We have all had one of those vehicles. It looked like a great idea at first. You know what we’re talking about. It was not too expensive, appeared to not have too many problems to fix, and it seemed like it could be a decent rig for the purpose it was meant to fulfill. However, all that turned into a living nightmare of sorts. Here are our “worst (most troublesome) vehicle I ever owned” stories. If you have one, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior editor, Four Wheeler
This is easy. In 1995, I purchased an ’84 Jeep Cherokee XJ, a purchase I soon regretted. In the year I owned it, the heater blower motor resistor, heater core, five-speed manual transmission, driver-door hinges, and wiper motor failed. In addition, the clutch slave and sunroof leaked. The vacuum front-axle disconnect worked when it wanted to, which was never when I wanted it to. In cold weather, the carburetor would ice-up during driving, and then the ice would melt when the 2.5L four-cylinder engine was shut off. The water would then re-freeze when the engine cooled, resulting in ice on the choke system, thus providing an inoperable choke until I opened the hood, removed the air cleaner, and freed it up.
Another of the 2.5’s memorable engine quirks was that it ran worse than it normally did when it rained or snowed, or even looked like it was going to rain or snow. Speaking of bad weather, the rear drum brakes would get super grabby when wet, which made for some interesting braking maneuvers, including a memorable 180-degree pirouette on a snowy day. Just thinking about this XJ gives me a headache.
Matt Emery, editor, Dirt Sports + Off-Road
I know that I’ve talked about my 5-1600 Baja bug before and said that it was fun to drive (and it was), but it was also jinxed and almost killed me numerous times. When I first got it, the car was a Cal bug. Lowered, with rims, it was a slot car that was a blast to drive. I worked at a restaurant, and one night it was stolen. A few days later, I got a call from Cal State L.A. asking if I was going to get my car out of there. It had been stripped. I picked it up, and on the way home I went by the LAC Sheriff’s station to tell them I had found it. However, they never took it off the computer.
Two years later, after I had turned it into the Baja bug, I was cruising down the Strip in Vegas heading toward the Mint 400, when I got pulled over. I looked in the rear view and saw a wall of guns pointed at me. It took a while to convince them it was really mine. That was the first time it tried to kill me. The second was when I crashed it, and the third was when I went back to get it from the desert. When I went back to get it with a trailer, the truck I was using to tow the trailer was two-wheel- drive and got stuck in the sand. I barely got the truck out and back home. Fun times.
Editor-in-chief, Four Wheeler
For comedic value I’d love to say the most troublesome vehicle I ever owned was something French … but unfortunately, it’s a chunk of good old-fashioned American iron. I bought my ’78 Cherokee Chief from an older gentleman who had purchased it from the original owner. The AMC 360, TH400, and BW1356 t -case had all been rebuilt at some point in time, as did the Dana 44 rear axle and one of the Dana 44 axle shafts . The glove box was stuffed full of repair receipts including a bottom-end rebuild on the short block, a head job on one side, a head gasket replacement on the other side, a transmission rebuild, a MileMarker part-time conversion in the t -case, and the aforementioned axle repairs. That’s not counting all the other small things like brakes, alternators, batteries, fuel system components, and so on. It wouldn’t be so comical if it weren’t for the fact the vehicle had about 100,000 miles on it. My dad’s Toyota Tacoma has almost 350,000 miles on the original drivetrain!
I got it home and the wiring harness smoked, which is a common occurrence for these vehicles. I completely rewired the Cherokee, replaced the water pump, fuel pump, alternator, and muffler, and then took it for its first test drive. Investigating why it pulled hard to the left revealed porosity in all the factory welds. The steering box mount was hanging by a thread, and the passenger-side front shackle hanger had snapped off, and was held on only by a rivet. I had to grind out all the factory welds and redo them. It ran for a while, but one day when coming down the mountain on which I live, the master cylinder decided to quit on me. The adrenaline rush was epic. The fuel tank leaked so I replaced it with a poly unit from MTS. Then that started leaking. I rebuilt the Motorcraft 2150 two-barrel, but the hard-to-source phenolic gasket crumbled when I tried to install it. That’s when I put on an Edelbrock manifold and four-barrel, but then all of a sudden it developed fuel issues – vapor lock and starvation.
I could go on and on in a never-ending saga of what’s gone wrong and what I’ve fixed. So far I’ve rebuilt or replaced every single component on it with the exception of the transmission and engine. Seeing as the driver-side head gasket just went poof the last time I drove it, I guess I’ll be diving into that soon. It’s been the biggest pile of poorly built garbage I’ve ever bought. But it’s also one of my favorite vehicles and is a labor of unrequited love, so I’ll hang on to it and keep nursing what ails it.
Technical editor, Four Wheeler The most problematic vehicle I've ever owned was a ‘75 International Harvester 150 I bought for 4-Wheel & Off-Road's 2014 Cheap Truck Challenge. I should have known better, but I thought I could get the thing to run and drive with a few new parts and a little elbow grease. I started by trying to get the IH 304ci V-8 back up and running, but eventually ended up pulling it out of the truck¬, twice. I got the engine to run, but it ran like poo and made all kinds of valve noise. To test the valvetrain oiling system, I primed the engine as anyone would with an old distributor shaft in a drill. There was no oil to the top end, so I pulled the engine to replace with a GM TBI V-8.
I then talked to an IH expert who told me that the cam had to be in just the right position to oil the valvetrain, and I probably didn’t let it run long enough the first time to get the oil up top. Somehow this guy talked me into giving the 304 another chance. The easiest way to check the engine was to reinstall it in the truck. Ugh. I got the cam all lined up per the IH expert’s advice and the 304 still would not oil well. In these engines the cam bearings can spin in the block closing off the oil passages. I assume this is what happened to the 304.
I finally solved the problem by installing the Chevy TBI V-8 as planned, but that’s not the end. First, most of the wiring in the truck was messed up. Then the alternator on the Chevy engine turned out to be junk. Last issue that plagued the truck was probably my fault. I used an old gas tank that was apparently lined with about five tons of rust. After about 30 filters, the tank still passed rusty fuel, so I sold the truck to the next guy. I hope he had better luck with it.