OFF-ROAD ESSEN­TIALS: WHEN TO RE­TIRE YOUR 4WD

4WDrive - - Contents -

It’s a chal­lenge every four-wheeler faces at some point: Should you hold onto the cur­rent ve­hi­cle or re­place it? If you’re like most four wheel­ers you’ll hang on as long as pos­si­ble. Some­thing breaks, and you re­place it. An­other part snaps, and you head to the store. Or you take the ve­hi­cle to the shop. This goes on ad in­fini­tum, which is Severin-speak for “way too long.” Adding to the co­nun­drum is that you’re prob­a­bly re­ally at­tached to your ve­hi­cle.

Fix or Re­place?

Have you gone “ve­hi­cle blind”? You are so ac­cus­tomed to fix­ing things that you lose sight of the big pic­ture. You keep sink­ing money into what re­ally is a sink­ing ship.

Money al­ways plays a fac­tor. At the time it seems cheaper just to fix the ve­hi­cle. But at some point you be­gin to ques­tion this process. (Or you should.) You know that over time parts be­come more dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to ac­quire. Every model year man­u­fac­tur­ers make tweaks to their ve­hi­cles. These can be sub­tle or sig­nif­i­cant. As is the case with com­put­ers, there comes a time when tech­nol­ogy passes you by. Then what?

Hey, I’ve been there. More than once. One thing I dis­cov­ered is that there are al­ways op­tions. Some­times you can find a sim­i­lar (but newer) model and trans­fer parts. How­ever, you must be open to the pos­si­bil­ity of up­grad­ing.

I know what it’s like to go through this process. It’s not easy. Just like you, I can get at­tached to a par­tic­u­lar model (have a huge soft spot for Grand Chero­kees). But I’m also very prag­matic. When some­thing goes, it has to go. I don’t like con­tin­u­ing to throw money at it that might be bet­ter used on the re­place­ment ve­hi­cle.

Re­plac­ing my Jeep

While every sit­u­a­tion is unique, mine serves as a good il­lus­tra­tion. Back in 2008 I faced that cross­road. The ’93 Grand Chero­kee was about shot. At 335,000 miles, it was just plain worn out. I had al­ready re­placed most of the parts at least twice. Worse, the metal on the uni­body suf­fered se­vere metal fa­tigue. I couldn’t bolt any­thing to it. As much as I loved that Grand Chero­kee (and still do), I knew it was time to send her to the scrap yard. It was kind of sad watch­ing the fork lift put in on top of 6 other ve­hi­cles, but they gave me $100! But then what?

Here were my op­tions: 1. Re­place with an­other Grand Chero­kee. I would’ve gone with a ’98, the last year they made the ZJ line. The ad­van­tage there was I could move many of the parts from the old JGC to the newer one. A ’98 in good con­di­tion would cost about $2,500. Up­grad­ing that, even with the old parts, would cost about an­other $3,000, though that’s a rough es­ti­mate. I would’ve hired out for some of the work, I’m sure.

The big dis­ad­van­tage was that I’d still have an old ve­hi­cle. And one with a uni­body con­struc­tion, the one is­sue I had with ZJs.

2. Buy a newer and dif­fer­ent model. The first step was re­search. I looked at what the newer mod­els fea­tured (or needed) in terms of solid axles, rep­u­ta­tion of the axles hous­ings, pos­si­bil­ity of four doors, body on frame, and such.

I even­tu­ally set­tled on a 2004 TJ Wran­gler (of­ten called an LJ). Part of the rea­son­ing was the ZJ and the TJ share the same axle con­fig­u­ra­tion. The up­graded axles from the ZJ would bolt right up to the TJ. Still was an ex­pen­sive move. The ve­hi­cle, which had 157,000 km (98,000 mi), cost $10,500. Up­grades set me back an­other $17,000.

I spent a lot more than I ini­tially planned to but ended up far ahead. The LJ fea­tures body-on-frame con­struc­tion, which is a bet­ter plat­form. If I had stayed with a Grand Chero­kee, I would even­tu­ally suf­fer the same is­sues in­her­ent in the uni­body. That frame can’t take the abuse I ex­pose it to on the Ru­bi­con, the ul­ti­mate test of a 4WD ve­hi­cle.

Crit­i­cal signs it’s time to look for an­other ve­hi­cle

My sit­u­a­tion was pretty ap­par­ent: the ol’ Jeep was just plain worn out. More of­ten, though, a ve­hi­cle goes through the prover­bial death by a thou­sand cuts – one at a time. By it­self each in­ci­dent may not seem like much. But they add up over time. Con­sider these sce­nar­ios. Do any of them look fa­mil­iar? • You can no longer share parts. All the other driv­ers have newer ve­hi­cles with dif­fer­ent frame or body styles. You can pack cer­tain parts, but you can’t pos­si­bly pack re­place­ments for all that might break down. In the past you could pos­si­bly count on a buddy’s ve­hi­cle to “do­nate” a part. No more. • As a re­sult of the above, you skip the rides. Your bud­dies call about a week­end out­ing, but you stay home. The trail is far­ther away and more re­mote than you care to go. The ve­hi­cle is in the shop more than it’s on the road. It’s nick­e­l­ing and dim­ing you to death. But those are some big nick­els and dimes. The net ef­fect is you’re not out on the trails as of­ten as you could or should be. Re­pairs cost more each month than the loan pay­ment on a new ve­hi­cle. Maybe you hate tak­ing out loans. What’s worse – dump­ing money into an old and worn out ve­hi­cle, or pay­ing down the loan on a new one? • Your needs change. Now you’d like A/C or some new gad­getry. Or you now have a fam­ily and cer­tain safety fea­tures are im­por­tant.

You have to un­der­stand that re­plac­ing a ve­hi­cle is just part of the hobby. Like dy­ing and pay­ing taxes, you have to do it some­time. Maybe even more than once. I’m sure you’re at­tached to the ve­hi­cle, for no other rea­son than it’s been re­spon­si­ble for many happy mem­o­ries.

You also worry about the po­ten­tially daunt­ing task of up­grad­ing what­ever ve­hi­cle you ul­ti­mately buy. But re­mem­ber this: You went through that process with the cur­rent ve­hi­cle, didn’t you? You sure did! And did you sur­vive that? You bet!

It’ll work out in the end

You will en­dure this process as well. Once you get over the emo­tional hur­dle at the out­set, mo­men­tum kicks in. And even a lit­tle ex­cite­ment.

It will be ex­cit­ing be­cause you have a whole new as­sort­ment of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Not quite like Christ­mas morn­ing, but the re­search and buy­ing process will ac­tu­ally be in­ter­est­ing.

Of course, once pur­chased, the ve­hi­cle re­quires up­grad­ing. You’ll put blood, sweat, tears, curse words, and what­ever else into your ma­chine. The first time you hit the trails, though, that’ll all be be­hind you. When you’re back with your bud­dies, with the wide open land­scape and a long week­end ahead of you, you’ll re­al­ize that it was all worth it. If fact, you’ll won­der why you didn’t take the plunge sooner.

Is your 4WD ma­chine bleed­ing your bank ac­count dry and rob­bing you of qual­ity time on the trails? Raise a toast to what was, take her to the junk­yard, then turn around and get an­other ve­hi­cle. You de­serve it, so just do it.

Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD own­ers how to con­fi­dently and safely use their ve­hi­cles to the fullest ex­tent in dif­fi­cult ter­rain and ad­verse driv­ing con­di­tions. Visit www.4x4­train­ing.com to de­velop or im­prove your driv­ing skill.

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