He Left It All On The Road

The Jeep at 200,000 Miles
My Jeep Grand Cherokee: Here's the Jeep as
he looked on April 28, 2002, the day he passed
200,000 miles. I'll replace this photo with a more
recent one when I have time. [ Photo: Dave Aiello ]

A few regular readers of Operation Gadget may have wondered where I've been for most of this week. On Monday I was looking forward to officiating my first New Jersey high school hockey game of the season, and all seemed well. I left for the rink as scheduled on Monday afternoon, but I never made it there. My 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee which had taken me to so many games in so many places coasted to a stop on the Sloan Avenue bridge over Interstate 295 in Hamilton, NJ, and couldn't be coaxed to move again on its own.

I had it towed back to Kerrigan's Sunoco in Newtown, PA, a few blocks from where I live, and I walked home from there. At the time I didn't think there was anything too serious wrong with the Jeep; Nothing a couple of hundred dollars couldn't fix. Maybe it was some weird piece of 11 year old electronics that failed that I'd never heard of before. The guys at the Sunoco station had fixed that sort of thing before for me.

Wednesday morning I learned that there was something seriously wrong with the transmission. The mechanic that looked at the Jeep wasn't exactly sure because he doesn't do internal transmission work, but he thought that the torque converter or the front pump inside the transmission had failed.

I've been this way before with my Jeep. We've driven most of the 275,502 miles on his odometer together. We did major transmission work at around 100,000 miles and again around 225,000. Neither time has the bill been less than $1,000. I talked to Kathleen and we agreed that we couldn't justify spending money on this significant a repair to the Jeep when we knew about other expensive services that would need to be done to the car in the next six months before it got reinspected.

Most people will never buy a car and keep it for over 275,000 miles, so the sense of loss that I feel might seem a little strange. For the past 11 years the Jeep and I have been together. When I worked in New York, we spent hours together everyday. I bought it so I could get to work regardless of the weather, and we got through some incredible weather events that left other people stranded.

Over the past few years, the Jeep has become somewhat less reliable mainly because of wear and tear on parts like the suspension system. I changed the shock absorbers on the Jeep a month or two ago because it wasn't handling pot holes well at high speeds anymore. I felt like that repair made a real difference in how the Jeep handled, and that we could easily get another year or more out of him as a result.

Last weekend, my wife and I took an overnight trip to Hershey, PA to celebrate my birthday, and the Jeep took us there. It was the first long trip we'd taken in the Jeep in a year or two, and we talked about how it was just like old times and the trips we'd taken with him to Troy, New York, or Freeport, Maine, or Toronto, or Charlotte. We thought that the Jeep must be happy being with us.

It's hard to believe that the Jeep kind of died the next day, on the next trip to a local rink.

Hopefully by Monday I'll find a charity that will take the Jeep and repair it or salvage the parts that are worth money. I wish there was some brighter future for my reliable old friend than this.

Over the past few years I've talked to dozens of people about the Jeep, and the conversation has always ended with someone saying, "That car owes you nothing." You're telling me. He left it all on the road.