Adventures in Anxiety: My first car.

I made it to age 33 without owning a car.

A lot of you are probably wondering how the hell anyone does that. Well, I threw a lot of my money at debts, and at buying a house, and then I just couldn’t save up enough to actually buy a car I wanted.

Also? I can’t drive.

I’m legally allowed to drive. I have a license, and I kinda know how, but….

I’ve mentioned that I’ve got anxiety issues, right? Obviously I have. Well, they extend to sitting behind the wheel of a car. And, while I have medication for anxiety, I consider myself to be ‘under the influence’ if I take enough to be calm enough to operate the vehicle.

But now I own a car, and I still can’t drive. How does that happen?

Well, by weird coincidences.

Our roommate managed to save up to get a new car, because his old one had too many problems and it was cheaper and less job-endangering to get a new one. And he didn’t get any takers on the sale of this ‘whole lot of shit wrong with it’ car.

He was thinking of selling it off to a friend for parts.

Instead, he gave it to me in place of rent for that month.

That’s how I became yet another idiot to buy a used car without knowing anything about it. Except I did know there were things wrong. I just didn’t know how many things.

This was January. The beginning of this year.

We got it insured, and temporary-registered. And I began trying to figure out what the hell I was going to have to do just to get it to pass emissions.

Well, I know fuckall about cars, but I’m willing to learn. But I knew I couldn’t just start replacing parts randomly, so I chose a chain mechanic to do an oil change with a ‘complimentary safety inspection’, because I knew that would turn up at least eight other things that needed replacing.

It totally did. “Well, you need new brakes, your transmission cooler lines are leaking, your valve cover is leaking, your water pump is leaking….”

Okay, give me a couple of quotes. One for the brakes, and one for the rest.

The brakes were a little over $300 when I had the mechanic do them, because I was not going to fuck with brakes. Not at my level.

Everything else? $1,000.

I found this relatively ridiculous. Especially when, after having a look for myself, and researching a few things, I discovered three more glaring problems. My radiator was slathered in JB Weld, my electric fan was just hanging there doing nothing, and where the fuck is my clutch fan?

I began researching harder. I took a few pills, and joined a forum dedicated to XJs–and I should probably mention what kind of car it is, shouldn’t I? It’s a 95 Jeep Cherokee. 4.0L straight 6, no four wheel drive.

Knowing that much information, I was able to find parts. On several recommendations, I tried RockAuto. I started my own thread in CherokeeForum when I was relatively sure I had my terms right.

I started adding things to my cart at RockAuto, based on research. ‘Is this part compatible? And this one?’ I got part numbers from the people at CherokeeForum–people who’ve done this shit over and over again, and who never once told me to check my blinker fluid levels.

They guided me to the extra tools I would need, and directed me to the field service manual that I ended up using instead of my Haynes/Chiltons [I now forget which one I bought]. They even gave me clear, step-by-step instructions for the part I was most afraid of.

They helped me track down the tougher parts, like the fan blade.

I signed up for EBay to get that, and the clutch fan shroud.

I began ordering. Radiator, water pump, thermostat, radiator hoses, heater control valve, various gaskets needed for those, the valve cover gasket, electric fan. New serpentine belt. Most came from RockAuto, but a few came from Amazon.

I bought a socket set from Sears.

I hunted down the last few parts locally–the transmission cooler lines, and the connectors needed to hook them into the tranny oil pan, because they were out of stock at RockAuto at the time.

I tried Napa, and the guy told me that the transmission is under pressure, that it is not serviceable outside of a shop, and that I absolutely could not buy transmission cooler lines.

I and my list of part numbers and required fluids walked out, and went across the street to O’Reilly, where they tried valiantly to look them up on their computer. I looked them up on mine [my phone is so a computer], found the parts on their website, and we searched again, with their internal part numbers.

They had the lower transmission cooler line, and the main part of the upper line in stock, but no ends, and no upper-line-that-connects-to-radiator. And it could take days to get them in.

Oh. Well, just give me what you’ve got, and I’ll go get my fluids.

“You’re gonna need [fluid that isn’t currently in my system].”

I know that their computer says that the 95 Jeep Cherokee takes a slightly newer kind of transmission fluid, but that’s not what’s currently in it, and that’s not what it’s been topped off with for the last year or so.

It’s also not what the FSM says, or the guys on the forum.

So, I get a big bottle of Dex-III/Merc, and several bottles of antifreeze.

The parts start showing up in the mail.

It turns out radiators are big. I have boxes everywhere. So many boxes.

And we’ve got a week of warmish-for-winter weather coming up with nothing to do. So: it’s time to get started.

First, the valve cover gasket.

I review the videos on YouTube the night before, prepare everything, and try to get some sleep.

The valve cover takes all day, and I have to send Gremlin off to buy a tool.

I do not break any bolts, though, we get everything put back together. The car starts again, but I’m left knowing that, at some point, I’m going to have to take that [surprisingly light] thing back off and clean shit out under there, because it is seriously gunked up.

Day one ends in success. I pack everything away, and go to sleep, thinking that everything should be easy now, until I hit the transmission cooler lines.


Day two begins with me ambitiously bringing out the thermostat and the water pump, because, obviously, I’m going to be able to put those on today.


Now, at some point in all this we’d made it to AutoZone to order the last piece of Transmision Cooler Line, and the connectors, to be delivered to the house. They showed up, but with only one connector. So we had to get another sent out.

I can’t even remember what slowed us down, exactly, but this day ended with only the radiator drained and removed. Everything gets packed away, and we’ll start again the next day–surely, I’ll get the water pump at least off the next day, right?

Well, yeah. After I figure out how to loosen the serpentine belt. Which is just tons of fun.

It starts getting bitterly cold, so work is cancelled for the rest of the day. But at least more parts are off.

And the clutch fan arrived. But it’s bent, so I have to get a new one. The guy I bought it from on EBay sends another one out to replace it.

Day four is spent draining the transmission fluid, and trying to get the transmission cooler lines out with the right tools.

This does not work at all, so I send Gremlin off to O’Reilly for a small tube cutter.

I cut the lines as close as I can to the connectors. Then, I cannot budge the connector. At all. So Gremlin has a go. He gets one out, then swaps with me.

After many inventive new combinations of swear words, I manage to get the other one out.

Fucking finally. Okay, let’s put the new ones in! Then we can start working backwards. It should go faster now!

I seal up the transmission pan, sort out which line goes where, screw in the connectors, and click the lines into place Then, since it’s now dark, I cover the other end of the lines.

I try to have a good, long soak in the bath, but the water is too disgusted by my all-over car crud.

Things must finally go faster from here, right?


I get the surfaces properly cleaned [too properly], and use tiny films of appropriate RTV in a case of overkill, and get the thermostat and water pump put on. The water pump is a fight–a fight to take off, and a fight to put back on, because it’s got this godawful metal tube that has to come off [it didn’t], and then go back on the new one [I bought a replacement, thanks to warnings from the guys at CherokeeForum] at EXACTLY THE RIGHT ANGLE. And then it has to thread through this really tight spot.

And, since I’ve got that done, it’s time to do the heater control valve. Except no, because the guy at O’Reilly gave me all the same hose size, which is the WRONG hose size for the one part. Annoying, but we get more. In the right size. I bring in a reference just in case.

And the day is over again. Damned short days.

But! We’re almost done. The radiator can go in soon.

Soon being after I discover that I got the wrong size serpentine belt. Eurgh. No, fuck this. We’ll just be careful. I want this radiator in now.

Because I want the fluids back in. So, radiator in. Antifreeze in. Transmission cooler lines hooked up. Transmission fluid carefully measured and replaced with fresh in the exact same quantity.

New belt arrives, and…I fuck up hardcore.

I don’t get the clutch fan seated properly after the hour-long fight of getting it on, so the new belt instantly gets chewed up.

We limp down to an entirely different mechanic and pay a hundred bucks to have it replace professionally. I am ashamed, because, holy shit, I did all this, but I fucked up a serpentine belt.

The mechanic comes out to talk to us before taking the Jeep in. I point and say ‘I fucked that up, see?’ He agrees that the belt is, indeed, thoroughly fucked, because it could’ve just been not tight enough, and he wanted to see if he even needed to bring it into the garage. But no, it’s chewed all to hell.

He asks why.

I explain that the Jeep has been sitting in pieces for about a week as I replaced a whole list of shit.

The problem becomes immediately apparent to him: the fan clutch pulley isn’t fully on. He’ll get that tightened up and make sure the new-new belt survives.

As we’re leaving, he pops out again to let me know that I did a good job with everything else.

Then, we passed emissions.

Injury tally: a ton of scraped knuckles, and one eye injury.

I got BrakeKleen in my eye, thanks to an errant breeze.

I was spraying some surface to get rid of gasket material, and the wind caught the spray just right, kicking a little back into my eye. I kept my eyes closed, figured out where my big thing of unopened bottles of water lived, and flushed my eye. Possibly overkill, given the small quantity, but I didn’t want to take any risks. Or even take any time to explain, because, motherfucker that burns oh holy shitfuckwhywhywhy.

I made a note to add safety glasses to my overprepared kit.

Oh yes, I have an overprepared kit. In the back of the Jeep. Gremlin has a skateboard, which is mostly just taking up room. I have a SKUBB box with two pairs of safety glasses [dark and clear], a jug of antifreeze, a big thing of oil, power steering fluid, two bottles of automatic transmission fluid, a spare serpentine belt, and a few other things. I also have my socket set, a cheap screwdriver set, a set of open-ended wrenches, and a tool box with odds and ends in it. Three funnels–one for oil, one for antifreeze, and one for transmission fluid. Shop towels. A bottle of window cleaner, some cloths for that. A big bottle of windshield washer fluid.

Those odds-and-ends include battery terminal shims, a spare nut and bolt for the negative battery terminal…pretty much the only thing I’m not carrying around are spare radiator hoses. And, honestly, I probably should, because you never fucking know. I’m not offroading, but you don’t have to go offroad around here to fuck up your car.

Yes. I went a bit overboard. It’s my box of overpreparedness. And I don’t know why other people don’t have a box of overpreparedness…except, possibly, it’s because they’re well-adjusted adults who aren’t suffering from severe anxiety issues.

After all that, I still have about four hundred dollars worth of parts to throw at it to fix the things that are currently wrong [mostly leaks]. That’s really not all that bad, though. And, as long as I remember to check the fluid levels [which I do], I don’t really have any problems.

Once that’s done, I can start on the incidentals, like the seized rear wiper, and the rear dome light that won’t come on when the hatch is opened. And the weatherstripping on the doors.

…and then I’ll probably have to replace Shit That Breaks on a regular basis until it becomes too expensive to repair.


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