Project Car SOTU 2016: 2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS

Project VehiCROSS Update II – Wheels and tires and quirks, oh my
Quick note: as with Update I, the VX has progressed since this publishing but the written updates are lagging behind real life. Such is what happens when you move…
When we last left off my 2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS was sitting atop three shouldn’t-be-driven-on OEM wheels/tires and one laughably wimpy (and very yellow) space-saver. As the VX waited to be worthy of a “drivable” designation, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new wheels. With a bit of time to spare and the UPS shipment’s progress still not showing “Out for delivery,” I took a stab at fixing some of the VX’s persistent issues. As I mentioned last time, it’s become immediately apparent that working on a not-so-brand-new vehicle is significantly more complicated than anticipated. Not that I predicted all to be smooth sailing, but those little gremlins continue to rear their heads every time I work on the damn thing. All that said…I still love the VehiCROSS. Even looking at it puts a smile on my face. Frustration aside, happiness with one’s vehicle is what matters in the world of projects, right?

Just to reiterate before we go any further: I’m not a mechanic and don’t claim to be, so take all my “repairs” with a large grain of salt (and a shot of tequila, if you’re into that).

My dad demonstrating the geyser-like sprayer

Miniature project number one was to replace the windshield washer nozzles. In what must have been quite a spectacle and a moment of panic the hood insert (plastic piece that sits on the hood) flew off under the care of the previous owner, taking the nozzles with it. Being able to wash the windscreen is a wholly under-appreciated (and necessary) perk of modern automotive technology, especially in the land of pollen and evil demon birds that use windshields for target practice, so those nozzles would need to be replaced immediately. A very inexpensive Amazon purchase later and I had the hardware to mend the broken pieces. After a few minutes’ worth of figuring out what’s what, the windshield was once again capable of being cleaned via fluid and wipers. Not a major fix, but one that helps. And it only took ten minutes? Good enough for me.
Moving on, it was time to look into why the right-hand daytime running light had been acting up. Previously it was only working under the perfect amount of pressure, but upon revisiting it with more time and electrical tape got the job done…for now. It took a very exact amount of force and finesse, but eventually after using sufficient tape it stayed lit up long enough to fit it back into the housing without fault. I don’t doubt it will cause problems again, but to date it’s functional.
The headlights were another story. Nighttime driving was on the verge of dangerous so, guided by a desire to improve safety when driving after dark, I ordered a pair of brighter lights off Amazon during a promotion that saw the bulbs at about half-price. Let’s remember that good lights are a necessity in the land of rampant mindless deer, and replacing headlights is like…the most basic of the fixes one can do in the car world. It should be no problem, right? If only that had been the case.
It took multiple attempts, a bunch of Google searches, a slew of curses and then a few more attempts to actually make progress. Of all the lighting assemblies I’ve dealt with, those of the VehiCROSS are designed the worst. Or maybe it’s over-designed? I started with the passenger side, mistakenly thinking I could replace the bulbs in the ~five minutes I was able to do so on my old Avalanche. Problem one was that there’s a series of tabs, a rubber cap, a locking mechanism, and other spots of questionable construction that all need to be dealt with before you even get to the bulb. It’s a setup that is far too confusing for its own good.
But problem two, far and beyond the worst part, is the lack of space. I don’t exactly have the world’s largest hands, but fitting them in the “gap” between what’s behind the headlight assemblies and the headlight assemblies themselves is incredibly difficult. Small margins fits right along with the mojo of the vehicle, I guess. After nearly giving up, I found a YouTube tutorial and finally made progress…on the passenger side. One bulb changed, half-way done.
My shock and aggravation was only worsened upon finding even less room on the driver side. It’s a painfully tight area, a space so small you have to twist your hand in at a horribly awkward angle to even find the back of the housing. Eventually I navigated around the clutter of wires, got the thing apart, fit the new light in, and put it all back together as quickly as possible to avoid the possibility of forgetting where everything goes. Proud of my work, angry at the Isuzu engineers, and dreading having to change the headlights ever again, headlight replacement could finally be crossed off the “To Do” list. It was dark at this point, perfect timing to give the new lighting a shot. Good headlights are a luxury you usually don’t truly lust over until you’ve done a panic stop for an animal you couldn’t see, or had to drive well below the speed limit in fear of coming upon a corner too quickly. Unfortunately, as I found out upon testing the newly installed bulbs, they don’t change things that drastically and nighttime visibility is still “decent” at best. Oh well. At least it was a learning experience and is done and over with.
The next pressing issue is the driver’s window. “Down” is a command it understands just fine, but it doesn’t so much understand it’s supposed to do the opposite as well. An Isuzu-acknowledged design flaw means that the window slides forward off its track at even the lightest of pulls on the switch, thus rendering itself incapable of moving up any further. The window will go up an inch or two from the bottom of its path but from there you’re basically on your own. From there it requires a really awkward shimmying process of raising the window an inch with the switch, pulling it back into its intended path by hand, manually pulling it upward a few inches, then repeating the process until it finally hits the top and does or doesn’t seal properly (hint: it won’t). Almost all VX’s have this problem, and only a few people know how to fix it. Qualifies as a P.I.T.A. for sure.
While extremely frustrating that the window doesn’t work as it should, it’s also a safety issue. Acknowledging it as such, I deemed this important enough to attempt to fix on my own. Hopeful that I could manage the task I went and read a ton about the problem on the VX forum, gathered some tools, then went at it. Step one was to remove the door card, something I’ve never done, and then it would be a matter of diagnosing and trouble-shooting.
Pulling the door card off felt mildly abusive being that it’s made entirely of thin plastic, but eventually it came off without causing too much harm. From there I did what any somewhat clueless person in my situation would do: I played with the window in every conceivable way trying to make it function properly. Obviously that didn’t get me anywhere so I once again turned to the forum (yes, singular) and Facebook page (again, singular) for help. Having made no progress and with daylight long-since faded, I called it quits for the day and planned to re-assess the following afternoon. To summarize what has ensued since: no progress has been made. It’s broken in ways I cannot even being to analyze and will remain so until I can find somebody to help me fix it. If other owners speak the truth, it’s a pretty complicated repair and there’s one of four or a combination of those four reasons why the window stops working as intended. I re-installed the door card and haven’t addressed it since. To be continued.
And then the wheels finally arrived! It was a happy day at work when four Black Rock Dune 16×8” wheels were delivered via UPS. A brief arrival inspection and they were ready to go. I dropped the unmounted set off at my local shop along with the Cooper AT3 245/65/16 tires to be wrapped around them, excited for how the rig would soon look. The next day I picked up the newly mounted set and put them on the VehiCROSS which was much, much easier than the last time I had to swap wheels/tires over. Satisfied with the new look? Extremely so. The black wheels accent the cladding to give it an added sense of aggression, and the chunkier all-terrain tires help back up the looks. Bigger tires would have fit, but a set of four half-worn AT3s for $200 was impossible to pass up especially considering it helped out a friend. Regardless, it looks great. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Now that all of the above was taken care of, it was time to take inventory of what else needs to be tended to:

  • The frame has a good amount of rust that could use to be cleaned up. It’s nothing that jeopardizes structural integrity but it’s not pretty.
  • It definitely needs better lighting. A few old-school Hellas or a small LED bar behind the grille would do nicely. The headlight lenses themselves could also use a proper cleaning/refinishing.
  • Driver window is still broken.
  • HVAC fan has leaves in it and makes a horrible noise when on; needs to be cleaned out.
  • Air Conditioning wishes it works but doesn’t.

All this and the thing still hadn’t seen the road since I took ownership. But major progress has been made and now, issues aside, I deem the VehiCROSS road-worthy. There’s a long way to go but at least it’s drivable. So, how did the first trip go?  Stay tuned to find out.
**Full-disclosure super-current update: I wrote all of the above but never posted it, saving it for Project Car SOTU week. Up until this point things were going great with the VehiCROSS. Or at least going well. “Great” is a bit optimistic. But then I moved, and things came to a crashing stop. For now let’s just leave it at this: one parking space, two vehicles. Things are about to change. Drastically. There will be more updates to come, but the end of the road may be near for Project VX. Stay tuned.**

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  1. Tim Karre Avatar
    Tim Karre

    Come on keep the Isuzu. I have one parking spot and three cars. One of those is a Trooper and I never get to read anything about Isuzus.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      If only it were that easy…

  2. CraigSu Avatar

    Your headlamp change sounds like my Saab. I’ve learned how to do it by feel mainly because I can’t see most of what needs to be done.
    As to your driver door window it sounds like the current state of the Saab’s front passenger window. It goes down (but at an angle) and has to be grabbed and guided while it’s raised again. From past experience I know it’s a failed pinch roller (2 per window, about $10/pair) and they have to be replaced every so often. I’ve probably done it 5-6 times now since buying the car new in 1999. Not a difficult job but it’s a pain to remove everything that’s in the way and put it back.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Always easier to take apart than put back together.

  3. zoggferry Avatar
    knowing this is sitting right down the hill from my house is killing me. i cant stand those wheels on it tho.

    1. Ross Ballot Avatar
      Ross Ballot

      Those wheels are horrid. Interior is in good shape though. Price is a bit high for the mileage but seems like a decent vehicle overall…would need thorough inspecting of course.

    2. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      That is a good price. IMHO these vehicles will soon be going up in value.

      1. Ross Ballot Avatar
        Ross Ballot

        Don’t forget that “rare” is not synonymous with “valuable.”

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          Yes! Yes it is! My retirement strategy depends upon this being true!

          1. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            Mine too.

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