My Jeep Cherokee wouldn’t start… here’s what happened.

For a few weeks, I’ve been alluding to having some car trouble and it’s true, I’ve been without a working vehicle for almost two weeks. Because the forums and message boards are always overloaded with Jeep troubles, I thought I’d share my experience.

Some Background on my 2012 Jeep Cherokee Laredo

I’ve had my Jeep for almost four years. I bought it used from a dealership in Louisiana when I lived there. It’s a 2012 Jeep Cherokee Laredo and when I bought it, it had 31,000 miles on it.

Before getting the Cherokee, I had a Jeep Liberty. The Liberty was a great car, I just wanted something bigger, so I traded it in for the Cherokee after just two years, which was not a smart financial move, but at the time, I didn’t care.

I bought the Cherokee without doing any research — I just loved it so much, and felt like it didn’t have many miles on it (I previously had a Ford Explorer sport that I drove until it had more than 200,000 miles on it).

So, I got the Cherokee, but I entered into a pretty large amount of debt with a hefty monthly payment of $520 (not including insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.). I’m only putting this for a point I’ll make later.

The Jeep Problems I’ve had so far

As I mentioned, the Liberty was a great car. I didn’t have any problems with it, or the dealership, which is one reason I trusted them when I bought the Cherokee. But it wasn’t long before I started getting recalls for the Cherokee in the mail. So far, my Jeep has had four recalls.

The only main problem I’ve had with my Jeep really has nothing to do with my car and more to do with Jeep as a company. A few years ago, my check engine light came on just a few weeks before I was planning to head out on a road trip.

I didn’t feel right driving it with the light on, so I started looking for a dealership to take it to for a diagnostic (the Jeep was still under warranty). Every dealership I called said it would be a 2-3 month wait just to get a diagnostic.

While my model and year are particularly known for problems, Jeeps of all kinds suffer from problems, which is why the dealerships are always so backed up.

So, I took it to Firestone for a diagnostic. One of the cylinder heads on my engine wasn’t working properly, causing the rest of the engine to work harder. I called Jeep and explained and they told me not to drive the car on my trip because it could catch on fire.

Okay, but where do I take it? I asked. They refused to help, nor would they pay for a rental car for me to use on my trip.

I tried one more dealership. I made an appointment and showed the guy the paperwork from Firestone and he laughed at me and said, “You paid $80 for this?” Yes, I said, because no one at Jeep will help me and I’m trying to get a diagnostic and a rental car from Jeep.”

He told me about the waitlist and I started to cry and just drove my Jeep home.

For my trip, I got a rental car on my own dime and continued looking for dealerships to take it to when I returned and found one in Georgetown, Texas that could get it in. It’s Mac Haik if you’re in the area — they have never let me down!

They fixed the problem in just a few days. Since then, I had another check engine light issue, where I needed a new thermometer inside my engine, but I went straight to the same dealership and they fixed it within five days.

What they on the Jeep message boards

Whenever I have a problem with my Jeep, I do what lots of people do: I search Google. I will say, it’s terrifying. Many Cherokees and Wranglers have had issues stalling in the middle of interstates. I’ve seen stories about people who have their Jeeps still in the shop after three months… or worse, the Jeep is still broken after being in the shop.

On some level, I suppose it’s a little comforting to know you’re not alone, and we can all feel stuck together. I mean, these are our cars and we need them to work!

But, there are things I’ve experienced with my Jeep that I’ve never had elsewhere — like a near $300 battery! Or a gas tank that is moody, so I refuse to put more than half a tank in it at once (it’s a stupid story).

The Red Lightning Bolt of Death

About a month ago, I started my car, but it struggled. It was chugging but not turning over. However, after two tries, it started. That happened a few times, and then once it wouldn’t start. I waited a day and tried again, and it started no problem.

This may sound dumb, but I initially was NOT freaking out about this because there’s been a handful of times that I’ve had my check engine light on and in a day, it’s shut off. I try not to jump to the shop because sometimes, it’s just a weird fluke #JeepLife.

When I got it started, I took it to Firestone to see if they would check it out (my Jeep is no longer under warranty). They ran some tests and told me everything seemed fine after looking at the starter, battery and alternator. But they also couldn’t recreate the problem I was describing.

So, that was a bust. But, my car was starting normally and everything seemed okay. I even left it parked at the airport for a trip and it fired right up when I got home.

But, one random day, I went out to go to yoga and it wouldn’t start at all. It kept trying, but no dice. That’s when I noticed a red lightning bolt in my dashboard. I don’t have the original owner’s manual, so I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.

So, I contacted someone who’d been doing the oil changes on my car. I wanted to see if he did any other mechanic services or if he knew anyone who he would recommend. I was trying to avoid getting it towed, if necessary.

He didn’t, and didn’t seem interested in helping me.

The next step was to call my insurance and have them send roadside assistance, so someone came out to jump it. But it wouldn’t start with a jump. The gentleman said he used to work for Chrysler (Jeep) so he tried a few known hacks to test things, and he said it was likely my starter, which wouldn’t work with a jump.

So, I scheduled an appointment with a mobile mechanic who came with tools to replace my starter. But he did a diagnostic first and immediately said it wasn’t the starter, pointing to the red lightning bolt.

“This is a common problem in Cherokees and Wranglers with this engine,” he said. The red lightning bolt is referring to the ETC, electronic throttle control.

But when you Google that… it says “Red lightning bolt of death”, which not only sounds awful, but from reading message boards, it also clear that it can come on for a number of reasons — including battery, faulty wiring, air detection, etc.

The mobile mechanic said it would have to be taken into Jeep. So, I called old faithful, Mac Haik.

My Experience at Mac Haik Jeep Dodge

Per usual, they were so nice and I explained the red lightning bolt of death. I told them I would have it towed whenever they could fit me in, and I was prepared to have to wait a few weeks.

“We’ll put it in the queue as soon as it arrives,” they said.

So, I arranged to have it towed the next morning, which was a Friday (last Friday). The gentleman at Mac Haik, Mike, did say it could be Monday or Tuesday before they had a diagnosis, but I still felt relieved they could get to it so fast.

So, the Jeep was towed (I cried) and by Friday afternoon, Mike called me back with the diagnosis: I needed a new battery and a new fuel pump relay.

The fuel pump relay was one of the items recalled on my Jeep, and I got it replaced in 2016. These are parts that usually last on some cars for the entire lifetime of a car… and this would be my third one.

Mike explained to me how the part worked and yes, it makes sense that they can just wear down, but I’m pretty sure the specific engine I have wears them down faster. The good news is, they are not expensive (they are around $70).

Mike told me the price and that it would be ready Saturday, so in less than 24 hours from the time it arrived.

Car Troubles are Never Ideal

Before I wrap this post up, I want to share some thoughts about car problems in general because I shared some of these issues on my social media accounts over the last few weeks and I remain dumbfounded as to how passionate people are when it comes to personal decisions on vehicles.

I have driven all sorts of different cars over the years, and have had several different types of car troubles. I’ve had flat tires, cars that wouldn’t start, I’ve had my transmission blow in a parking lot!

No matter what kind of car you buy, you’re going to run into issues. When I bought the Cherokee, I mistakenly thought that buying a semi-luxury vehicle would mean I’d be treated nicer at the dealership and would possibly get a loner vehicle when I needed work done.

No and hell no. Period.

In fact, a car I bought from someone’s front yard has been the best vehicle I’ve ever had. The fact is, car trouble totally sucks. Depending on where you live or what kind of job you have, you need your car to keep your life going, and when things don’t work, it’s stressful.

For me, I’m always worried about the money to get it fixed. How much will it be? Can I afford it? In this case, I was able to sort of take my time getting things diagnosed and fixed because I work from home and really, anything I need is within walking distance.

But what I was never prepared for was the things people said to me while I was trying to figure out things with my car: do this, do that, take an Uber, trade your car in, sell it.

Um… excuse me?

This is normally not something I would address here, but I’m going to. For me, a car is a big purchase, and frankly, it is none of anyone’s business what I choose to do with my money nor my property.

As I mentioned, I’ve had my Jeep for almost four years and it will be completely paid off next year. I have personal financial goals of living debt-free, and eliminating a car payment is a large chunk of that goal.

I am not judging anyone for the decisions they make with cars or money or debt, but for me, right now, selling or trading in my car is the LAST thing I want to do, and this was a message I got almost every day.

It is no help whatsoever to get messages like that when stress is in overdrive. I work for myself, I don’t have a salary, so taking time to deal with a mechanic or get a tow, takes time away from making money. Messages like that made me cry.

Yes, I’ve had some issues with Jeep in the past. Yes, I bought a Cherokee during a bad year. But this is my car! It’s only at 86,000 miles and really hasn’t had any of the issues that other Jeeps of its kind have experienced (knock on wood).

Living beyond my means is how I got myself into this mess in the first place and I have worked my ass off to fix it. Did you know I lost two jobs while owning this Jeep? At times, I was working 60-80 hours a week to make sure I never missed a payment.

The crazy thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten such passionate reactions from ANYTHING I’ve posted online. Messaging me every day to tell me to sell my Jeep? Really?

How about asking me if I’m okay? Asking if I need any help? Because I did. Because of my anxiety and my workload, I enlisted my mom to help me make all of these appointments and call the mechanic and insurance and arrange roadside assistance and the tow.

Last week, right here on the blog, I discussed social media and how no one truly connects on it anymore. I suppose I got what I asked for. My hope was that we could support each other. Instead of messaging someone telling them what to do, maybe encourage them, wish them a good day, etc. I can’t imagine how great it would be if I had that much daily passion about my next book or upcoming projects!

I suppose it doesn’t matter what it is about, everyone has an opinion and they’re going to do whatever it takes to share it via social media, text message, billboard, whatever, even if that opinion is uninvited. My opinion is on my blog, and if it’s not your thing, you are welcome to stop reading it, but I would never force my opinion into anyone’s inbox.

So, if you’re wondering, no I’m not getting rid of my Jeep. Is that okay with you? It needed maintenance and although it’s flattering that it looks like I’m in a financial state to just randomly get new cars, nope. I got my Jeep fixed, and even got a new AC filter, new windshield wipers, an oil change and a brake fluid flush. When I picked up the Jeep, they’d even completed my final recall.

Relating to other Jeep Owners

When it was time for me to pick the Jeep up, I got a Lyft and saw it was actually a Cherokee picking me up. When I told her I was picking mine up, she instantly told me she was getting a new engine the following week (her Jeep had 82,000 miles on it).

We commiserated and she said she was never buying a Jeep again. I told her I wasn’t either, but we both agreed that we’d bought these cars and we were going to drive them until we felt like we’d gotten our monies’ worth!

I have always been open about how much Jeep sucks, and when I know someone looking for a new car, I warn them to do their research. But, people are going to do what is best for them, and while I hope no one ever has problems like I have with my Jeep, I also feel fortunate that they have been ones I’ve been able to survive physically, and financially.

We are all just trying to do our best, and if you’ve got the red lightning bolt of death, know that it might not be that big of a fix.

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