The XJ Cherokee is sometimes referred to as the “disposable hero” because of how cheap they are. You can pick up a nice XJ for around $1,500 and with minimal modifications, you can go pretty much anywhere you want. Unfortunately, everyone realized how cheap and awesome XJs are and now the prices are slowly starting to rise. In this short guide, we’re going to cover what you need to look for to make you don’t end buying a really crappy Jeep.
Which Year XJ do You Want?
Before you go out and buy an XJ you should know what you’re looking at. XJs from 1984 to 1986 had didn’t have the 4.0-liter engine available and we would recommend staying away from those years. In 1987 AMC introduced the 4.0-liter engine which was a massive upgrade over the smaller engines previously offered.
The 4.0-liter from 1987 to 1990 is known as the Renix engine which is arguably harder to diagnose if a sensor goes bad. If you buy a Renix year XJ you should be mechanically inclined because of this issue.
From 1991 on up is the high-output (HO) version of the 4.0-liter. This version had revised electronics that are much easier to diagnose and a bump in power. We would recommend buying an XJ with the H.O. engine, but the Renix years are pretty good too.
We wouldn’t recommend buying a four-cylinder XJ unless you have plans for an engine swap. The four-cylinder is a decent little engine, but you’ll regret not getting the 4.0-liter.
The most common engine oil leaks for an XJ are the rear main seal, oil pan gasket, valve cover gasket, and the oil filter adapter gasket. You should be able to replace the oil pan gasket and rear main seal in about a day since the two piece rear main doesn’t require removal of the transmission. The valve cover gasket is also pretty easy to replace, and the oil filter adapter is pretty easy to replace too.
Death wobble is a fairly common problem and can be a pain to fix if you’re unsure what the problem is exactly. Most of the time death wobble is caused by the track bar, but it can also be caused by a number of other problems. If you’re an experienced Jeeper death wobble probably won’t be a deal breaker. If you’re new to Jeeps and experience death wobble on your test drive be aware of how obnoxious and dangerous the problem can be.
If you’re an experienced Jeeper death wobble probably won’t be a deal breaker. If you’re new to Jeeps and experience death wobble on your test drive be aware of how obnoxious and dangerous the problem can be.
XJs are notorious for cooling issues. If you live somewhere like Arizona make sure the cooling system is fully operational. Let the XJ idle for 5-10 minutes to make sure the electric fan turns on. Obviously, keep an eye on the coolant gauge and make sure it holds steady at operating temperature. If you’re looking at a Renix check to see if the cooling system has been converted from a closed loop system to an open loop system.
Obviously, keep an eye on the coolant gauge and make sure it holds steady at operating temperature. If you’re looking at a Renix check to see if the cooling system has been converted from a closed loop system to an open loop system.
The serpentine belt system on XJs can also be a problem. Take a peek at all the pulleys and make sure they’re aligned perfectly. If they’re bent that means someone severely over tightened the belt and some of the bearings may also be slightly damaged. Obviously, take a peek at the belt itself and make sure it’s in decent condition.
XJs all share the same Dana 30 front axle, but the rear axle can differ. The most common rear axle you’ll find under an XJ is a Chrysler 8.25 which is a decent little axle. If the XJ you’re looking at was equipped with the towing package it may have a Dana 44 axle. Not only is this axle much stronger, but it’s much more valuable.
Unfortunately, if your XJ was equipped with ABS from the factory it’s guaranteed to have a Dana 35. While the D35 is fine for a completely stock XJ, it likely won’t hold up to larger axles. Don’t worry if the XJ you’re looking at has a Dana 35 because a rear axle swap can be done in a couple of hours.
Common Rust Spots
Unfortunately, XJs are pretty prone to rust given their relatively old age. The rocker panels directly under the door is a common rust spot, as is the lower part of the rear quarter panels. If the XJ you’re looking at has rust on the unibody frame rails we would strongly recommend staying away from it. If that rust reaches the suspension bolts you’ll probably have to cut open the unibody frame rails when you decide to upgrade your suspension
The floors are relatively easy to replace so if they’re rusted out don’t be too scared. If you live in the southwest US you’re in luck since rust isn’t a common issue. Other than unibody frame rail rust, don’t be too scared.
The Test Drive
On your test drive there a couple things you should look for. If it’s okay with the owner, find something to flex out the suspension on. Make sure the transfer-case easily goes from 2WD to 4WD. If it pops out of 4WD that can be a sign of a worn out transfer case. XJs can sometimes be a little hard to get back into 2WD so don’t be afraid to manhandle the transfer-case lever.
Get the XJ up to speed and see if there’s any death wobble or if severely wanders on the road. These can be signs of worn out suspension components that can sometimes be hard to diagnose and fix. If the XJ your test driving has large tires don’t be surprised if the brakes need to be pushed harder than normal.
Of course, make sure there aren’t any concerning noises coming from the suspension. Your test drive will also be a good test to see if the cooling system needs to be upgraded or not. If the coolant gauge starts to creep up on an uphill road you’ll probably need to upgrade some components.
Buying an XJ is really a lot like buying any other car. When you go to check it out make sure you inspect it very well. Make sure the person you’re buying it from seems like a trustworthy person. Don’t be afraid to check out a few XJ Cherokee forums and see what seasoned Jeepers have to say.