Latest Reader Question (October 11, 2017)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply:

Elliot asks: I’m not sure what questions are appropriate to ask, but am interested in buying a 90s Jeep Cherokee XJ and am curious how high maintenance / reliable they are?  I’m currently looking at one from 1995 with 140,222 miles with manual transmission and 4 wheel drive.  If not a good choice, would you be able to recommend a solid used SUV/station wagon with 4 wheel drive and manual trans? By the way, I learned about you and your website from listening to the Tom Woods show in case that interests you.

My reply: Any question is fine – and I will do my best to answer them! On yours: The ’95 Cherokee is a pretty simply vehicle by modern standards; it was rear-wheel-drive (4WD optional) unlike the current FWD-based Cherokee – and came with either an inline 2.5 liter four or Jeep’s 4 liter in-line (not “v”) six. The four is a little underpowered for the size/weight of the vehicle but ok for general use. I’d want the six, which is an excellent, very durable engine. This Jeep has a rugged, simple suspension and good ground clearance. They are popular for off-road use for this reason.

The big issue with any used vehicle and especially on that is pushing 30 years old is the particular condition of the vehicle you are looking at. Unlike new cars – which are new – used cars have been used and each of them used differently. So, unlike two brand-new Cherokees with the same same equipment – which are identical in every way – two used Cherokees are very different in a number of important ways, even if they are the same year, have the same options and are painted the same color. One will have more – or less – miles than the other. One will have dents or paint chips while the other may not. One may have been well-maintained; the other not-so-well-maintained. You thus must choose which of the two is the better vehicle – whereas with new, all you have to worry about is the price of the thing.  (I get into this in depth in my ebook, which you can download here or free).

The mileage of the ’95 you are looking it is both high – and low. It is low for the age of the vehicle but high in terms of vehicle life. It is probable the Jeep will need some minor and possibly major repairs – and these could be needed right now or sometime in the near future.

For instance: While the engine may be tight (good compression) and in good overall condition, peripherals such as the water pump, alternator, AC compressor are either at or near the end of their reasonable service life given the age and the miles. Even if they are “fine” now, you should expect that any of these may need to be replaced at any time.

Obviously, all hoses and belts – unless they have been changed within the past five years and 20,000 miles or so.

Not-so-obviously: Rusted brake/fuel lines (check for this carefully) as well as any structural/frame rot. This is a real issue with any vehicle of that age and particularly a 4WD vehicle, which was probably used in snow and may have been taken off road. Check suspension mounting points, the front crossmember/radiator support.

If it has a manual transmission, check the condition of the clutch as well as the operation of the gearbox itself. It is possible you’ll need to do a clutch job regardless at some point in the relatively near future just because of the miles and age – but maybe not (if it has been done already at some point in the relatively recent past). I’d check the transmission to see whether the lube is low – and recent (still fairly translucent, honey-colored) or black from being in their for the past 20-plus years… same goes for the rear axle.

If it has an automatic, pull the dipstick and look for signs of varnish on the dipstick, as well as the fluid level – and the color of the fluid. Black is bad; a burned smell is very bad.

I don’t want to scare you off – I just want you to be careful. And not just with this Jeep but with any used vehicle you are thinking about buying.

This one could be a great one. Or, not.

Due diligence is the key!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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