I Just Bought a Low-Mileage Jeep Cherokee for $500 and It Is the Ultimate Winter Beater

Today I purchased a 106,000 mile 2000 Jeep Cherokee for only $500, finally fulfilling my need for a “sensible” winter beater. But this thing is more than just sensible, it is the perfect winter vehicle for me. Here’s why.

Back in May, I wrote an article titled “I’m Tired of Daily Driving a Shitbox So I’m Hunting for a Decent Winter Car.” It was a story written out of frustration, as I had spent the prior winters piloting a 1995 Jeep Cherokee that had fallen apart around its powertrain, and turned into a truly demoralizing vehicle to drive.

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My goal was to get something a bit newer, and a bit more reliable, so I wouldn’t have to deal with as much bullshit. I sold the aforementioned shitbox, dubbed Project Swiss Cheese, and began considering Jeep Liberties, Nissan Xterras, and even first-gen Toyota Rav4s. But then I received an email from a retired Chrysler designer named Frank.

Frank is a Jeep enthusiast whose son, Spencer—the driver of a 2000 Jeep Cherokee that Frank was looking to sell—had introduced him to Jalopnik. He had read about my Jeep adventures, and figured he’d reach out to ask if I knew someone interested in his XJ. “We have a Black 2000 XJ Jeep Cherokee Limited with up-country suspension that has become surplus,” he wrote.

He told me that the vehicle needed some work, and that he was “looking for someone to give it a home at a reasonable price.” He then asked me if I knew someone who might be interested in the vehicle, and as a matter of fact, I did!

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I asked Frank, who had owned the XJ for almost its entire life (check out the original window sticker above!) about the condition, and he told me the vehicle had only 106,000 miles on the clock, and that it has had regular oil changes using Mobile 1. This is ridiculously low mileage for a four-liter engine, so I was intrigued. The Chrysler veteran then went on to tell me that everything worked fine except there was some rust, the interior had some tears, the A/C didn’t blow cold, and there were some other small things that needed some help.

After I asked for a ballpark price, Frank told me he didn’t know the value, and was hoping I could give him an idea, though in any case, the cost would be “very reasonable.” So naturally, I later headed to his house to have a look, and was greeted by this beautiful black 2000 XJ:

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From 10 feet, it looks great. It’s got the off-road package, so the tow hooks up front stick out like fangs, and there’s another out back, as well as three skid plates underneath to protect the steering parts, transfer case, and fuel tank. The alloy wheels look nice, as does the chrome grille, and the paint looks okay from a distance (but up close, it’s not great).

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Opening the door, I was pleased to see the coveted tan interior, and even heated leather seats!

Even better was the NP242 “Selec-Trac” transfer case (a version of which was, incidentally, used in HMMWVs), which offers a full-time four-wheel drive mode. This is great because it allows me to “set it (‘it’ being four-wheel drive) and forget it,” since I won’t have to worry about driveline binding on dry pavement due to the transfer case’s integrated differential. Plus, in the snow, I’ll be able to take tight turns without breaking tires loose, which is something one generally doesn’t want to do in order to maximize traction.

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I drove the Jeep around the block a few times and had a great time talking with Frank about his time at Chrysler, and about this old, but clearly well-maintained machine. The transmission shifted well; the motor—which he later told me had been replaced at 26,000 miles, meaning this Jeep has an 80,000 mile four-liter under the hood!—made good oil pressure and sounded excellent aside from a small whistle; and the ride and steering seemed nice and tight.

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This was a good, nicely cared-for Jeep, and thus, it was out of my price range, so I didn’t bother to make Frank an offer that day, though I later emailed him.

“I’ll admit that am looking for a winter car in the $1,000-or-below range,” I wrote, “so this may not be the right car for me. Because, based on what I saw yesterday, I bet you could easily sell that 2000 XJ for two grand (perhaps even a bit higher),” I admitted. The rust on the doors and rocker panels wouldn’t put off southeast Michigan buyers like it would folks from outside of the rust belt.

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Here’s a look at some of the rust (I’ll show more when I do a full dive into this XJ’s faults):

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Frank responded to my email, saying that—considering the required brake work (the pedal is spongy), exhaust work (there’s a leak), rear hatch work (the wiring for the rear wiper is broken), as well as the rotten tires, bad paint, torn seat and other issues, he was willing to sell me the car for $500. I, of course, was physically incapable of declining.

Frank held the car few a few weeks as I was traveling in Germany, and today I registered and picked up the low-mileage XJ, which had a nice used trailer hitch sitting in its cargo area (I threw Frank another $40 for the sweet hitch).

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I’ll do a full dig into my new winter beater’s condition in the coming days, but for now, below are some photos of my new cold-weather beast, which will get a set of excellent winter tires to go along with its heated seats, full-time four-wheel drive system, ABS, and functional heater.

Yes, this thing will be the ultimate winter daily driver. Not only will it have the aforementioned features, but it’s cheap and easy to maintain (since junkyards are full of XJ parts), and it should be reasonably reliable thanks to recent service including to the cooling system (the heater cranks well) and wheel bearings. Plus, this Jeep is not so nice that I’ll feel guilty when it rusts, but it’s nice enough both inside and out that I don’t have to hang my head in shame every time I get behind the wheel.

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Obviously, there’s still a lot to learn about the condition of this XJ, but I’m excited to finally have my first Jeep from this millennium, my first Jeep with two airbags, my first Jeep with ABS, my first Jeep with an electric lock/unlock keyfob, my first Jeep with a CD player, my first car with an alarm, my first Jeep with heated seats, my first Jeep without a distributor (this XJ uses coil-on-plug ignition), and I’m sure a dozen other firsts that most of you are probably laughing about.

I still haven’t managed to own a Jeep without rust, but...baby steps.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio