Last month, I went through hell trying to fix and drive home a supremely rare, 260,000 mile, manual transmission Jeep Grand Cherokee that I’d bought sight unseen for $700 from the Middle Of Nowhere, Colorado. Ultimately, my friend Brandon and I pulled off a miracle, and the Jeep now sits in my backyard in Michigan. But just because it made the trip doesn’t mean The Grail is without flaws. No no, this Jeep needs lots of work. Here’s a look at what’s still broken.
After my first drive in my rare, manual transmission, 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee, I knew there would be quite a bit of work needed to get the Jeep drivable, I didn’t even want to think about how much more work it’d take to get it into the pristine shape such a rare machine deserves to be in.
Out in Colorado, Brandon, a reader named Anthony, and I tightened the front track bar bracket to fix the loose steering, replaced the clutch that was slipping, swapped out the brake pads, bled the front brakes, fixed the front windshield washer, and replaced the bad rear driveshaft U-joints. But that was it; We did the bare minimum needed to get the Jeep across the country, and no more.
The Jeep now sits in my yard in fully drivable condition, but it’s still riddled with flaws. So many, that I’d say getting the Jeep into “good” condition will take as big a miracle as I needed to drive this Jeep across the country in the first place:
I’m fairly certain this Jeep spent all of its life in Grand Junction Colorado (it was sold by a dealer in Grand Junction in 1994, I have confirmed), a high-desert place where cars generally don’t rot away as they do here in Michigan.
And indeed, the underbody of this ZJ is borderline mint, though I did find a bit of rust on the bottom of the driver’s door. I’ll knock that off with an angle grinder, and hopefully, it won’t be a big deal, because I’d really just like to own one, single functional vehicle that isn’t being eaten by Fe2O3. Is that too much to ask, car gods?
Though I didn’t expect to find any rust on the Jeep, I did expect cracked interior plastics thanks to all the sunshine in Colorado. And that’s what I found; the dashboard, shown above, has a number of cracks.
Even the door panels are cracked:
Some of the faults have less to do with sunshine causing he plastic to fail, and more to do with generally poor-quality components. The rear cover to access the rear center high mounted stop lamp bulbs, for example, is missing, and the surrounding area is cracked:
The trim piece around the radio is also broken:
All the clips holding the shift boot’s plastic bezel to the center console are broken, and now the boot lifts up and reveals a white towel, which I assume someone stuffed in there to quiet down the transmission noise.
This broken bezel is a bummer because this part is unobtanium. I can find lots of parts for the engine and transmission, since they are the same as those in XJ Cherokees and YJ/TJ Wranglers. And I can snag plenty of body and interior parts off of other ZJs. But manual ZJ-specific interior parts like this shift boot bezel or the clutch pedal? Forget about it.
I may have to resort to some 3-D printing to solve this.
The trim at the back of the cargo area roof is also falling down:
Even the A-Pillar plastic trim has come undone, and is being held up with a screw:
The carpet is also really gross:
I’m also missing my rear bench headrests (the bench is folded for now, as I have a heavy axle in the back of the Jeep):
And there are a couple of tears in my headliner:
What’s great is that most interior electrical components in this Jeep work. Power seats, power mirrors, power windows, HVAC—it all functions well. But there’s one button on the doors that doesn’t do what it promises on its label: the door lock switch.
Pressing it yields a quiet sound in all the doors, but no unlocking or locking. It’s not a huge deal, since I’m used to driving vehicles with manual locks, but this Jeep is so close to being fully functional that I may as well just get this done.
There is another button that doesn’t quite work as well as it should: the intermittent wiper switch on the turn signal stalk. The issue is that, when the sky drizzles a bit, I cannot set the wipers to a “low” setting; they only work on “max,” and that’s annoying.
Luckily, I bet I can just find a new turn signal switch and whatever part is causing my lock to fail at a junkyard. Hopefully I can also find an auto-dimming mirror that works, because mine very much does not.
Why someone thought an auto-dimming mirror was worth it over just one of those standard, flippable mirrors is beyond me. But this one came with an auto-dimming mirror, so I’ll keep it equipped as it came from the factory.
I’m not entirely sure about this, but I think the factory “Up Country Suspension Group” off-road shocks are blown, as the rear end does a lot of clunking, and the ride feels a bit floaty. I’ll check the sway bar links, but I really think these shocks are long gone.
Ideally, I’d get these dampers rebuilt or find some new-old-stock ones, as there’s nothing cooler than a factory-original manual Jeep Grand Cherokee, but these options may be prohibitively expensive, so I may just snag some aftermarket ones and try to paint them blue.
In the initial Craigslist ad, the seller said the ‘94 Jeep Grand Cherokee “ZJ” was missing its front driveshaft. So, out of concern that I’d be driving over the Rockies during a snowstorm, I had someone from Facebook Marketplace stop by the Grand Junction garage I was wrenching in, I handed him $50 bucks, and he gave me the shaft. Literally.
That’s because the driveshaft ended up being much too long, and I’d wasted half a Benjamin. So I’m still on the hunt for a new one so this Jeep can be four-wheel drive, like the Jeep gods intended.
While wrenching on the ZJ’s front brakes, I noticed the bent lower control arm on the passenger’s side. It explains why I have to keep the steering wheel turned left to keep the Jeep in a straight line.
I purchased a new control arm in Grand Junction, figuring that if Brandon and I had spare time, we’d swap it out. But we didn’t have time, and determined that the control arm was not a safety risk. Still, it’d be nice to get this fixed and the Jeep aligned properly at some point in the near future.
That alignment will help keep my future new-ish tires from wearing down prematurely. I say “future,” because I need to snag some new rubber soon, the ones wrapping my badly clipped wheels are from 2013, and they’re looking a bit rough.
As much as I appreciate the lack of salt and slush in Grand Junction, it’s clear the sun takes its own toll. Between the tires, paint, and interior plastics, that big burning ball in the sky likes to deal cars a heavy blow every now and then, even if that punch isn’t quite as heavy as the one from the salt truck up north.
In classic Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee fashion, the gas struts meant to hold the rear hatch up do not work. This is no big deal; I’ll try to snag some from a junkyard, or, if I’m feeling like a baller, I’ll buy some new ones from a parts store.
For some reason, my windshield cracked a few days after I got back from Colorado. I’m assuming the cold temperatures in Michigan ended up revealing a few pre-existing vulnerabilities in the glass.
I don’t know what happened to the power antenna, but it’s broken and has been replaced by a little wire. I can still hear the antenna’s motor spin when I turn the car off, so I bet I can fix this without too much fuss.
It may be hard to tell in the photos, but the rear driver’s side quarter panel is pushed in a bit just ahead of the fuel filler door. Notice how the rear door juts out farther than the quarter panel; The two should be flush:
You can see some cracking bondo on the flare:
It’s actually a large dent, but it’s so shallow that it’s not too obvious.
The paint is bad.
Like really bad.
Like really, really bad.
And the roof got hit hardest by the sun. You can see lots of clear coat peeling, some surface rust, and some plastic roof rack strips coming undone.
Those damn black strips sometimes make a loud banging noise when I’m driving down the highway as they slap against the roof.
While we’re talking about the top of the Jeep, the rear washer came loose from the hatch. Also, the trim around the bumpers has also come loose:
But worse than that is the fact that the rear bumper cover is pretty badly cracked, and will need to be replaced:
The 4.0-liter engine runs reasonably well, though it occasionally stumbles. It also smokes quite a bit during startup. If I’m lucky, this is just worn out valve stem seals (those are the rubber donuts under the valve cover that go around the stems of the valves). Worst case, it’s a head or ring issue, though I’m not losing coolant, and the engine makes good power so I bet it’ll pass a compression test with flying colors.
The serpentine belt needs to be swapped soon. It squeaks quite a bit, and though I can check to see if the noise is caused by an issue with a pulley, swapping the belt seems like a good bit of preventative maintenance, anyway.
I also noticed that the air box is missing some clips that keep the lid on, and thermostat seems to be seeping some kind of fluid:
Speaking of the thermostat, I think it’s the wrong one, because the engine runs cool, as shown below (note that the oil pressure looks good now that I fixed the sender and harness):
I’ll be throwing a 195 F thermostat in here with a new gasket, and that should solve those two issues.
None of my Jeeps except, oddly, my 1985 Jeep J10 pickup, have functioning air conditioning. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the compressor, condenser, evaporator, receiver drier, hard-lines—I really have no clue. But early Chrysler-era Jeeps just had garbage AC systems. I don’t plan to fix this as long as I’m living in Michigan.
One of the things that make this Jeep special is the fact that it’s not just a rare manual Jeep Grand Cherokee, but a well-equipped one. The Hunter Green Jeep has power doors and windows, heated power mirrors, an overhead console, and the Up Country off-road package.
That package includes special springs and shocks, tow hooks, and also an underbody skid plate group. I’ve got my fuel tank and steering skid plates, but the armor under my transfer case is nowhere to be found! There are threaded provisions in the unibody and transfer case crossmember for it, so it was definitely there at one point, but it is now gone forever.
I bet I can find a replacement at a junkyard, though.
The passenger’s side front window has tinted glass that makes everything outside look blurry. I think someone tried to tint the fronts themselves, and did a terrible job at it.
Obviously, the headlight on the driver’s side is in bad shape because a little plastic clip that’s meant to push over a ball stud is broken:
The light is missing in these photos, because the tuna can fix we used to get back from Colorado was obviously not a long-term fix, so I went out and snagged a new light from the junkyard.
Unfortunately, as shown above, the rear of the new light where the bulb goes in is a bit different, so I’ll have to pay a bit better attention next time I go to the yard for a replacement.
Even the passenger’s side light isn’t great. It’s faded to look yellow, and the turn signal under it is letting in moisture.
There’s some amount of grinding coming from the rear differential area, and it gets louder with load. The transmission also makes a noise in fifth gear (but more of a high-pitched whining), and I can hear some input shaft bearing noise when I let off the clutch in neutral.
I knew this Jeep had some issues, but putting them all into this list makes it all seem a little overwhelming. Gosh, that’s a lot of stuff to fix.
This Jeep runs and drives quite nicely, and the body is solid, but it’s still very much a shitbox.