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April 2006 4xForward - Free Jeeps

Posted in Features on April 1, 2006
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Contributors: Rick Péwé

There are worse things in life that are free. But a free Jeep or any 4x4 is sometimes just that, although I have a hard time admitting it. I've been known as a Jeep junkie my whole life, and I've picked up various Jeeps around the nation for free, near free, and dirt cheap. Of course, getting them home or finding a home for those wayward Jeeps has cost me a dime or two, but usually it's worth it. But sometimes one comes along that just ain't so. However, I still haven't found one.

My buddy Mike Flores called me the other day and wondered if I needed a running AMC 304 V-8, cheap. Of course I didn't need it, but that want thing is a powerful motivator. By the time the conversation was finished I had agreed to take a '73 CJ-5 off his hands for the storage charges it was incurring in his driveway. It comes with the aforementioned 304, a clean title, a blown T-150 three-speed tranny, a Dana 20 transfer case, power steering, a Dana 44 rear, a cracked frame, drum brakes, a body mostly of rust held together with some paint, tires that shouldn't be towed down an alley much less a street, and an assortment of mice, dirt, and cobwebs. At least that's what he told me, since I hadn't seen it yet. It could be far better than the dismal representation, or (unfathomably) worse. But my curiosity was piqued, and hey, it's a free Jeep. The engine is supposed to run fine, but it won't pass Arizona smog, its home state. Since California doesn't smog pre-'75 rigs, I figured I'd be home free. So I went to see it.

It ought to be worth it, driving 400 miles to check out a free Jeep's free. Of course, I had to drive back too, so 800 miles at 15 mpg at $2.75 a gallon ran about $145, then around 50 bucks for food and beer. Three days out of the office created much negative mental stress, but was offset by the relief of being out of the office for three days, a good positive thing. But seeing this prized possession for real was the best part, or worst as the case may be. I'm sure plenty of you guys have had similar experiences, and even though this was certainly no gem, no diamond in the rough, no screaming deal, it was certainly free.

It turns out that parting out a free Jeep or any vehicle like this is worth what you put into it. By the time you fix, tear apart, cut up, advertise, throw away, or otherwise deal with any vehicle, unless it's rare or desirable, you're going to go in the hole on the deal. Sure, I could part out the rear axle, maybe the transfer case, and one taillight lens that isn't cracked. That's about all. And I'd get maybe $500 in return, after I paid another 200 bucks to travel the 800 miles and get it home on a trailer. So that's a profit of around $50, and lots of physical labor and time. Or I could rebuild the tranny with used parts, get a new clutch, get it legal to register in California with an uncracked windshield, working lights and horn, and tires that didn't have steel cord poking out. OK, that's about $1,000 more by the time it's all over, and I figure I could sell the thing for about $1,500, a clear profit of $100, not including the wear and tear on vehicles, trailers, friends, and spouses. And if it only takes a few weeks to do all that and make that profit, then that puts me at about my current salary level, so it's a win-win situation. Either way, I'd have fun doing it, whether I lost money or made money. So yes, there are worse things than free Jeeps, which would be no Jeeps at all.

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