How to buy a used Jeep Cherokee
Image: MSVG, 2010
Among Jeep aficionados, the XJ Cherokee is a legend deserving of praise and honor for a variety of outstanding qualities. One of its most well known qualities is its off-road capability, provided by its generous ground clearance, front coil spring suspension and rear leaf springs. With a series of bulletproof engines, plenty of interior space, an amazingly strong monocoque body and a rugged, handsome design that's survived the test of time, it's little wonder this capable machine is well sought after. Devotees include diehard Jeep fans and off-roaders looking for a solid, capable machine that's a bit more practical than the long-running Jeep Wrangler.
So, you may be looking to buy your own capable two-door or four-door Cherokee. Unfortunately, you might not have a clue as to what to look for when buying a used Jeep Cherokee. Given its lengthy production run (1984-2001), you definitely won't have any trouble finding a good used Cherokee for sale, but there are plenty of pitfalls that can send your off-roading hopes crashing down.
What to look out for in a used Jeep Cherokee:
• Rust. It tends to form along the rocker panels, floorboards and the underbody. Exposure to road salt can really do a number on the Cherokee's body unless precautions are taken.
• Make sure it offers four-wheel drive. Many models came without the valuable 4x4 hardware.• Stick with the 4.0-liter straight six-cylinder motors. Other engines offered in the Cherokee were usually too slow, underpowered and thirsty for its own good.
• The XJ Cherokee featured two four-wheel drive systems: Command-Trac and Selec-Trac. The latter offered full-time all-wheel drive, a feature notably lacking in vehicles equipped with Command-Trac. Both are comparable in durability, but Command-Trac offers a wider range of aftermarket upgrades.
The Jeep Cherokee started out its 17-year run with an AMC-sourced four-cylinder engine and a GM-sourced six-cylinder engine. Both engines were lacking in the horsepower department, making these years relatively unpopular except for buyers with a plan to rip out and replace the entire drive train. Cherokees of this vintage also offered the Dana 35 axle.
Out went the 2.8-liter V6 and in came AMC's straight six-cylinder engine, producing 173 horsepower with Renix fuel injection, along with the 4x4-only Dana 44 axle. The four-cylinder engine also benefited from Renix, earning an honest 121 horsepower with TBI. While these Renix units are relatively robust, the repair costs can add up if left in the hands of someone who's unfamiliar with the system. If you see a Cherokee of this vintage with a manual transmission, chances are it has the 21-spline Peugeot BA 10/5 unit, notorious for its less than stellar durability. The year, 1989 and later years feature the much-improved 26-spline AX-15 unit.
Further improvements equaled horsepower gains for the Cherokee's engines. The year, 1991 ushered in the 190-horsepower ""High Output"" 4.0-liter, with its improved heads and Chrysler's in-house multipoint fuel injection system. Other changes included the Dana 35 and 44's replacement with Chrysler's own 27-spline 8.25 axle, the addition of a driver's side air bag in 1995 and the addition of OBD2 in 1996. Pre-1996 Cherokees are valued for being more forgiving when it comes to transmission swaps and engine bolt-ons.
This last generation of Cherokee is most noticeable thanks to its softer, more rounded front and rear fascia, along with its redesigned interior. Not much changed except the addition of a Dana 30 axle and larger 29-spline axle shafts. Three separate wiring harness revisions for 1997 make this year's Cherokee the one to avoid unless you don't mind headaches when swapping out components. For 2001, the XJ Cherokee replaced its high-pinion front axle with a low-pinion axle sourced from the TJ Wrangler.
The average Cherokee retailed at around $19,000 to $25,000 during its last year. These days, you can find Jeep Cherokees for under $4,000, with plenty of less than stellar examples priced as low as $1,000. Anyone wanting to pursue the subject further will enjoy ClassicCar.com with more insight into the Jeep Cherokee and other off-road capable SUVs.