1. Not original equipment?...or maybe someone tried or did break into it at some time?. Could always just lose it. My friends Jeep with full doors and console freaks me out...claustrophobic
2. Pick up a service manual, I like haynes and it'll give you a walk through on adjusting the cable tension. It sounds like it isn't adjusting itself as its supposed to, which seems to be a tendency on Chrysler vehicles. The one time I needed my Dakota's e-brake the brake line had blown...didn't work to well
. There also a link hanging around to a listserv that has the factory manual on it.
3. Biggest mistake I've ever heard of: going alone. Buddy got his disco stuck on state property and real real bad. Buddy with a defender had to go risk his own 35,000 dollar truck to help him, only to be unsuccessful.
I've also watched a stock range rover with a beat suspension and tires make it all the way through a pretty rough trail, because the club he was wheeling with didn't push him, they guided him through everything well and when he was in trouble they all were there, including myself ready to bail him out.
Second: don't do something that looks stupid or unobtainable. Same buddy did exactly that. He thought he was hot shit in his stock disco. Flipped it over. No more off-roading for him.
Do what you're comfortable with and find the limits of your vehicle. Things don't have to break, but if you want to take it a step further...well expect it. Think out the lines you take and if your jeep doesn't like it. Listen!...or it'll make you pay for it. On that same trip I mentioned previously the only damage suffered was to a disco. He was using 4 hi to climb a rock face, when his tires broke lose he pushed it harder. He didn't think out his line, didn't bother to air down, just hit it harder the same way and went straight into a tree. Later on he decided he'd follow a jeep through a water hole hahahahahaha....I won't post that picture for his sake.
And one that I really stand by on even the simplest trails is don't be afraid to drop her in 4 low. Its there for a reason. If you go bounding down a rocky road in 4 hi you're probably in 1st or 2nd going too fast for the terrain and hitting the accelerator erratically cause you're bouncing all over the place. In 4 low you can use a higher gear with the same amount of torque and crawl along nice and slow allowing more time to think out lines, avoid obstacles, and overall the vehicle is taking less abuse.
Happy Wheeling. Happy Jeepin. Happy wrenching. You're gonna love it all.