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December 2005 Willies Workbench 4x4 Jeep Story

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on December 1, 2005
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The story I'm about to tell you is true. Only the names have been eliminated to protect the innocent/guilty. I know what you're thinking-stories that start out like this, or with "honest, this is a true story" usually have been embellished to some degree. While this event happened some time ago, the facts I'm presenting are actually true, at least in my mind anyway.

It was truly one of those beautiful cold but clear spring days. A perfect day to go four-wheeling. Problem was my main four-wheeling rig was in the process of a transmission swap. My backup was waiting for some new springs, and the daily driver didn't have a front driveshaft at the time. So I did the next best thing: (a) Told my buddy's girlfriend that it wouldn't be a very good trip, (b) told her she absolutely could not miss this chick flick, or (c) that her boyfriend needed some male bonding. Actually, I don't remember what I told her but whatever it was, it worked, and I had a ride: a nice shiny black CJ-7 well equipped with all the necessary goodies.

Now, if you're used to driving, riding is strange. Everyone's driving style is a bit different, and at first I was trying to brake and clutch with imaginary pedals, but after a while I settled into his driving style and just enjoyed the ride.

We were in a semi-desert area with long rolling hills free of any obstacles. Coming up one of these that was about half mile long, my driver stopped just before the crest and got out of the Jeep-he wanted to check the other side before dropping over. With the sun shining through the side window, I nodded in agreement but stayed put, enjoying the warmth. I heard him put the parking brake on, but for whatever reason, he put the transmission in Neutral and left the motor running. Within 15 seconds of his exit, I heard the familiar click of the emergency brake releasing, and down the hill the Jeep went-you got it right-backwards. My first thought was to try and put the trans in gear, but with no clutch action, these attempts only met with terrible grinding sounds as the Jeep gained momentum. I looked forward out the windshield. The ex-driver was now running frantically after the Jeep, commanding it to stop! Oh, I thought, I only wished it worked that way!

The more speed it gained, the more I began to panic. I tried to get my left foot over to the brake pedal. Yeah sure, there was just a center console, two shift levers and a dash panel in the way, plus a locked-up seatbelt that wouldn't allow my torso any forward movement. Of all things, I looked at the speedometer. Damn! Why don't those things work in Reverse? How fast are we going? As if I really needed to know how fast I was going, it was carnival-ride fast!

The ex-driver's image was growing smaller all the time. Maybe it was time to jump. I tried the door, got it open, but couldn't release the seatbelt. I don't know whether it was jammed, or if my instinct said most likely I would be killed if I jumped.

I looked behind me to see where we were heading. Naturally, down the steepest part of the hill. What's that? Off to the left it "kind of" leveled out. Now if I could just turn the steering wheel enough to get the Jeep to go in that direction without turning over ... but then again, turning over would be better now than when more speed was gained.

Success! I turned, the Jeep slowed, I turned the wheel some more, it turned some more, and momentum carried the Jeep back up the hill, and it seesawed back and forth a few times before stopping. I began breathing again. Ten minutes later, the ex-driver got to the Jeep's stopping point. His first words when he caught his breath were, "Why didn't you stop it?!"

Lessons learned? Never ride with anyone! OK, realistically, never exit a vehicle without the brake on, the engine off and the manual transmission in low gear or an auto shifter placed in Park. Always turn the front wheels so the vehicle will, if it should start rolling, move either back uphill or into a solid object. And as a last resort, find a big rock to pull behind a tire.

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