COAL: 1996 GMC Jimmy – I Jump On And Then Fall Off The SUV Bandwagon

My Beretta GTZ had been an enjoyable car but going on 6 years the Quad 4 engine was starting to emit the little telltale wisps of white smoke signaling an imminent head gasket failure.  And I was getting tired of freezing in the winter when the heater put out minimal heat due to a design flaw in the cooling system.  By that time SUV’s were all the rage and GM had just launched its new and improved Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy.  It was still based on the old compact S-10 Blazer but with slick new styling replacing its blocky predecessor.  The Ford Explorer was king in this market but these updated SUV’s looked to be a worthy competitor.  

So I decided to get with the program and jump onto the SUV bandwagon.  I visited the local Pontiac GMC dealer in Ann Arbor Michigan and found an Emerald Green 4dr Jimmy in mid-level SLE trim.  When you test drive a new model vehicle, the sensory overload of the new interior, controls, and gadgets, as well as unfamiliar roads, may supersede other important evaluation points like how it drives.  That was the case for me when I took the car for a quick spin around the block and pronounced it good to go.  In retrospect I should have known better, and on future car purchases I would be much more thorough and discerning in the test drive, but not this time.   

The honeymoon period was short.  I was used to how a typical passenger car rides and handles, and was totally unprepared for the loose, jiggly, disconnected from the road feel of the BOF Blazer / Jimmy.  The 4.3L engine would emit a loud roar on first start and howl like a banshee as you pull away from the driveway, enough to wake up the neighbors and scare children. Then something closes up in the intake manifold and the engine settles down to a more normal sound.  But that first 500 feet is painfully embarrassing.  

The final straw was one day I jump into the Jimmy to run an errand, and when I swung the driver side door shut the hinge promptly broke and the door nearly came off, dangling precariously by only by the 2nd lower hinge.  I rolled down the window and stuck one arm out, clamping the door semi-closed while I slowly drove across town directly to the dealership.  That was repaired quickly but from that time on I started to despise this big, lumpy, problem-ridden beast of a vehicle, regretting this very expensive impulse purchase.  

In the 2nd year of ownership, a lady in a Beretta ran a red light and collided head-on into me and the Jimmy as I was making a left turn.  Thankfully no injuries but the damage was extensive.  Undriveable, it was towed to the dealership, where I pleaded with the insurance company to total the car and put it out of its misery.  But that was not to be; insurance decided to repair it and it would take a couple of weeks.  During that time I had the Saturn wagon which I talked about in a previous COAL.  

Jimmy back from the repair shop, with the stand-in Saturn in front

The body shop and the dealership did a good job and the Jimmy came back as good as new.  My fiancé now wife took over the car as she wanted 4wd to cope with Michigan winters.  So the Jimmy would stay in the family for the foreseeable future, faithfully doing its SUV duties.  We took it on camping trips and on one occasion the rear cargo area became our overnight shelter when the campsite was caught in a torrential downpour and we didn’t trust our tent to stay dry.  We also took it on ski trips where we finally were able to utilize its 4wd as intended, but there was that incident one time after one of Michigan’s brutal winter storms which dumped up to a foot of snow in the suburbs.  My wife and I piled into the Jimmy on a Sunday morning, switched on the four wheel drive, and made it through deserted snow covered roads to church only to find it closed with services cancelled for the day.  So we drove back home and found that the plows had come through clearing the street but leaving a large snowbank in front of our driveway.  Feeling invincible in that four wheel drive, I foolishly decided to rev up the powerful V6 and charge through that snowbank but ended up getting stuck with all 4 wheels spinning.  After about an hour of digging and rocking in front of grinning neighbors peeking from their windows (funny that none of them came out to help), I freed the beast and retreated sheepishly into the garage.

The Jimmy was a perfectly adequate road trip vehicle and big enough for IKEA and Home Depot runs.  And when baby #1 came along, the 4 doors and relatively spacious quarters were perfect for his car seat, stroller, etc etc.  So after a tough first two years, Jimmy settled down into suburban domestic duty, taking my wife to work and back, trips to Costco on weekends filling its cargo area with formula and diapers, and road trips to Columbus to visit grandparents.  


The Jimmy did its job well enough but we outgrew it when baby #2 came along.  I discovered to my dismay that it was impossible to fit two car seats in the rear side by side.  The only solution was to put them in the left and right outboard positions and squeeze the mother in law into the very uncomfortable center hump.  Clearly that was not going to work, so after 5 years it was time to move on.  Time for a (gasp) minivan.  

There was no love lost when I got rid of the Jimmy.  I never got used to its howling engine or shivery ride that felt like being on top of a bowl of Jello.  I had resolved to never ever own an SUV again, but little did I know that SUV’s/crossovers were taking over the market and pretty soon it would be difficult to buy anything but an SUV/CUV, save for a few specialty cars or outdated sedans.  So years later we tiptoed back into the market with our first crossover, a Subaru, and found the driving much more pleasant, enough to erase the unpleasant memories of driving this Jimmy.