wheel high and four wheel low and high. Pretty damn handy actually.  The engine was sufficiently powerful to spin all four tires on dry pavement if one was not careful, something unheard of with the old GM V6!

The worst problem with this truck proved to be the tires and drive line. The tires looked nearly new but upon closer inspection they were found to be severely dry rotted. Deep cracks were developing all over them and belts were starting to separate. The rear drive shaft was in bad shape, as per most trucks I have owned, I took it off and sent it in to the drive shaft shop to be rebuilt and balanced. After that it felt a little better on the highway, but the steering was pretty scary with the bad ball joint.

Hunting season was coming up fast so I ordered the ball joints. They cost me six dollars a piece. One of the strengths of the Jeep Cherokee is the availability and price of parts. Around here in Northwestern Oregon they are everywhere; if it’s not a Jeep Cherokee, it’s a Toyota Four Runner or 4×4 pickup; or a Subaru wagon, followed by Ford diesel pickups and old Chevys. But I was running out of time and money for tires.

We ended up going with the rotted old tires and the bad ball joints. It was a rather white knuckled experience on the way to our hunting grounds. Oh, and I should mention, we had no spare tire so we took along our tire plug kit and little air compressor. Of course it turned out that we needed it. After our early morning hunt we returned to a flat rear tire. Luckily it was plug-able. You might ask why I would drive such a truck and take so many risks to go hunting. Well this was the first year my oldest son was able to hunt alone having gotten his hunter’s safety certification. I had promised him that we would hunt no matter what. Of course actual hunting is only a small part of what I call hunting, but for me its a great reason to tramp about in the forest.

The truck got us there; what more could one ask of a truck? A lot more really. It made me miss my old Land Rover, but it got the job done, sort of. It averaged about fifteen miles per gallon, and since Reginald had owned two similar Jeeps I knew that to be about normal. On the highway it could get up to around seventeen, unloaded. My Rover got fifteen on the highway. The Jeep was pretty capable off road but not up to the Rover’s capabilities. It was smaller and held less passengers as well. Not to mention the seats were certainly not leather. But for the equivalent of seven hundred and fifty or so bucks, it was a good deal.

We didn’t get a deer, as usual. But we did have fun.

The trip back was not as fun. Our tire started leaking again and we were forced to make a pit stop at the tire shop. They did not have our size so we had to go to another. They had it but then found out the tire they had was bad as well. So we ended up with a slightly off sized tire (not good for the differential). We attempted to go out the next weekend and got as far as the foot of the mountain. But there we found that our other back tire was going flat. The tread had started to separate causing a long rip. I put a bunch of tire plugs in it and turned around. We made it into town to find a tire shop just before closing; they didn’t have our size either, so we went to another, same story. The tire began to leak again. I put the last of my plugs in it and it stopped. We begrudgingly accepted defeat and turned homeward. I was holding the steering wheel tightly the whole way back but the tire lasted.

After that Reginald found some old tires from one of his past trucks and bequeathed them unto me. I had Ace, my oldest son pictured above, put them on. The tire shop wouldn’t do it because they were too old. So I taught him how to do it the old fashioned way with two pry bars and some soap. We used the Hi-Lift jack to break the bead. But lacking a proper air compressor,  getting the bead to seat was a different story. So I adapted the Icelandic method of using starting fluid and a match. I didn’t let Ace do that part! It’s a lot of work to do tires without a machine, but Ace got very good at it and by the last one could get it done in about fifteen minutes.

Now that we had some better tires, we had no place to go in it as hunting season was over. It became my de facto commuter car. It served OK in that role, but it wasn’t exactly fuel efficient. One day Reginald told me his friend was looking into getting a Jeep Cherokee and might want to trade for his car…..