COAL: 1998 GMC Jimmy – What’s In A Name, Anyway?

When I last left you, the new (to us) 1994 Grand Cherokee was doing great…..but the 1991 Buick I bought secondhand in 1995 was starting to have electrical gremlins. It was Fall of 1998, our first child (now a rising college sophomore) was due any day, and we had just moved into our first home we had purchased together. My wife and I had discussed her staying at home after the birth. Not a good time to need to buy a new car.

I grew up in a town about 90 minutes away. I don’t know why, but my gut instinct was to return to the dealership there I had known for so many years. My grandmother had bought her Pontiacs there since before I was born. My mom’s 1979 240D came from there as well when new. And they also carried GMC and Subaru. A little something for everyone, I guess. And, my best friend in high school was some relation to the owner as well. So there was a comfort level there that was lacking with the dealers in the town where we were now living.


My wife was interested in the Outback wagon anyway. I guess about this time was when the Outback really was coming into it’s own….you didn’t tell people you had bought a Subaru, you told them you bought a new “Outback”. We drove down there in the Buick and test drove an Outback or two. We were very underwhelmed. It felt cheap and tinny, a real disappointment. The frameless door glass struck us as particularly odd or old-fashioned.

Full disclosure: as you will read later, we should have bought an Outback. I have kicked myself many times for not buying the Outback. I am sure it was a great car 20 years ago, but compared to the solid Jeep and the silent Buick, yes, it seemed flimsy and cheap. My parents have lately turned into Subaru fans; they have a stick shift Forester they pull behind the RV, a 2015 WRX, and a 2017 Legacy sedan. So I respect the Subaru lovers out there.

Moving past the Outback then, what was there? Well, I recall a variety of used wagons, and of course the Tahoe and GMC Suburban as they were called then. Too big and too expensive. But a new Jimmy caught our eye. It was a 1998, so it was getting past the sell-by date. The lot was already full of 99’s.

We drove it around town and it just seemed perfect. 4 doors, part time push button four wheel drive for less wear and better economy. It was an SLT trim which meant power everything, alloy wheels, and deep tint glass in the rear, but no leather, sunroof or other frippery. It did have keyless entry and factory CD, so I think that was the first such equipped car we had. The 4.3 liter V6 had plenty of power. It was quiet and softly sprung…. a little too mushy feeling when pushed, but it was certainly comfortable around town.

My one qualm was the name…what a weird name, “Jimmy”, for a car. How did they come up with that? The best answer I can find on the internet is that “Jimmy” was slang for “GMC”, kind of like “Jeep” is slang for “GP” or “general purpose”. GMC liked it and applied it first to their 1970 full size clone of the two door Chevrolet Blazer. Later, it was applied to the smaller S-15 version as well. Sounds like a plausible explanation. In 2002, the name was dropped for “Envoy”.

What color is this anyway?

I think they called the color “Pewter”, but it seemed more silver to me. It looked good, though. It was matched with one of those interiors that you can never quite tell what color it is……it looked gray until you bought gray mats, for example. So you then realize “no, I need tan mats” but when you put the tan mats in, the whole interior looks gray. It was like that, a problematic trend that continues to this day. I think “putty” is the best name I could use to describe it. It had a very 90’s random geometric kind of pattern on the seats.

Of course, our main consideration was the price. I don’t recall exact figures, but I know there was an aggressive discount and the selling price was very pleasing or my wife would not have gone along with it, and to top it off, we got $5,000.00 trade in the on Buick. That part, I don’t think I’ll ever forget! So yes, we got about what I had paid for it three years and 90,000 or so miles prior.


Life with the Jimmy started out great. Our daughter came within weeks, and I got a hard-wired phone installed in the Jimmy. Remember those? Maybe some young readers don’t; I had to make an appointment at the installation shop. It took hours, I wondered around the adjacent shopping center for what seemed liked forever. I seem to recall it also costing hundreds of dollars, but for work purposes it was worth it to me at the time. It sure worked great compared to the bag phone, with the exterior antenna and hard-wired power source.

The factory Michelin XW4’s wore out quickly (thank goodness as they were white lettered). I replaced them with a set of Michelin X-One radials, which were great. They didn’t seem to stay on the market for long, and I never understood why. They didn’t appear to wear hardly at all, and they were good in light snow too. Michelin still uses this name, but it appears to be on tractor trailer tires.

There was a small place on the roof that had weak clear coat, I guess it started as a dull area about the size of a dime and was about the diameter of a salad plate when our time with the Jimmy came to a premature end. Other than that, the Jimmy just got oil changes every 3,000 miles at the local WalMart and soldiered on.

It had a quirk, so I thought, that got worse and led to an unpleasant end to our relationship. Initially, about a year and 25,000 miles in, the gauge cluster would go dead for a few moments and then spring back to life. I didn’t think much of it, and it didn’t happen often or for long. But one night when it was about two years old, I was driving and the lights went out; ALL the lights. Headlights, gauge cluster, radio faceplate, etc. That freaked me out. I was in a rural, dark, but familiar area so I was able to pull over safely. I turned the ignition off and restarted the car; everything was fine.

A week or so later, the lights went out again. I took it to the dealer, and the warranty was out by this time, due to mileage. But, there was a campaign to replace the ignition switch so that was done for free. That, I was told, was the cause of the electrical problems.

Instead of the problem going away, it got worse. By three years of age, probably 75,000 miles or so, the gauges were again going dead and the car was stalling at occasional stop signs or lights when that happened too. I suspected the ignition switch again, so I went back to the dealer. They told me the switch would not be replaced again since I had the new redesigned switch already. That was all they could do.

Within days, I was flying down the interstate at about 70 mph when the car cut off; I looked down, and the gauges were all dead too. That was the first time it had cut off in motion like that. I was scared of the vehicle and I was furious. There was some design flaw in that switch that GM never owned up to, I believe. And of course years later they would have more dire, but similar, ignition switch problems.

I could not ever have my wife and kids (we had two by this time) in the Jimmy again. I swore that was the last GM vehicle I would ever own, and as of July 2017 I have never owned a new or used GM anything ever again.

So, I needed a new vehicle. We were building a new house, baby two (now a rising high school senior) had arrived, and my wife had not gone back to work after the arrival of the first child. Again, not good timing for a new vehicle. So if I was going to trade, I was going to make reliability one of my main considerations this time around. The SUV style suited us with the two kids and their stuff, so what reliable SUV’s were out there I wondered? I wanted something that would last YEARS, I was not one of those fools who were going to trade cars all the time.

Oh, how the best laid plans go awry, as you will see.

The Jeep was sold on to some relatives about this point in time. The next COAL and the ones that follow, were primarily my wife’s vehicles. What was I driving, then, you may ask? That’s another COAL series I’ll come back and fill in when we finish with this line-up. I’ll refer to that other series as my “beater” COALS, if that’s a hint for you.

So what car purchase do you regret the most?