The Final Drive

“Knocking? No. Pinging? No. Tapping? Yes. Tapping. A rhythmic tapping, tapping, tapping, growing louder and louder and louder as I climbed my mountain, homeward. Neighbors stared. Dogs ran. This was a palpable noise that required reckoning.”

My two-door Jeep Wrangler was a substantial investment. I took good care of it, hoping that it would last forever. I felt that it deserved the longevity that I desired, so I came up with a fool-proof, sure-fire plan.

I read the owner’s manual carefully and repeatedly.  

I vowed: never skip scheduled service appointments.

I pledged: always review the maintenance and service checklists, always review the safety checklists, and always review the fluids checklist.

Easy promises for something worth so much. Right?

I swore to review faithfully all the other checklists. Tires—pressure, tread, spare, jack/tools. Lights—headlights, hazard lights, park lights, and fog lights.

I even swore that I would check all the general things that need periodic checking: hoses, filters, batteries, and belts.

My fool-proof plan worked well.

My Wrangler aged over the years, but gracefully so.  

Fading headlights didn’t matter much since I don’t drive a lot at night anyway.

Failing sound systems mattered more. Silence is golden for some, but not for me. I figured out with great speed how to jerry-rig my iPod to a Bluetooth speaker. Voila! I had perfect surround-sound gospel music wherever I went.

The miles crept up and up and up. I couldn’t turn back the odometer, but I couldn’t stand to look at it either. So I opted to use just the trip-odometer to track single, solitary journeys. Those lower numbers comforted. But, in the back of my head, I was mindful that the real engine mileage was getting higher and higher.

And then came the day when I forgot to recharge my jerry-rigged sound system. Alas! No music.  

For once, I heard internal sounds, and they were not what I expected. I had never heard such reverberations before.

Knocking? No. Pinging? No. Tapping? Yes. Tapping. A rhythmic tapping, tapping, tapping, growing louder and louder and louder as I climbed my mountain, homeward. Neighbors stared. Dogs ran. This was a palpable noise that required reckoning.  

My local mechanic figured that heavier oil with an additive would reduce the friction and lower the noise. His concoction became a new part of my old plan to keep the Wrangler going.

Sadly, the remedy didn’t last long. The tapping grew louder and louder, even after I recharged my sound system and regained my soul music. I knew that it was time for my Wrangler to go back to the dealership, back to the manufacturer.

Off I drove.

It only took an hour for the diagnosis: faulty hydraulic lifters. My heart sank.

It rose again, though, when I heard the recommended fix: replace the lifters.  We all believed the old Wrangler still had lots of miles ahead.   

It took hours to get the job done. One led to two; two led to three; three led to four; and four led to saddened faces.

Yes. The lifters had been replaced, but the repair hadn’t worked. The problem was deeper. The whole engine had aged, had given away.

That was it. Finis!

Little did I know—when I drove my Wrangler back to the dealership, back to the maker—that I would not drive it again.

I emailed a friend about my dilemma.

“Does this mean your poor Wrangler is in the shop getting that rattle fixed? Or worse …???” she probed.

“Worse,” I answered. “It looks like the engine is shot.”

“Awww, I’m sorry. Wranglers are sort of human, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” I mused. “Both are wrangling for the final drive.”