How I Turned My $700 Chevy Tracker Into A Legitimately Good Car After This Failed Part Had Me Chasing My Tail For Months

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I was so confused. My engine was idling fine, my pulleys were all spinning, my belts looked good, my alternator was new, and I saw nothing obviously wrong with my cooling system. Why, then, was I overheating? Why was the car stalling out from a low battery while I was driving? Here’s how I solved the problem that was likely the reason the previous owner sold me this solid little 4×4 — a 2000 Chevy Tracker 5-speed — for only $700.

I recently wrote about how I’ve spent a total of about $2,100 on the non-running Chevy Tracker I’d initially picked up for $700. Some of that sum was taxes, some of it was tires, some of it was fluids, some was interior trim to replace the cracked stuff, but do you know what contributed a lot to that figure? Unnecessary purchases resulting from misdiagnoses.

When I initially arrived at the seller’s house to buy the Tracker, the gentleman improperly hooked his jumper cables to the Chevy-ified Suzuki and fried something in the electrical system, because the car refused to start even when the seller fixed the polarity issue. I popped a $5 main fuse in and the car started, but it struggled to remain charged. Between that and the 4×4 system’s electric front “hub” engagement pump not working properly, I was convinced there was some kind of issue with the engine computer. I dropped $100 on a replacement unit, and when it didn’t work, I bought a new alternator for roughly another $100. I also noticed some overheating issues, which led me to discover a seized auxiliary electric fan, which I replaced with a new one.

 

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When all of those new parts still led the car to overheat and undercharge, I knew what the issue had to be: It was something to do with accessory drive, as — other than the auxiliary fan, which I’d replaced — this is the only thing that connects the charging circuit to the cooling system. Somehow the J20A engine’s serpentine belt was not spinning up the water pump and alternator properly. It appeared to work perfectly fine at idle, and even when I revved the motor, everything seemed to spin fine, but I had to go with my mind, not my eyes. The issue simply had to be the front-end accessory drive.

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As I mentioned in my previous article, I ended up discovering a harmonic balancer pulley that had separated. A few days ago my brother and I swapped that part out in about an hour, so I figured I’d give you all a close look at that failed part, because this is one of those bits that maybe the layperson doesn’t thing should ever be an issue. But this is an internal combustion engine —  the mechanical wonder with more failure modes than perhaps any other commonly-used contraption on earth.Screen Shot 2022 08 29 At 3.04.49 Am

With a new $16 eBay harmonic balancer in place (the part looks to be of decent quality; then again, I noticed the price jumped to $70 right after I bought it), along with a few new belts, a new tensioner, and a new water pump (since I had to drain the cooling system and remove the radiator to get the pulley off, anyway), the Suzuki’s 2.0-liter inline-four has been running beautifully. Here’s the new water pump; it doesn’t look new, in part, because I had to use a sledgehammer to get it into position. Also worth noting: While removing the radiator, I noticed there were two hoses going into the bottom tank; they led nowhere — they just ended somewhere below the engine. I took the lines off, and noticed that they were filled with black automatic transmission fluid, so either someone installed a new radiator and kept the hoses on (very unlikely, since getting the radiator with those hoses in place is fairly difficult) or this vehicle was originally an automatic, and the previous owner converted it to a manual. I recall the seller saying something to this effect, and this might explain why my cruise control doesn’t work.

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It’s worth noting that, with the vehicle sitting in my yard while I waited for parts, some kind of rodent got into my engine bay and chewed up some wires. One wire went to the brake fluid sensor on the master cylinder and the other was a coil pack wire. The former was chewed completely through, while the latter just needed some electrical tape to fix holes in the insulation:

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More alarmingly, whatever built a nest in my engine bay dropped quite a bit of dry grass into a pile on top of my catalytic converter. Had I not noticed this and gone for a drive, there’s a chance my vehicle would have gone up in flames:

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The electrical system is being charged properly, engine coolant temperature never even gets to the 12 o’clock mark on the gauge, and honestly, the little 2,950 pound Suzuki has been driving like a dream. It shifts great, it feels powerful even though I know it isn’t, and I have to say it handles better than any other vehicle I own by a fairly significant margin thanks to that modern independent suspension setup.

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I was told by a Taco Bell drive-through attendant to shut my engine off, as she couldn’t hear my order over the sound of my rattly exhaust. I need to fix that and steam-clean the interior, but overall I think — even with about $2,200 spent all-in, plus many hours of my time — this little Suzuki has been a score.

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27 Responses

  1. Date car is almost ready!!!! They are going to say how CUTE it is! Some mild offroading (wait until date #3) to the “make-out spot” to show them how capable the Chevy/Suzuki is!

    PS – Don’t bring up that its’ REALLY a Suzuki. Most non-car folk don’t understand badge engineering.

    Looks great David!!!!

  2. David, I know you’re not much of an aesthetics guy, but this would be a great vehicle to do an article on restoring the look of the black plastic bumpers and exterior cladding. I bet it would be a low effort way to bring this up from a good vehicle to a good looking good vehicle!

  3. When I was 17, I bought a ’72 Impala convertible for $500. An early 283 with a manual three!-speed/Hurst floor shift had been swapped in and although not quick, it ran excellent and got surprisingly good mpg cruising the flat country highways of southeastern Michigan. After around 10 or 12k miles I noticed the harmonic balancer wobbling. Someone had actually welded the balancer to the crankshaft. There was no fix other than a rebuild so over the next 5000 or so miles it progressed to using oil, smoking, tapping, then knocking. A failing rear U-Joint/CV? joint prevented me from driving it until it blew up. Much later in life I found out that early small journal 283/327’s had a pressed on HB so there’s that. I had big plans on putting a big block in it but lost interest. In the late ’70s, I guess there wasn’t that much interest in this dying breed. After months with no buyers, I sold it to the local junkyard for $80. I think I wanted a couple of hundred for it…

  4. Fantastic! Nothing like a sweet, sweet deal that looks great, then turns on ya, plays along, fights, busts some knuckles, then finally acquiesces leaving you <= poorer than if you’d just bought a sorted one in the first place ????. Congrats, and I have a strong feeling you’re gonna drive the shit outta this thing as well as engage in some off-road shenanigans.

    Also, three words learned and earned the hard, hard, hard way:

    Fire extinguisher, dude.

    I’ve been in the passenger’s seat for two car fires and witness to a half-dozen more. They’re sickening and happen at warp speed. All of my rides, even the ones awaiting a return to the road, have a cheap one in the trunk; anything the kids ride in has a small one at hand.

  5. Oh man, I can tell Tracy is really letting this “editor in chief” gig go to his head. Notice how he slipped in that humble-brag about going to Taco Bell there in the last paragraph?

            1. I have 2.1 words for you: David E. Davis.

              Also, if there was mouse poop in the vehicle, the steam cleaning (with a seat removal and harsh, harsh disinfectants) should really come before the driving. We want you healthy and able to do more stupid shit so we can live vicariously through you.

              1. DED would never have stooped to actually working on a car. He would con some shop into doing it for free (for promised mention in the article) while he drank whisky and smoked cigars. DED was the original JAAAG guy.

  6. David, you really need to explain exactly _why_ the rubber in these things is important. It’s not just a convenient piece of glue holding together two pieces of metal–because they could have made that thing out of one piece of metal and solved the separation problem–the rubber actually acts as a shock cushion to protect the crankshaft from vibration and damage.

    I replace these main pulley wheel/accessory drive/harmonic balancers on my old beaters. They are cheap cheap cheap insurance. I mean, separation is one problem, but _hardening_ of the rubber is another.

    There’s your next article.

  7. So, question or… I don’t know suggestion for the enthusiast shadetree tuners out there:
    Most aftermarket crank pulleys I see don’t have the dampener part at all, they are just made of some lightweight aluminum the question here is did you ever see the crank fail with a solid aftermarket pulley? or any engine failure for that reason?
    I am asking because I see them way too often, and I have a split opinion, maybe it does help, but also maybe the elasticity of the belt is enough for the rubber condom(harmonic balancer) to be completely unnecessary and just use a lightweight pulley?
    https://www.vividracing.com/nonstoptuning-lightweight-crank-pulley-hyundai-veloster-1115-p-151673649.html

  8. I miss my Trackers I had.

    Fun little trucks.

    The manual sure does make it feel peppy, probably due to the very low and short first and second gears making you get to third real quick.

    However, the friction point being so high on the clutch pedal had me sitting crooked in the seat causing back pain. Replaced it with a 2nd gen Suzuki Grand Vitara. Not quite as fun, but much more refined and just as reliable.

  9. Lol I remember being told to turn off my truck whenever I’d drive my 83 Rabbit diesel through drive thrus.

    Then they would always look surprised to see this little boxy VW come up to the window and apologize for thinking it was a truck.

    Thing was loud, like an international semi truck idling.

  10. David,

    For that amount of money is today’s market, you’re correct: those who have the know how can get probably get themselves into cheaper used cars than those who don’t possess that knowledge.

    The caveat being that it also probably won’t be anything moder.

    I always liked these things as a teen. I thought if I could get one when I turned 16, they would be great for my Explorer Scout weekends. Owners who had the first gen wanted more money than I had, and the second gen was fine, but the summer camp I volunteered at off season (which was when it was more hardcore camping, and we helped the ranger cut trees, paint, maintain trails) was pretty much 4×4 access only ‘roads’ once you got out of the parking lot and/or past the dining hall (delivery trucks needed access). And that second gen would not have cut it. Never did get one.

    I hope we read about some off-roading shenanigans in this thing.

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