Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

Earlier this week, I purchased a gorgeous 2000 Jeep Cherokee with only 106,000 miles on the clock for $500. It was a smokin’ deal, but not quite as smokin’ as some of you might have initially thought, since this Jeep has some significant issues, which I will now enumerate.

We’ll jump right to the main problem, and the one that will allow me to drive this fine machine through salty Michigan winters without feeling too much guilt: This Jeep has rust. Not a lot, but enough that repairing this XJ to perfection would take some serious time and effort.

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Rust

From a distance, the Jeep looks great. The rocker panels look intact and the bottom of the rear hatch isn’t stained with brown iron oxide; it’s a knockout from 15 feet. The only prominently visible rust is at the bottom of the doors:

Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

But it’s pretty nasty stuff if you look at it up close; I’ll definitely have to hit with a grinder, and paint over to prevent the cancer from spreading.

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That’s the worst of it on the driver’s side. Door rust on the passenger’s side is limited to the base of the front closure (the rear door is fine), though the real issue is the rocker panel:

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Here’s the corner of the front door:

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And here’s the hole in the rocker panel:

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The inside of the door on the passenger’s side also looks fairly crusty:

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And the inside lower lip of the driver’s side door looks a bit better, but still not great:

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Some of the worst rust spots on the AMC-designed SUV are ones you can’t see from the outside, as they exist in the door jambs, especially where dirt and salt got trapped under the plastic step-pads. Here’s a look at the driver’s door jamb:

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Here’s the driver’s side rear door jamb area:

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Here’s the passenger’s side front door jamb:

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And here’s what it looks like if you slide a few feet rearward along that sill:

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That’s not all of the rust, of course (This is a Michigan vehicle, after all). There is some crustiness in the rear wheel wells, which is not surprising, since that’s where all the slush gets kicked up in the winter:

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

On top of that, there are some underbody parts that look a bit browner than I’d like, like the front track bar and axle tube:

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

And it’d also be nice if the exhaust hanger hadn’t broken off; that way the pipe wouldn’t have to be secured by a couple of hose clamps:

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There are also a few spots on the exterior sheetmetal where rust bubbles have formed:

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

As for underneath, the good news is that the floors look solid:

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

The bad news is that there’s a general state of crustiness down there that will only get worse over time:

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

And, while poking around the vehicle’s underbelly, I did spot what appears to be a roughly two-inch crack in the passenger’s side unibody rail:

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Overall, aside from that crack (Which I’ll have to look at closer, and possibly weld shut), I’d say the body is exactly where I’d want it to be for a winter vehicle: Not so pristine that I’ll worry about harming a gorgeous, classic American SUV, but not so crusty to where things fall through the holes in the floors.

The Paint Isn’t Great

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From a distance, this XJ’s paint looks great, but up close, that shiny black begins to lose some luster. But worse is the fact that the color is flaking off, leaving exposed steel to turn to Fe2O3; the hood is among the worst spots:

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There’s bad paint pretty much all over the vehicle, like on the rear quarter panels:

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And especially on the roof:

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Dry-Rotted Tires

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I can’t say I’ve seen tires as dry-rotted as the ones on the rear of this XJ, except maybe ones that I’ve found buried halfway in a creek-bed. Seriously, look at this cracking:

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Needless to say, I won’t be driving this Jeep anywhere but to a tire shop, who will install whatever new rubber I manage to snag from the junkyard.

Rear Pinion Seal Leak

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The rear differential of the much-maligned Dana 35 axle is leaking from the pinion. I’m just going to monitor this, and make sure my diff is filled with gear oil (and limited slip-diff additive). This isn’t a terribly big deal.

Exhaust Leak

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One of the flanges in my exhaust system is leaking, and while the resulting noise isn’t annoying from the driver’s seat, I’ll see if there’s a simple way to take care of this.

Speaking of leaky gases, my 4.0-liter AMC engine whistles when it’s running, and it’s worse at certain engine speeds. I suspect this may come from a leak in the exhaust manifold or possibly the intake manifold. I definitely plan on addressing this, as few things in this world are as satisfying as a perfectly-running inline-six.

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Illustration for article titled Heres Whats Wrong With My $500 Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee

The Transfer Case Sticks in Four-Wheel Drive

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The other day, I popped the Jeep into four-wheel drive for the first time to do a bit of mall-crawling onto a curb. After shoving the lever back into two-wheel drive, I navigated a turn, and felt the tires “crow hop,” indicating that the rear and front driveshafts were both both connected, and the vehicle was still in part-time four-wheel drive. I threw my transmission into reverse, backed up a bit, then drove forward—I did this a few times, but the transfer case remained in four-wheel drive until it eventually popped back into two-wheel drive at some point on my drive home.

I’ve had this happen on one of my other Jeeps, so I’m not too concerned, here. I’ll replace the fluid, and run it.

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A Couple of Issues With the Interior

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I love this XJ’s tan interior, but it’s not perfect. The driver’s seat has lots of tears, to the point where the foam underneath is exposed. Also, its butt-warmer doesn’t seem to work consistently.

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Speaking of human thermal comfort, my air conditioning does not function, which has been the case for pretty much every Jeep Cherokee I’ve ever owned:

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The previous owner, Frank, told me that the passenger’s side power window switch sometimes fails intermittently, but I don’t think that’s a huge deal. Also not a huge deal is the fact that the rear wiper switch shown above doesn’t work at all because the wiring going from the rear hatch to the body of the Jeep has seen better days:

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The Brakes are a Bit Spongey

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At some point, I’m going to have to go through the brakes. I’ll inspect all the hard-lines and rubber hoses, as well as the master cylinder, front calipers, and rear-wheel cylinders. I want this Jeep’s brake pedal to feel nice and firm. As it sits, the brakes aren’t terrible; the Jeep stops nice and straight without any shudder or squeal, so the pads and rotors seem fine, but the hydraulic system will need some attention.

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So yes, this XJ was a great deal. Hell, I sold my rust-bucket “Project Swiss Cheese” for that much, and it wasn’t one-one hundredth the car that this Jeep is.

Still, it’s not perfect, and will require some quality wrenching time before it can truly be my ultimate winter beater.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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