'96 Cheap Cherokee: Dies in motion

Greetings Car Gods!

I have a monster of a car problem that needs your expertise. I drive a 1996 Jeep Cherokee (Country Edition) that I acquired a couple years ago for $3,100. It had approximately 145K miles and is up to almost 170K. The car has seen its share of maladies, but overall been a fair purchase…UNTIL NOW!

I was driving on the freeway the other day, when all of the sudden my car just died. The radio and heat shut off, all the gauges abruptly dropped, and (obviously) I began decelerating. Thankfully, I was able to safely signal to the shoulder (lights and blinkers still working). Once I placed the car in park, I turned the key and it started right up, no problemo.

This has happened 4 times, during 3 of which I was able to collect the following consistent pieces of information:

1. The car had less than a quarter of a tank of gas

2. No “dummy” lights came on indicating a problem

3. I was doing over 65 miles per hour, but less than 75

4. There was no lagging prior to the incidents

Now, the oil was recently changed, the air filter is fine, and the only mechanical problem that hasn’t been fixed involves the heater (whose motor sounds to be dying)…and a belt (?) that make ridiculous screeching noises from time to time.

Someone suggested recently that it could be my ignition switch. They recommended I use a newly copied key, but this made no difference, and now I feel dumb.

Can you help? As you may be able to tell from my email, I am not mechanically inclined, a mere high school math teacher, in desperate need of an inexpensive solution. I won’t hold you to it, but it would sure be nice.

Thank you kindly,

Jess Eilertson

My guess is a bad ignition switch since all your most accessories shut off.

I would check the ignition switch. With the engine running, wiggle the key in different directions and see if the engine hesitates. Even it that’s OK, could still be the switch.

The ignition switch supplies electrical power, directly, or through relay controls, to the dash components, and engine components (of course, not ALL). The fault could be in the ignition switch; but, the ignition switch gets its power (12 volts) from the power distribution center, which gets its power from the battery. It’s possible, though less likely, that the fault could be before the ignition switch.
The ignition switch is of two parts: the switch part with the wires and contacts; and, the lock cylinder part. A new key would make NO difference to the switch part…only to the lock cylinder part. If you were to change the ignition switch, it would be the wires and contacts part.