How A $5 Fuse Saved Me $500 And Got My Manual 4×4 Chevy Tracker Running Like A Dream


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.

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Check the tires out! They were dirt cheap at under $40 a pop:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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):

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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.

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63 Responses

  1. I just took 60 seconds to search and I’m still not clear: Does this have an external voltage regulator? I didn’t spend too much time looking, but I suspect that may be the case. If so, if that’s fried, that might explain it. Just a guess, though.

  2. Just a note on the transmission. I little bit of input shaft bearing rattling with it in neutral and clutch in is normal. There’s a service bulletin to let dealers know.

    Source: mine was rebuilt under warranty and the rattle was still there.

    That, and the transfer case may be hard to get out of 2HI if you haven’t used it for a while.

    The transfer case will be real hard to shift in cold weather as well until it warms up. I used to leave my transfer case in neutral on cold nights so that I could put the transmission in gear and get the oil warmed up in both the transmission and transfer case.

  3. No charge on these does not mean the jump fried things. It tells me VERY clearly and unequivocally that the electrical was fucked and that was why it needed the jump. So you now have two good working alternators and a nightmare even I hesitate to touch. No charge, parasitic drain, and no CEL? One of the (truly disturbingly high number) of always-hots is draining, bad.
    And the Tracker should have separate CIL (Charge Indicator Lamp.)
    It also relies on the rear cabin lamp not being blown out for the ECM to not be faulted because the battery power for it is routed through there. I shit you not.

      1. Yeah.
        You’re a cooling engineer. No offense, but I’m not going to try walking you through the diag procedure on this one. But, full disclosure, I refused to walk mechanics with 20 years of experience with it as well. Because it’s literally about 10% flow chart, 10% diagnostic, 90% blind probing, and 20% cussing. (No, I didn’t typo or do the math wrong. It’s that bad.)
        I can swing by some weekend to help though.
        Based on symptoms so far though, I’d diagnose at least three major problems.

        One, at least one failed ground strap is guaranteed on these – those are NBD as long as you still have continuity. If replacing with wire, needs to be 6ga stranded with 4″+ slack. That’s first fix before any further diagnosis can be done.

        Two, CIC’s failed open. Chances of two regulators being bad are about nil. Which means the CIC (Charge Indicator Control) line has a problem. “Oh, that sounds easy!” Nope. CIC goes direct to the IPC. There is no fusing except on the IPV line which goes through the 20A ignition fuse. It starts, so we know that fuse is good.
        Yeah, starting to see why I won’t walk people through it?

        Three, notice that your d/s parking lamp is dead but your p/s isn’t? That’s how I know you have at least one functioning ground path. Common ground path and shared lamp fuse (the 30A) so it’s neither. Any other car, I’d say ‘bad bulb’ and call it a day. But they get separate power at the switch. So yeah. Now I’m leaning pretty heavily toward rodent caused wiring damage in the dash.

        Oh, and four, the engine is actually very rough. Unpopular take I’m sure, but the the Suzuki J20 is an extremely smooth 4 cylinder. Owing in part to Suzuki generally applying very large refinements rather than doing clean sheet designs. It could be old gas and bad oil, but it was definitely off time at first crank. The timing chain tensioners are oil pressurized, so if it hasn’t run in a while, could just be pump down. Still, the timing chains on these are a known weak point (usually due to tensioner failure,) so I would keep an eye on it. You’re looking for that big ‘buck’ and fast up and down before settling into fast idle. If it starts getting worse, I’d plan on the timing chain set sooner rather than later. If it doesn’t repeat? Fresh oil, some proper fuel injector cleaner, and call it good.

      1. So by far one of the WORST aspects of the Tracker/Vitara is that you really can’t do that.
        Because there’s basically no fuses. See that fuse box in the first picture with David holding the fuse? His hand isn’t even covering half of it. There’s the main, 6x 30-50A, and I think 7 minis in there. Not sure on the mini count off the top of my head. The interior fuse box has the power windows, dome/radio, rear lights, hazard/turn, the “fuck this shit” fuse, the “hey the radio has two fuses” fuse, and the door locks.

        All of the lamps except the headlights run off a single 30A. But each headlight has a distinct mini. Not the tail lights though. Relays are also shared in a nonsensical manner. The whole setup is, in a word, batshit.
        Seriously. The “fuck this shit” fuse is the “IG” fuse which carries the O2 heaters, cruise control, ignition coil, “meter” (without saying which,) and the G sensors but not the ACM. The ACM is un-fused. And seriously. The radio has two fuses. One covers radio memory, one covers radio operation, yet both are required for the radio to turn on. (Also these have major radio interference problems, particularly if the ground strap is going.)

        That’s why it’s a LOT of straight up blind probing. “Hey, this bulb is a little dim” is about as helpful as these get. Because say you amp clamp the 30A (which you really can’t) and get a 0.5A draw. Well great, that only leaves every single front light.

        1. David, not sure you are going to take rootwyrm up on his offer, but if you do, let me know the time and if I can I would be glad to head out and assist as well (assuming rootwyrm doesn’t have an issue with another set of hands). While I don’t have the knowledge on auto (especially for this beast apart) electrical systems, I really am incredibly good (lucky) at tracking down electrical issues on pretty much anything (I have the ‘knack’…ref old Dilbert comic) and getting stuff to work… Even if you don’t, I’ll let you know when I’m in the area next and hope we can take a look, as I’ve been recently looking to get one of those vehicles as a project…my gf doesn’t want me messing with my jeep much anymore and suggested I get a new project (best gf ever!).

  4. Have you checked to see if the alternator circuit is protected by a fuse or fusible link? You can also full field or “flash the field” per the Delco Remy website. Just connect a jumper wire to the BAT terminal on the alt (the big bolted-on one) to the R terminal on the plastic connecter with engine NOT running. Then disconnect it before starting. If the alternator starts to charge that indicates a bad regulator or no signal to the regulator through the ALT idiot light. Does the idiot light come on?

      1. Make sure that the bulb is good, and then put an ohmmeter to check the whole path to ground.
        Bad bulb or open circuit, the field won’t get voltage, and the Alternator won’t produce voltage

  5. This was a steal, this will be really good off road with some decent tires!
    Very light (2500 lbs maybe, if that), short wheelbase, narrow track under 60 inches. Heck, some larger UTVs are wider these days.

    1. Eh, I used to think that, but I had a van that I had to put new tires on to pass inspection and ended up donating to the ASPCA a year later after the engine threw a rod. I’m sure it ended up in a junkyard. It’s completely reasonable that a vehicle might have decent tires but be scrapped due to a catastrophic mechanical failure.

  6. DT, I had a similar steering issue on my RX7, turned out to be a blockage in the power steering line, pressure would build as the fluid tried to pass the blockage and then dissipate with a little more force/wiggling. if the new part doesn’t work out try flushing and checking the lines!

  7. I’m not going to pretend that this wasn’t a good buy in isolation, but meanwhile…

    The glorious Golden Eagle continues to rot…

    You’re supposedly beloved XJ#1 sits in a state that looks worse than many I’ve seen in boneyards…

    The massive project electric conversion Jeep FC undoubtedly sinks further into the earth…

    Shall I continue?

  8. Sometimes, the miracle comes in a very tiny package and at a very tiny price. Case in point: my late father’s 2002 Mercedes-Benz E 280 had the serious issues with HVAC working intermittently when the air conditioning was switched on. The Mercedes-Benz service centre “couldn’t find anything wrong with the system.” That was my father’s code word for “they are charging the fucking arms and legs along with first born for the repair”.

    While my father was away on holiday, I perused the HVAC control panel to extract the error codes and looked them up. Oh, the infrared red sensor and clogged valves in the switch box. All good? Nope, the unit with a sensor was €75, and the switch box €450. The owner’s forums had lot of information sourcing a certain OSRAM sensor from an electronic store for €14.95 and the rubber disks in specific size, thickness, and firmness from the hardware store for €0.15 each, bringing the grand sum of €15.25. I took the sensor package apart to replace the sensors (really easy). I drilled the holes in specific size in the rubber disks as instructed and replaced the worn rubber disks in the switch box. I reset the error codes and tested the air conditioning. Now, it blew continuously without any faltering.

    When my mum collected my father at the aeroport, he expected the erratic performance on the way home but was astounded when his car turned into the moving ice box…and stayed that way. Now, my father faithfully asked me to do the repairs in his car, reversing the decades-long ban on me repairing his cars.

  9. Alternator diodes take a beating with jump starts. I worked at an auto parts store and a customer showed me an easy diagnostic trick. With the key off and the doors closed, remove the battery ground cable and install a 12v test lamp between the battery post and cable. The light will inform as to any draw. Next, remove the small plastic plug-in connector from the alternator. Light goes out or dims substantially, it’s the diodes. Then, remove and replace fuses one at a time until the offending circuit is identified.
    Check replacement alternators diodes this way as well, I’ve returned them for the very problem they were replaced for.

  10. I hate to be that guy, but I’m going to be that guy. If you and Jason are looking for extra editorial help, let me know. I’ve caught a number of spelling errors in articles lately. It doesn’t bug me much but I would hate for someone new to come here, see that and think this is some low-class website. I’m simply asking out of a desire to help make this site as successful as possible. The article itself is great and I’m looking forward to hearing more.

  11. I know it won’t help anything at all, and I’m totally not a person who cares about car detailing much, but I so want to go over those bumpers with some Back to Black type-dressing. Only because I think it’d be a cathartic process, kinda like watching videos of laser rust removal or dry ice blasting on a car undercarriage. Just… satisfying, you know?

  12. “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.”

    David, DaVID, DAVID!!!!!!!! Dude, this is the DATE vehicle.

    PLEASE, you have other, MUCH less girl friendly vehicles you can ruin. This one might get you a woman if you play your cards right.

      1. I think someone mentioned something about a girlfriend in his roast when he left the German lighting site.

        Watch, he moves to LA and marries a movie star. Wasn’t there an actress in the news recently who likes working on old 4x4s….?

  13. Miata people manage to blow their main fuse all the dang time because most replacement batteries have the terminals reversed from the OEM one. If you put a new battery in and hook up the terminals the way that seems to make sense, you’ll blow the fuse. Just one of those little quirks.

      1. The best of luck on that move. It’s a big one and I am sure it is not easy preparing for that.
        I love the irony that you are leaving a Japanese car with American badges in Detroit because it will be the most reliable.

    1. He’s waiting for Mercedes’ fiancee to show up.

      Y’all should start filming this stuff and slapping it up on YouTube. We won’t insist on production values. Crude adds verisimilitude.

      1. Poor Sheryl. Clean up the mold (smart car), clean up the mold (U-Haul camper), clean up the mouse poop…
        Hopefully Mercedes at least puts her dirty socks in the laundry hamper.

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