x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

My Car: Jeepers keepers, this free Cherokee is here for good

Graeme Mullin's Cherokee is old and was given to him for free, but he's developed a deep affection for it.

Graeme and his wife Rachel grew to love the Jeep Cherokee they inherited so much that they sold their Mitsubishi. The Jeep now has more than 500,000km on its clock. Silvia Razgova / The National
Graeme and his wife Rachel grew to love the Jeep Cherokee they inherited so much that they sold their Mitsubishi. The Jeep now has more than 500,000km on its clock. Silvia Razgova / The National

Graeme Mullin was not in a position to barter over the price of the Jeep Cherokee he was being offered. How could he? It was free.

"It belonged to a couple of teachers who were leaving but they'd waited until the last minute and couldn't sell it," the Englishman recalls.

"So they were going to scrap it. But the scrap yard was going to charge them Dh1,000 to take it to Musaffah on a flat-bed trailer so they asked if we wanted it.

"We already had a car [Mitsubishi] but we had to decide right there because it was going to be collected in a couple of hours."

That was in July 2009, when the Jeep was 14 years old and its odometer had clocked just over 400,000km.

The zero-dirham price tag didn't mean it came without cost. Graeme, a trade adviser at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, had to replace a cracked windscreen and buy four new tyres before it would pass an official inspection but he and his wife, Rachel, figured that even if it lasted a couple of months, they'd be ahead.

Two years on, the "eep" - as they've called it ever since the J of the logo fell off a while back - is not only going strong with 511,000km on the clock but, like a cute mongrel dog, has wormed its way into their affections to the point where they sold their Mitsubishi.

The eep has had its mechanical issues but the automotive magicians of Musaffah and Graeme and Rachel's own ingenuity have kept it going.

The payback is a car which they can park with impunity in bustling places such as the Tourist Club, noticing but not caring about the inevitable dings and scratches inflicted by other drivers.

"And it's pretty amusing to valet park at places like the Crowne Plaza and the Fairmont," Graeme, 29, adds. "When we went to a VIP horse event in Abu Dhabi, the security guys did a double take when we pulled up behind a Maserati.

"A lot of expats think it has comedy value but I think the best reaction is from the Adnoc guys who change the oil. Every time they see the odometer, they say we've got the record because they've never seen a car that's done so many kilometres."

There are other non-fiscal costs that come with the eep. When Graeme drove it into the compound of the embassy there was a lot of chatter from a co-worker about who left a rubbish skip out the front of the office.

It helps that Jeeps are an iconic American brand so the internet is awash with solutions for every possible mechanical ailment. It's also handy that the eep predated the days when a degree in computer engineering is required to even lift the bonnet.

"The bonnet got stuck once and we couldn't open it but we got on the internet and worked out we can use a wire coat hanger on the springs that were holding it in place," Graeme explains.

The eep's sometimes patchy reliability means the couple have to go to remote places in convoy but any 4x4 going into the desert has to do that anyway, so it's not a hardship. And while they can bash around on a wadi bed without a care, they watch as their friends fret about damaging their near-new 4x4s.

In the meantime, they've travelled as far as Salalah, in southern Oman, going via an off-road route through the Wahiba Sands, and they've gone through more dunes, mountains and wadis than all but the most committed UAE off-roader ever sees.

As for what was a supposed brief fling with the eep, the couple admit the relationship with it has blossomed into something much deeper. The best things in life really are free after all.