“Free beach vacation in return for taking my rusty Cherokee” reads an email from a Long Island-based reader about his 1995 Jeep XJ. This comes just days after a Pennsylvania-based reader told me about his 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee: “If you’re interested in it it’s yours for the taking...That’s right... Free.” Now I have decisions to make, and I could use your help.
There was a time in my life when I thought it was impossible to have too many cars. But now I’m pushing 30-years-old, and wisdom is slowly (and I mean slowly) starting to rear its boring and sensible head. This is why I don’t know what to do about the 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 1995 Jeep Cherokee being offered to me for zero dollars.
Yes, that’s $0.00, a price that elevates these two unibody off-roaders to the very pinnacle of cheapness. And as someone who fetishizes inexpensive cars, I won’t lie and tell you I’m not foaming at the mouth right now.
Let’s have a peek at these two lovely gratismobiles.
What you’re looking at here is a fine example of a “WJ”-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. This particular one has been offered to me by a kind Butler, Pennsylvania-based reader named Brian, who’s got too many cars and little desire to spend all of his time wrenching on them.
Launched for the 1999 model year, the WJ followed the first-generation Grand Cherokee know as the “ZJ.” The ZJ, a vehicle offered in low volumes with a manual transmission (as I’ve mentioned a million times, since I recently traveled across the country to buy one), was a much boxier looking Jeep than the WJ, and shared a lot of architectural design elements with the venerable, smaller XJ Cherokee that it was initially meant to replace.
Unlike the Cherokee XJ, which had rear leaf springs, the Grand Cherokee has always been offered with coils all the way around. The ZJ had a five-link design in the front and rear with two upper and two lower control arms and a track bar.
That basic front suspension design was carried over to the WJ that Brian is offering me, though in the rear, things got interesting. Whereas the ZJ has a five-link design, the WJ got a three-link, retaining the lower control arms but replacing the two uppers with a single triangle-shaped control arm with a ball joint at the axle-end.
Here’s a look at the ZJ and WJ’s basic front suspension design courtesy of suspension part company SuperPro:
And here’s the WJ’s rear three-link:
Other changes from ZJ to WJ included the re-mounting of the spare tire from inside the vehicle cargo area to under the cargo area false floor. This pushed the floor down, and sent the fuel tank sagging. That’s why, when you drive behind a WJ, you see that big, bulbous fuel tank. It’s hideous and actually led to a recall due to concerns about rear impacts. This photo from a rear bumper listing on eBay shows what I’m talking about:
The heavier and larger WJ also ditched the ZJ’s 5.2-liter and 5.9-liter V8s for a new 4.7-liter V8 motor. That eight-cylinder came with a five-speed auto, though the 4.0-liter inline-six also offered—and all automatic variants of the ZJ predecessor—came with four-speeds.
There are a number of other difference between the WJ and the ZJ that preceded it, including more sophisticated transfer cases and differentials, but the main point is that the WJ Grand Cherokee is the round, bubble-like Grand Cherokee with the gas tank that sags and the 4.7-liter V8 that nobody really loves, even if it’s bolted to what many consider a pretty tough five-speed automatic.
The one that Brian is offering me actually looks great. It’s got a bit of rust there on the fender, but every other angle shows what looks like a pretty beautiful luxury off-roader:
Okay, maybe not every angle. The inside of the door looks a bit crusty, and I also don’t know what the underbody looks like.
From the front and rear (see rear two photos up), the Jeep looks handsome:
And based on the photos Brian sent me, the cabin looks pretty nice, too:
Now to the important bit: The engine. Everything under the hood looks clean:
And here’s the great part: Though the motor burns a bit of oil here and there, it runs well! Listen to this:
Despite it firing well, the free WJ is obviously perfect. It apparently needs upper and lower control arms for the front suspension, brake pads and rotors, and some work done to the rear sway bar. There’s also some rust beyond just that driver’s side fender (for which Brian says he has a replacement)—namely in the rear under the vehicle.
The tires are new-ish, and Brian says he installed the skid plate for the saggy gas tank just a couple of years ago. Brian, who owns four vehicles and could stand to cut one from his insurance bill, told me his age may be getting to him a bit, making him less keen to wrench. “If you’re interested in it it’s yours for the taking. I just don’t feel like working on vehicles any longer,” he wrote. “I am getting old. That’s right... Free... I would like it put to use somehow instead of the crusher.”
Let’s get back to the “Free beach vacation in return for taking my rusty Cherokee” email from a reader named Nick. Based out of Long Island, Nick began his email with the classic line “I have too many cars.”
He then went on to tell me that he’d just bought a Subaru, and that this led him to have to choose between keeping a rust-free “TJ” Jeep Wrangler with 100,000 miles on it and holding onto a 255,000 mile 1995 Jeep Cherokee. It was a hard choice, considering the XJ has been in Nick’s family since New Years Even, 1994, but Nick decided it must go.
Apparently the Cherokee “purrs along beautifully, and the AW-4 [automatic transmission] shifts like a champ. 4x4 is flawless.” The downside is that there is some rust. Check out these floorboards (or lack thereof):
“As you’ll see, it’s pretty rusty, but it’s a good honest Jeep,” Nick writes. “And damn if this isn’t the best-sounding 4.0 I’ve ever heard (see video link below).”
Nick isn’t lying. That inline-six sounds pretty good:
Nick has driven the XJ all around the country; it was his main vehicle in college in central Maine, he tells me. In addition to running well, it has the desirable NP242 full-time transfer case, and it works well. Plus, the water pump and power steering are new.
Despite the floors being pretty crusty, and the rear sway bar and spring shackles needing work, the main unibody rails are okay as far as Nick can tell, and the suspension looks fine, too.
The interior isn’t great. There’s a ripped headline, and a button on the aftermarket cupholder to activate the auxiliary electric cooling fan, since it apparently doesn’t turn on when the car gets hot. (I had a similar issue on my XJ, and wired a toggle switch just like this).
“Assuming the pandemic craziness ever ends,” Nick wrote me, “you could enjoy a free beach vacation in the Hamptons for as long as you want. In return, you have to take my free 1995 Jeep Cherokee and find a way to get it home.”
Wow that’s tempting. But so is Brian’s WJ.
Both of these Jeeps run well, and though they’re clearly crusty, they aren’t Michigan Crusty. Heck, around here, both these Jeeps would qualify has being “mostly rust free.”
I already own 10 cars, but what’s another two? Should be fine, right?