In a moment of weakness a few weeks ago, I broke my “no more cars” rule and bought a 2000 Chevy Tracker — a body-on-frame, manual, 4×4 (low range equipped!) off-roader that’s cute as a button and not too horrible on gas. Why did my will falter that day? Because the Tracker was so damn cheap and I’m a sucker for a bargain, of course. $700! Of course, the reason why it cost that little was that the owner had fried something by reversing his jumper cables during a jumpstart; here’s how I fixed that.
Do I regret buying my Chevy-badged Suzuki Vitara? No. But I shouldn’t have bought it, because I need to focus on life outside of wrenching, and of course, as soon as I bought the Tracker, I started obsessing over it. I can’t help it! I went to the junkyard (twice!) to buy a new taillight (one was cracked), a new alternator, new trim pieces and carpeting for the interior, and a set of off-road-ish tires.
Check the tires out! They were dirt cheap at under $40 a pop:
The reason why I’m putting time into getting the Tracker looking nice is that, after having AAA tow the broken vehicle to my place, I headed to Autozone and bought this “bolt-in cartridge fuse” for a little over five bucks:
The previous owner had fried this main fuse while trying to demonstrate how well the Suzuki ran. “The battery is bad; it just needs a jump,” he told me before frying the fuse. Before I jumped back into my car to head home, he told me he’d be willing to sell me the car as-is, and that the $1,600 asking price would come down quite a bit. He told me someone had offered him $500, so I offered $700. He accepted, and I headed home thrilled with the fact that I’d scored a legitimate 4×4 with a stickshift for so damn cheap.
After the tow truck dumped off my Suzuki-turned-Geo-turned-Chevy the following day, I looked into the fuse box and saw a giant gap in the metal strip in the main fuse:
I bolted the Autozone fuse into place, turned the key, and BAM, that 127 horsepower 2.0-liter inline-four fired right up!
I do seem to be having a bit of a charging issue (I have confirmed that the battery is actually totally fine, though a junkyard alternator didn’t fix the problem, so I’m a little confused), so that $5 fuse wasn’t the only victim of the seller’s jumper cable error, but I’m not too concerned. My biggest worry was that either the engine wouldn’t run well, or that the electrical system was completely fried; my $5 fuse replacement showed me that I’ve got a great starting point for a little off-road machine.
Despite my alternator not charging the battery, I was able to whip the little Suzuki around the block, and I must say: That five-speed stick is dialed in. I mean, there’s no synchronizer grind, the bearings are silent as mice, and the clutch holds every ounce of torque that little 2.0 squeezes out when I stomp the pedal.
The steering, though, does not work. It is among the sketchiest steering feels I’ve ever experienced. It’s not that there’s slop, it’s that every 15 degrees or so of rotation, the wheel binds up. If I force the wheel a little harder, it lets go and steers a bit more before binding up again, then releasing, then binding. It’s scary.
I lifted the vehicle to see if I could better understand the problem; cranking the wheel with the engine off yielded a similar steering ineptitude, indicating that the issue is not with the power steering system. My money is on the steering intermediate shaft — specifically one or both of the lower universal joints, which are quite stressed given the absurd angles of that steering shaft near the rack:
Hopefully the rack itself is in good shape; I’ll find out as soon as I throw in this new lower steering shaft and new alternator (the junkyard alternator doesn’t seem to work), neither of which was particularly expensive (I paid under $140 for the two):
Otherwise, the vehicle seems great. I still need to clean the interior of its mouse excrement, then I have to install some interior trim (I’m in the process of replacing cracked plastic parts), and I still need to chuck those tires on. Plus, at some point, I want to fix that horrible dent in the rear. Once that’s all done and this $700 beater has become a $1000 beater, I’ll see what it can do off-road. I’m excited.