Things to Look for When Buying an XJ Cherokee

You grab your tablet, cell phone or jump on the computer and begin your search.  You are looking for an XJ Jeep Cherokee to buy.  Maybe you want something for your child to drive to school and you don’t want to spend a ton of money or you need a second vehicle that drives well in the snow but you’re limited on budget.  Maybe a 4 wheel drive project is on your agenda.  No matter the reason, you come across an XJ Cherokee that looks great, fits the bill and will do the job but what do you need to watch out for when buying one?  If you are experienced with Jeep or the XJ in particular you may have some ideas already, but if you have never owned one or have limited experience with an XJ, this article is for you.

The Driveline:  From the 1984 to the 2001, the XJ Cherokee had a fabulous run.  It was one of the most popular SUV’s on the market for a host of reasons.  The driveline combinations were considered some of the best in the market at the time.  They were simple in design, durable and could go just about anywhere if you had a 4 wheel drive model.  Yes believe it or not there were 2 wheel drive models too.  From the 2.5L 4 cylinder,  2 wheel drive, 2 Door manual shift in early models to the 2001 4 Wheel Drive 4 Door with a 4.0L inline 6 cylinder and an automatic, there wasn’t that many power trains available on the XJ Cherokee.  If you are purchasing one of these models, the newest of which is at least 17 years old from its first day off the lot, buyer beware.  These are the things to look out for in the driveline.

          The Transmission:  When you first look at any vehicle of this age, first thing is first.  Test drive, test drive, test drive.  Outside of starting the XJ Cherokee and listening to it warm up and run, the first thing you will operate is the transmission.  Does it go into the proper gear, smoothly and easily?  Does it shift smooth on the fly.  No herkey jerkiness or funny noises.  “When was the last time the transmission had been serviced?”  Is always a great question to ask.  If they can’t tell you, you may want to steer clear.  While Jeep had great resale and the XJ had a good reputation, the transmission percentage wise probably the weak link in the drive train.

If you have the opportunity to take the vehicle to your mechanic to inspect beforehand, have them take a look in the transmission fluid pan.  This should tell you the story behind the service of that vehicle.  Lots of metal is not a good sign.  There will almost always be some but you do not want to see dark burnt fluid or a large amount of metal in the bottom of the pan.  This may cost you extra now, but it could save you from making a big mistake and costly repairs later.  If you can’t have this done after you give it a good through and through when test driving, always trust your gut.

          The 4 Wheel Drive Assembly:  The XJ Cherokee had two of the best 4 wheel drive units in the business.  Command Trac and Selec Trac were the two systems available on the XJ Cherokee from 1984-2001.  Command Trac was a chain driven, mostly aluminum 4 wheel drive unit that allowed shift on the fly performance.  Selec Trac unit was first offered in 1987 with the 4.0L 6 cylinder engine.  It also was a shift on the fly unit but added the center differential allowing the vehicle to be in part time 4 wheel drive mode basically sending power from the slipping wheels to the wheels with traction.

One common issue for an older 4 wheel drive vehicles tends to be with the 4 wheel drive unit itself.  In many cases the unit does not get shifted out of 2 wheel drive very often or maybe at all for years at a time.  Sometimes they may sit for months and not driven.  What happens to the transfer case during this period of no use varies but the worst part is no lubrication and is subjected to diverse temperatures from day to night.

So what do you look for?  Take the vehicle to an off road surface.  Shift the transfer case to 4 wheel drive.  Drive it for a short while if you can.  Does it go smoothly into 4 wheel drive, does the indicator show it in 4 wheel drive?  Does it go back to 2 wheel drive easily? If you do not have an off road surface to use, take it to a parking lot with a lot of room and test it there.  Shift to full time 4 wheel drive, turn the vehicle sharply for a few seconds and feel the “crow hop” if you do, stop, shift back to 2 wheel drive and continue on.  (DO NOT DO THIS FOR LONG PERIOD OF TIME; IT CAN DAMAGE A 4 WHEEL DRIVE UNIT!) Again, look for your indications and feel the vehicle.

          The Engine:  The two engines available were the 2.5L 4 cylinder and a 4.0L inline 6 cylinder engine.  While both units were unbelievably durable, they were not without their minor issues.  Look for obvious signs of leaks.  The rear main seal tends to be the most common in these older vehicles that leaks most often.  Are the head gasket and valve cover gaskets in good condition?  Are there oil spots under the vehicle or oil in places on the engine?  These are the things I would look for if I were out looking for another XJ Cherokee.

The InteriorIn any vehicle you want to be comfortable, and you don’t want to be embarrassed if someone else gets in.  What kind of condition is it in when you arrive?

          The Seats:  Are the seats, torn or sagging?  Do the adjustments of the seats work properly?  Have they been covered or has the vehicle been garaged.  Make sure when you and or your passengers get in, that you can and are comfortable sitting in the vehicle.  Do the rear seats fold down properly?  You want to know that you have all of the storage and moving capability available ahead of time.  Many of the adjustments on the two front seats wore out or quit working all together.  It could be a sign that the vehicle wasn’t properly cared for at one point in time.  Look for these items with the seats but remember to be reasonable if they don’t work.  It is a vehicle that has been around.  If they aren’t proper but you like the vehicle otherwise, ask for a price reduction so that you may fix the problem or ask if they can fix it and you give them the asking price.  Either way is acceptable.

          The headliner:  The headliner tends to be another issue in the XJ Cherokee, especially if the vehicle has been subjected to intense heat over its lifetime.  This is a simple fix but again could be a sign of the lack of care.

          The Electronics, Dash and Steering Wheel:  The cosmetics, electronics and steering wheel all seem to be something that tends to wear in vehicles where the heat and humidity are prevalent.  Do the switches work?  How about the Stereo?  Is the dash peeling?  How about the condition of the steering wheel?  You will want to look these over well before making a purchase.   They are commonly in a state of disrepair in XJ Cherokees that have not been cared for well.

The Suspension:  This topic is wide ranging.  The number of issues with the suspension are infinite.  So many XJ Cherokees have lift kits installed, after market shocks, springs, track bars and other pieces of the suspension too many to name.  When test driving, don’t be afraid to hit the bumps and potholes in the road.  Listening and feel are most important here.  Do you hear metal on metal noises or are the shocks and springs weak?  This is one area of the XJ that is buyer beware.  Look it over, corner to corner.  Are the shocks or springs new?  Is the hardware in good condition?  Does it feel normal when driving on flat smooth terrain?   Does the XJ act right when cornering and steering?  All very valid questions when buying a new to you off road vehicle.

The Exterior:  When looking at the exterior, much of this is cosmetic.  A vehicle can always be painted or have new parts installed.  That being said, think about how the XJ Cherokee was taken care of, prior to being put on the market for sale.  This is probably the best condition the vehicle has been in for months.

The Paint:  Be reasonable about your expectations but here are some things to watch out for if you don’t want a big paint bill later.  Is the clear coat peeling in multiple places?  Are there rust bubbles?  Has it been in an accident?  Are there newer parts with paint that does not match?  Again, these are vehicles that have been on the road and off the road in a lot of cases, have high expectations but be reasonable and thoughtful about what it is you are buying and paying for.

The Wheels and Tires:  Wheels and tires can make or break the visual on an XJ Cherokee.  Do the wheels match the suspension?  Are they in great condition?  Will you have to replace them?  Will you be doing your own work on the suspension, wheels and tires down the road?  At this point I would look to make sure that the seller hasn’t replaced what was on the XJ with inferior products and I would also make sure they are safe and secure on the vehicle.  If they look out of place, they probably are.

The undercarriage:  Take the time to get down.  Look at what you are buying from underneath.  If you can take it to a shop and get it up in the air, even better.  Common issues are with the axle’s, exhaust and suspension.  If the vehicle has been off road, it is very common to have parts wear out.  The axles, tie rods, engine mounts, shocks, springs, bushings and other parts get dinged, twisted and rust.  If you are buying an XJ, or any off road vehicle you want to inspect the undercarriage.

The Glass and Mirrors:  Last but definitely not least, is the glass and mirrors.  Is the windshield cracked or chipped?  Do the windows roll up and down?  Does the defroster work?  How about the mirrors?  Take the time to look at these in detail.  You will thank yourself later.  These items can be replaced but if they are not right at the point of sale, again a price adjustment may be in order.

Summary:  There is a lot of information to read and understand in this post.  The XJ Cherokee is one the best off road vehicles on the market when it comes to used vehicles.  We have given you some things to evaluate on your next opportunity to buy one of these iconic vehicles.  This list is not the end all be all but if the things you read about here are all in good to excellent shape, you can bet that the XJ you are buying is a pretty good one.  We want to say good luck, and good hunting for your next XJ Cherokee.

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