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April 2012 4Word - Editorial

Phil Howell
Phil Howell | Writer
Posted April 1, 2012

Project LJ - 2004 Jeep TJ Unlimited

In recent 4Words, I've talked about new vehicle electronic woes and their lack of reliability. When I wrote about driving to Moab in an open CJ, it brought back so many good memories that I decided to buy a used Jeep.

All earlier Jeeps are desirable, and I'm still going to own another flat fender someday. This time, I limited my search to the Jeep CJ7, YJ, and TJ (including the TJ Unlimited). For a couple of months, I perused Craigslist, eBay, and local car lots. There were lots of Jeeps for sale, but no good deals.

Southern Utah may be the worst place on Earth to buy a car from a dealership. There are a couple of exceptions, such as Small Town Auto in Hurricane, but most dealerships ask more for their used cars than anywhere I've ever been. These vehicles aren't cream puffs, either. Most have corrosion issues and have been ridden hard and put away wet. Of course, asking and selling prices aren't the same, but these dealerships will let the vehicles sit on their lots and rot rather than sell them for a reasonable price.

For instance, I found a 2004 TJ with 66,000 miles on the odometer sitting on a lot in St. George. It was the hideous Inca Gold color, there were corroded aluminum parts and the rear main seal was leaking, but it drove okay. Its last owners had used it as a dinghy (towed behind a motorhome). By the way – car salespeople, don't try to imply that since the vehicle was towed behind a motorhome the mileage isn't bad. TJ Wrangler odometers don't register when the key is off while being towed.

The dealership was asking approximately $5,000 over book for this TJ. I offered them NADA book and they refused. I then offered them $500 over book. They said they'd "get back to me." The ugly thing is still sitting on that lot, three months later.

During the search, I went to look at a CJ in "perfect, restored condition." It was a rusted pile. A YJ that looked clean in photos wasn't. The owner of another YJ said his Wrangler was the nicest around. The front fenders were bent where all YJs that have been jumped are bent. The Jeep was filled with mud, rust, and didn't run well. The local Jeep dealership called and told me they had a 2004 Jeep Rubicon with only 33,000 miles. The price was $7,000 over book. When asked why they priced their vehicles so high, I was told that very few buyers care about the price. They come in and say, "If you can get our monthly payment to $XXX, we'll buy it." With a seven- to ten-year loan, the payments are low. Of course, when the vehicle falls apart a couple of years later, they find they owe just about what they did when they purchased it and are hopelessly over their heads. I finance nothing, so expensive, overpriced Wranglers weren't on my list of must-haves.

I had just about given up, but decided to take one more drive around the area to see if there were any other Jeeps for sale. I stopped at a lot I'd been to long before that had a couple of TJ Unlimiteds for sale. They had been for sale for almost a year because they were priced so high. In fact, while I wanted a TJ Unlimited, they were all priced so high — in many cases more than JKs — they were out of my range.

On this day, these LJs had balloons and a big "Blowout" sign on them. I looked at one for which the dealership had been asking almost $20,000. The salesperson said it had just been sold for much less. The blue LJ I had looked at long ago had 110,000 miles on the clock, had been in two minor fender benders (according to Carfax), and wasn't the cleanest Jeep around. It had been a local vehicle, so had no rust issues and ran great. The salesperson said they were selling it for $3,000 less than the original asking price. I told them if they would go $6,000 less than the original price, I'd buy it. To my surprise, he agreed, saying they had to get these Jeeps off the lot because they'd been there so long.

I now own a 2004 TJ Unlimited. The project will be called "LJ," even though Jeep never called the TJ Unlimited "LJ." It will be built to go places my daily driver Chevy Colorado can't, but will still be street-legal. Even stock, it's a blast to drive. It's lighter, narrower, and more nimble than my JKs were. I like it.

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