I’ve been driving FWD vehicles for too long. I love my ‘scort Wagon, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve just been unable to powersteer for way too long.
That, however, has officially changed.
See, I DD a ‘98 Escort Wagon. It’s a fantastic car; fun to drive (zoom-zoom!), easy to fix, reliable (230k miles on it), can tow like nobody’s business, and of course, it gets 35+mpg on the highway with a full load. Plus it only cost me $850 when I bought it 2 years ago.
Problem is, it’s FWD. Sure, it’s a brown manual wagon... but that wrong-wheel-drive just really got to me. I wasn’t about to change vehicles, though; I couldn’t afford it.
Then the week of nightmares happened.
First off, my car was already due for an oil change and needed brake pads. The trailer light controller had recently died, which actually affects me a lot more than the average person, as I tow a 4’x8’ utility trailer about once a week.
Then last week happened. It started with a flat tire, which I got fixed. Then the next day, I hit a deer. I avoided it pretty well, but it still glanced off my right fender, breaking the understructure for the passenger headlight, and denting my fender. It also broke one or more of the steel belts in that tire, which of course means immediate replacement. About 20 minutes later, an idiot almost hit me head-on; he came around a blind corner entirely in my lane. I had about 100’ to react, and thankfully I did, steering into the ditch. Thankfully, no damage was done to my car, but my nerves were pretty rattled.
Then, the next day, I hit a screw on the road, while running a short errand, and had a blowout on a third tire, immediately requiring the use of the limp-along spare (which, I should point out, was brand new; impressive for an 18-year-old-car). Then, while on my commute the next morning, where I was planning to get my tires fixed, my car started to overheat. I thought it was just the warm weather (although that car NEVER overheats), so I pulled over before it hit the ‘red zone’ and let it cool. After letting it cool for 40 minutes, I took off again, only to overheat about 5 minutes later. I turned on the heater, and felt cold air; I checked the coolant reserve and found it was within spec. Looks like I need a water pump and timing belt.
So, I called my family and had someone bring my pickup to trailer my ‘scort the rest of the way to work. I had the 4’x8’ trailer behind my car empty, so we stood it on end and strapped it to the ramp on my car hauler. That seemed to work pretty well, so off we went. After trailering the car 74.5 miles, just 1/2 mile from our destination, the strap I’d used to hold the utility trailer in place decided it was time to retire, and dropped the trailer onto the back of my car. Amazingly, it didn’t crack the window; however it left a noticeable scratch in the glass, and bent the hinges, so now the hatch clunks when you open or close it. After unloading the car, I noticed anifreeze had sprayed across the engine bay, and it appeared to be coming from the back side of the radiator; no idea why it sprang a leak when the water pump died.
So, all things told, we’ve got 4 tires, brake pads, an oil change, a trailer light controller, a radiator, and a timing belt & water pump. That’ll come to something like $900+ if I do the cooling repair myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have a grand laying around, so I was stranded at work 150 miles from home, with no affordable way to commute. I had my truck, but it’s a 12-mpg workhorse; not something you want to do a 300 miles commute in.
Not knowing what to do, I did some looking at classifieds. I was a little burnt out on my ‘scort; I love that car dearly, but I just couldn’t bear any more problems. I found a posting in a local Facebook group that listed a ‘92 (later I found out it was a ‘95) Suzuki Sidekick with 100k miles (later I found out it’s actually 206k) ‘ran when parked in a field 10 months ago’ for $750 or trade for a riding lawn mower. It was 20 miles from my workplace, so I called first thing the next morning, and went to look at it.
The convertible top had been damaged by a hailstorm, leaving the interior somewhat open to the elements for at least a year. One of the tires was half flat. The battery was dead. The passenger headlight & turn signal were destroyed by hitting a deer (which also cracked the grille and bent the fender slightly). It was filthy. And I loved it.
Your car might have come with a stick, but did it come with THREE sticks? Didn’t think so.
Before starting it, the seller told me that the reason he’d stopped driving it was because it was running rough and backfiring. He thought it was the timing belt, but I suspected it was something else.
After being jumped, it started after turning over about 3 times. The seller had a visibly shocked look on his face; he didn’t expect it to start at all. It ran super smooth and quiet. I hopped in with my mom riding shotgun (she was my ride out there, as well as my ‘scort’s babysitter now that it’s on the blink). She was NOT initially impressed. I, however, instantly loved it. It had a shimmy at any speed over 20, and wasn’t eager to go faster than about 45. The engine sputtered and ran pretty rough at any speed above idle. Away from the seller’s house, I got out and checked under it, and was shocked to find that it’s a very Oppo-ish vehicle; See, I thought it was a crossover; it isn’t.
It’s a true body-on-frame Latitudeinally-mounted RWD SUV, with a 5-speed tranny, linking back to a solid rear axle. This one wasn’t 4x4, but it had LT235/75 15 BFG’s on it, which are an awesome tire off-road. Additionally, it had absolutely zero rust under it, thanks to being a Wyoming vehicle, and the suspension looked to be in fantastic shape.
We drove back, and I asked him how to open the hood; turns out it’s in the glovebox (thanks to left-side-driving Japan), and we looked under the hood. He as driving it regularly, but gave up because of the rough running. Shortly before parking it, he’d changed the oil, replaced the plugs, cap & rotor, and gotten an alignment done. I asked if he’d tried adjusting the spark timing, but he had no idea what that was. I asked what his bottom dollar was, and he said that he thought $750 was a pretty fair price. I couldn’t disagree, but I asked if he was interested in a partial trade of a riding mower. I told him about an older riding mower I had paid $350 for a couple years before, told him about the small issues it had, and asked if it was something he’d be interested in. He immediately wanted to see it, and offered me the Sidekick for $350 & the lawnmower.
At that price, I figured that I could probably get it going well enough to drive it home, where I would get it running well over the weekend.
So, this weened, I spent a few hours patching the roof with some leftover vinyl from a motorcycle seat reupholstering project, and cleaned the car carefully. I adjusted the spark timing, tightened the negative battery cable,
strapped in a sealed-beam headlight, added some spare fog lights I’d had laying around, and now I’ve got a fun, ready-to-run off-road DD.
My ‘scort will get the attention it deserves, but on my schedule and budget. Basically, I get to do it right, rather than hurriedly in my parents driveway. When it’s fixed, I’ll have an off-road toy. In the meantime, I finally get to drive something with right wheel drive, and it’s even a body-on-frame SUV, which is more than I was hoping for.
I feel like it was $350 and an old lawnmower well spent.