Please help a wannabe enthusiast - Long, detailed post - JeepForum.com
View Poll Results: What is the best possible decision for this situation?
Keep the Jeep and fix it now - too close to turn back now 7 87.50%
Sell it now and start fresh - headache over, problem solved 1 12.50%
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post #1 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 01:28 AM Thread Starter
NoviceOwner
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Please help a wannabe enthusiast - Long, detailed post

Disclaimer/Background: I know very little about vehicles in general, let alone Jeeps (this is my only my 3rd vehicle; only licensed for 5 years), and what I know I’ve learned primarily the past 5 weeks. I’m providing context so that the whole situation is clear, so that I get as much info as possible. Was in a serious accident (that I’m still recovering from), in which my Xterra was totaled. Purchased a private-party 2000 Cherokee Classic from Craigslist in a large city - 230 miles from where I live - (I'm in a town with pop. less than 18k) because there was nothing closer in my budget. I’m a single female new to the area with no one to help me really understand everything that needs to be checked out. I’m not helpless – I do actively try to understand, but I just don’t know car stuff well. An old friend who knows a lot about vehicles was helpful with certain things, but it was all over the phone. Anyway, decision was made to buy it based on its reputation, phone recommendations from the friend and me being between a rock and a hard place.

My test drive wasn’t thorough enough, because I didn’t take it on the e-way – now I know that's supposed to happen. After I got it and began the drive back to where I was staying I started to feel the wandering, because I was on the highway. Steering was tight in the turns but loose going straight and corrections were exaggerated. It was panic mode for 20 miles. Terrifying, especially a month after a serious accident. I was all over the city trying to fix the issue; I went to Firestone first (they said nothing was wrong), an independent shop (had serpentine belt and alternator replaced, said nothing else was wrong but I might need an alignment), then found a mobile mechanic (found out front drive shaft was missing; did a ton of work over 4 days - new radiator/hoses, coolant sys. flush, trans fluid flush, new brakes, rotors, pads, battery, u joints, and tune up). When my problem was still happening he told me it might be my steering box but suggested I take it to Sears Auto for an alignment, since he’s mobile and couldn’t. Sears said my entire front end needed replacing and an alignment wouldn’t do anything for me, so they didn’t.

So, got it towed home 200 plus miles by the mobile mechanic who repeated that it’s probably my steering box and he’d stay and do it if I payed for hotel and repairs. I said I’d figure it out at the ‘best’ shop in town. So, I finally got the steering box replaced today. Now that all is said and done, I still have the problem I wanted to be addressed most, which is the loose feeling steering. Drives/stays straighter, but the wheel feels way loose. They actually charged me more in labor for buying the exact same box myself that they would’ve from the same place for no good reason, so I have no plans returning other than for an adjustment, if that would fix it.

After reading the “Why your steering wanders” thread, it seems that there are many potential causes/fixes, but my access to someone who will be honest and not try to milk me dry seems limited. I’ve spent over 2500 in the last 5 weeks on repairs and parts (not to mention lodging during) and I STILL don’t feel like I’d be safe on the highway with it. I've been on leave from the accident but it's ending soon and my commute to work is close to 70 miles round trip, mostly on the highway. I’m incredibly frustrated and soooo close to saying to heck with it, so maybe someone can help me determine if I just need to cut my losses now (which equals selling but disclosing what I know is wrong and letting it be someone else’s project), or if I’m too close to turn back (Am I just a few minor repairs away?). I've really been through the wringer with this situation and I honestly don’t know how much more of this I can handle, so I appreciate any help.


Last edited by NoviceOwner; 02-18-2015 at 08:17 PM.
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post #2 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 05:14 AM
foreveryoung001
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First things first, stop letting these people milk you for $$$!!!! It sounds like all of these "professional" mechanics are just guessing and throwing parts at it, hoping it fixes the issue. If they won't stand behind what they do, then I don't think they are worth taking your vehicle to.

Now, having said that, I'm sorry to hear about your situation and your struggles with recovering from the accident. As the owner of a Cherokee for a little over a year (my first one), I will say that I found the steering much looser than most other vehicles I've driven. Compared to my little Honda Civic, or my wife's Oldsmobile, its down right sloppy. I changed the entire steering linkage, all the tie rod ends, drag link, etc... and it tightened up the steering a little bit, but it is still not anywhere close to my other vehicles, or even the other SUV's I drive for work. I don't know its just a Jeep thing, but I blame it on this vehicle being the only one I drive with solid front axle. That might have nothing to do with it, but its about all I can come up with.

My commute is about 20 miles one way, and since I've made this Jeep my daily driver, I've gotten used to the steering and don't even notice it anymore. The only tim it really comes in to play is when I'm driving my honda or my wife's car, and because its so much tighter, I'll tend to over steer for a bit, just making jerky turns, and nothing feels smooth, until I get used to it again.

And, if you're not going to do the work yourself, I would search out a mechanic who speak fluent Jeep. Not that they Jeep is a different language, but maybe more of a different dialect. I've had to teach myself, over the last year, how to work on my Jeep, and when I speak with mechanic friends of mine, a lot of them give me weird looks when I explain what I'm doing, or offer suggestions that might work on other vehicles, but have nothing to do with fixing Cherokees. Not that my friends are wrong, its just a little different. Even some of the parts guys I go to... I'll have to walk them through the part i want, what its called, and don't bother asking them for advice because they have no idea what I'm asking... but when it comes to my other vehicles, their knowledge base is just fine.

I know this is long and drawn out, but since your post was so detailed, I figured my response could be as well. LOL.

At this point, since you have so much sunk in to this already, I would hang on to it, but if you're not going to do the repairs yourself, first things first, find that mechanic who knows how to speak Jeep, and more specifically, Cherokee XJ. Find him/her, and I think you'll get much better results.

HEAP of JEEP on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUcYlGIMCLnUd8pWopDeb9w
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post #3 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 11:40 AM
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Honestly sounds like you need a better mechanic. Not sure what the weather's like where you're at now but I would check the obvious things first. If you have someone to help you a little, the first think I would do is check all the front end parts. Things like the track bar, ball joints, streering linkage and unit bearings. If you have someone who can can help, set the parking brake and/or chock the back wheels. Then have the other person start the jeep and and turn the wheel back and forth, lock to lock while you watch underneath. Watch for slop in the track bar especially as it's prone to wear. Bad unit bearings can cause wandering issues as well as wore out tires or tires that are worn abnormally due to alignment issues. I believe the steering box can be adjusted but I'd just about bet one of the other things I mentioned is more likely to cause problems before the box does.
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post #4 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 11:47 AM Thread Starter
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Many thanks!

Forever young - I appreciate your "drawn out" post, the insight and all the info - I prefer it that way. In talking to the mechanic today who replaced my steering box yesterday, he also said Jeeps tend to be that way. He said an alignment might help (they don't have the setup for that there), but that the minor play he noticed in the ball joints doesn't seem worth worrying about. He didn't have any other suggestions for relevant adjustments, so maybe that is the result of the vehicle type knowledge-base you mentioned. And no, I don't plan on volunteering myself for any more milking, but being new to the region and in such a low-pop area, it is difficult to find someone who knows what they're doing and is trustworthy (especially with what I've experienced so far). If I keep it, I would have to find a Jeep pro as you've suggested, hopefully less than 50 miles away. Maybe I would eventually get used to the wheel ease and feel more comfortable with it as I recover, but if it will never be too much different that's something I have to consider for the long run.
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post #5 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 12:20 PM Thread Starter
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Slayer - Agreed; a better mechanic would be a huge relief. Tires are almost entirely new with no uneven wear. Weather's good now, but my best bets for help are talking to employees at Autozone or Jiffy Lube, really. That's where I am. I did that lock to lock test with the mobile mechanic. What he did was tighten the box (as far as I know) which made it bind up. To me it felt like it still veered but there was a little less ease in the wheel and a tightness in the steering column, like resistance in the wrong place. What is "slop in the track bar" and is a track bar the axle? What does "slop" look like? My ignorance is decreasing by the day. Again, when Sears had it on the lift and I looked at it with him he said "your whole front end needs to be replaced", and when I asked what that meant he said all of it.

I'm the kind of person that needs detailed specifics and connecting information, especially with stuff I know nothing about. A front end as far as I know is all suspension related - struts, shocks, bearings etc. I need to know what to look for and good function as opposed to a bad function. When I asked to look at my old box core at the auto store, that guy said "you can't tell from looking at it that it's bad". If that's all I have to go by without mechanical knowledge, I'm S.O.L... I'm willing to see if I get used to the steering, but would prefer to actually increase steering resistance, if it's not doable I have to decide if I could feel safe in inclement weather. The thing is is that will take real expertise and finding that is the issue, along with throwing more time and money at it.
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post #6 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 12:37 PM
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By front end, he probably meant your tie rod ends, drag link, and trac bar. These are parts of your steering linkage and if they are loose, could not only make the steering feel very loose and sloppy, but could be dangerous. If a tie rod end pops loose while you're driving, you'll lose steering and be stuck until you get it towed or change it up on the side of the road (been there-done that)... but any mechanic worth his salt should have known to check these, and known how to check them, the folks from Jiffy to your mobile mechanic, to the guy at sears, all should have been able to spot a bad tie rod end, and more over, should have checked that first when you said the steering was loose.

The good news, if you want to learn to fix your own vehicle, these are pretty easy parts to change, and they are not all that expensive for just the parts.

HEAP of JEEP on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUcYlGIMCLnUd8pWopDeb9w
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post #7 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 12:51 PM Thread Starter
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Forever Young - Thanks again. I assume the linkage was checked considering the main issue, but since they didn't mention specifically that they did, they might not have. If I get it to Les Schwab I will have them confirm that those are ok if/when they do an alignment.

Learning to fix my own vehicle, huh? Would've never guessed that'd be on the roster for me, but life is interesting. Of all the women I've known, I'm one of few who'd even attempt it, so it's not too far fetched. I'm a learner by nature, so maybe a good automotive reference manual or two would be in order now.
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post #8 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 01:06 PM
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Its not for everyone, but learning the basics, at least, should be a must for everyone... but there are plenty of women that like to work on their own vehicles... sure, its more of a "guy" thing, but don't let that stop you. There's plenty of knowledge out there, from forums like this, to other web sites, and then my favorite... Youtube. Heck, I have a channel dedicated to my efforts of fixing up my own Jeep, and since I don't know all that much, its really more of series showing my own journey of learning how to fix my Jeep by watching other people do it youtube. LOL. So if you're willing to learn, then the knowledge is out there for you.

HEAP of JEEP on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUcYlGIMCLnUd8pWopDeb9w
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post #9 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 01:21 PM
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Here's a good reference to help in learning some of the front end parts.


***Chris***

"You can set my jeep on fire and roll it down a hill,
But I still wouldn't trade it for a Coupe DeVille."


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post #10 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 04:06 PM Thread Starter
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Chris - This is super helpful! Thank you so much for this - saving it now!
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post #11 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 11:15 PM
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If it wasn't for Chilton's, Google, and YouTube my xj would have gone to pasture already. I'm not a mechanic, but I fake it well. And so can you with a few tools and determination. And sometimes be the person who had success with the square peg round hole because sometimes these Jeeps make no sense.
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post #12 of 28 Old 02-17-2015, 11:30 PM
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You will go broke paying someone else to fix a Jeep. It's a high performance, high maintenance scenario. If you don't use it to its full potential or if you can't turn wrenches on it yourself, you're better off with something else.

Others may disagree, but this is my opinion after having been around Jeeps for the last 15 years and having owned mine for half that.

My 00 XJ has been - and continues to be - the most problematic vehicle I've ever owned. Nonsense things, like the gauges constantly losing connection, or rolling down the window and having the mechanism fall apart so that the door panel has to be removed and the window manually raised, or like now, where gas is sloshing out of the gas tank because the temperature change affected the seal. I've had much older vehicles with much fewer problems. In fact, I think my Jeep has had more problems - and more expensive problems - than all my other vehicles combined.

But when it's working, it's a lot of fun.

My build thread has pics again. https://www.jeepforum.com/forum/f177/kevin108s-2000-xj-build-867428/
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post #13 of 28 Old 02-18-2015, 10:09 AM Thread Starter
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Kevin - Thanks for all of your honesty and for touching on a very important aspect of the decision making process. I appreciate the additional food for the thought.
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post #14 of 28 Old 02-18-2015, 11:15 AM
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Foreveryoung was right those were the parts I meant. I didn't think to mention the control arms but worn bushings there can cause big handling issues as well. I'm sorry to say but as a young lady that says she doesn't have a lot of mechanical experiance, you're quite likely to considered an easy mark by bad mechnics. My sister has had that happen on 2 occasions and both times I've had to go a straighten it out with these jerks. I would advise that you talk to friends and coworkers and ask them if they have people in the local area that they could recomend to you. You might also check with the local 4wd and car clubs too.
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post #15 of 28 Old 02-18-2015, 12:03 PM
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Jeep ownership is definitely not for the faint of heart - especially when they are climbing up in the years. I'm on my 3rd (4th if you count my old patrol Jeep) Cherokee, my current being a '93 4.0. Unlike Kevin's luck, my '93 has been the most trouble free car I have owned, and I'm the original owner. Other than a water pump now and then, radiator, engine mounts, or other typical replacement items that would never last for 250k miles, it owes me nothing, and with some of the toys I have added, I honestly think it runs better than the day I bought it. A pinion bearing has been the only major thing that I have done that was not preventative in nature.

But

Other than maybe once, my XJ has never been to the dealer or a mechanic for repairs. Over my 26 years of owning XJ's, I am pretty much self taught on doing everything with these with the aid of a factory service manual. Learning to mess with them can be fun, but it really depends on how far you want to dive into it. Mine typically sends me away bleeding or sore and definitely cussing from something, but at the end of the day, along with the assistance from beer or a good whiskey, I have never walked away disappointed with my tinkerings with it, and definitely happy that my only cost was for the part I replaced.

I would not want to know how much it would cost for a mech. to replace my A/C as I have done, or change all of the bearings and the axle shafts in my rear differential, timing chain changes, or anything else I have done. Then again, I like to tinker with it, I have a ton of the right tools to do these things, and, the most important thing, I enjoy it.

The rest is up to you and how much you want to devote to your vehicle. It sounds like you have quite a few things to get you started, but as stated above, finding someone fluent in Jeep is a must if you dont do it yourself. I would check in the regional forums, you might find a good mechanic referral in there.
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