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Cheap Jeep

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 22, 2005
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$550 for a Jeep?!? I'll take it!

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I almost gave up on buying a heap for the 4Wheel and Off-Road Cheap Truck Challenge, (Sept. 24th and 25th 2005), but decided to spend the Sunday before the event shopping. I knew the price limit was $1,500, and even though I wanted an S-10 Blazer or Jimmy, the ones I found in the previous weeks cost nearly that much, were equipped with the small engine and had problems such as an alternator anchored by a coat hanger or a free nail in the tire. With my 4.3L dreams crushed, and a deadline less than a week away, I jumped on a 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer V8 for just $550.

The owner, David, had inherited the truck from his employer and was definitely sad when he said goodbye to this G. Wagon with more than 285,000 miles on the odometer. He said it was super-reliable, and guaranteed it could drive to Tijuana that night. Maybe it could go to TJ, but I'm not comfortable driving on tires with steel bands peeking out, so I put some air in the tires, pumped some expensive California gas in the tank and added a quart of oil at a nearby gas station before parking my first Jeep.

285,526 - don't be scared.

Before buying the FSJ, I made sure the 4-wheel drive worked, but I knew there were bound to be gremlins lurking in this SUV full of electrical devices and vacuum-operated doodads. I started taking inventory of what would need to be fixed if I was going to 'wheel with the 4WOR staff at Hungry Valley OHV during the coming weekend. Before laying down my cash, I had made sure there was no antifreeze in the oil, and that the transmission fluid was clean, so I wasn't worried about a blown head gasket or a rotten tranny, and some trips up steep city hills put my new-truck-nerves at ease. Sweet!

Experimenting with all the buttons in this once-luxo ride revealed all the power windows work except the front passenger, which runs, but doesn't move. The rear window has the same problem, it won't go all the way up and it's loose, so that will need to be fixed because I don't want it to shatter during our off-road fun, and leaving it down will invite exhaust gas into the cabin. I was surprised that the power front seats are working - but I'm not going to mess with them too much - that's just asking for trouble in a truck that's older than teen star Lindsay Lohan.

My friend Kim was skeeved-out by the grime that comes with more than a quarter million miles on the road, and insisted on cleaning the interior. She was rewarded with an allergy attack after finding evidence that dogs have been riding in the back. I'm so happy about owning my first Jeep that I could go months without cleaning the carpet and seats, but this makes a big difference in the quality of life inside the truck when the wind is whipping through three and a half windows. Thanks Kim!

After registering the G. Wagon and adding it to my insurance policy, it was time to make it 4WOR-worthy. I decided my "major" expense would be adding off-road tires. After visiting many L.A. shops that did not have aggressive tires in stock, I went to the Discount Tire Center in Tarzana. Yogi Kechejian and Azat helped me decide on some 235/75R15 Maxxis meats that fit the stock ride height with no rubbing on the fender wells or suspension for $500 - out the door. This also gave me my first chance to see the Jeep on a lift and get a better idea of the status of my Cheap Truck.

PhotosView Slideshow
Holey exhaust, Batman!
Jack Gevorkyan mounts the wheels with new tires.

I found the exhaust hole that former-owner David had told me about, and learned nothing about an oil leak. I know there is one, but there is so much sludge, it's hard to find the source - plus, I don't really care. I've been keeping an eye on the oil pressure gauge, and adding oil when needed, and even a bottle of STP Engine Stop Leak (just for fun). One of the suspension leafs is loose because its strap has slipped, and it looks like the steering tie rod is slightly bent (although this does not feel like a problem - yet).

A quick drive in a dirt parking lot has left me feeling good about almost doubling the value of my Jeep with the addition of off-road tires, and I'm still well below the Cheap Truck price limit of $1,500. As long as the drivetrain holds up during the event, I should be golden. I have only spent what I'm owed for an apartment rental deposit (c'mon Marty!), and when I look over the hood of my new toy, I see an ornament that says "Jeep."

Check the web site for updates on the first Cheap Truck Challenge "non event" this weekend at the Hungry Valley OHV in Gorman, California, then go out and build your own!!! Send pictures of your Cheap Truck and any ideas for the Cheap Jeep to me at

1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer
Stop Engine Leak
Maxxis Tires

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Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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