The Cherokee is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Jeep world: "I get no respect." To many tent-drivers, it is just a station wagon. Introduced in 1983, you could still buy one new in 2001. There were almost three million produced over its life span, there are still tons of them out there, and as far as we can tell, it's the third most popular Jeep among our readers. Not bad for something that hasn't been sold in almost a decade.
Unlike the other Jeeps in our special section, the XJ is the only one with a Unitbody and some of the issues are related to that. It also shares many drivetrain components with both the TJ and YJ, so we won't cover all of that again. But we will deal with things that tend to go wrong and are unique to the XJ, how you can fix them, and how you can prevent them from happening to your XJ.
If it rains, and your windshield steams up, you have a problem. The body of the Cherokee is also the frame, and we all know that both flex. Over time, it will flex enough to break the seal on the windshield; rainwater will seep in and sit on the floorboards, rusting them a little bit each time. This XJ leaked when we bought it with 190,000 miles on the clock and it had never even been wheeled. The twisting and flexing of off-roading only serve to break the windshield seal faster.
Prevention: Put a cage in the Jeep as soon as you can and tie it into the top of the A-, B-, C-, and D-pillars.
Cure: Pull the trim from around the windshield and re-seal it yourself, which will most likely only cure some of the problem and likely come loose again. Then put a cage and Unitbody stiffeners or plates in it. T&J Performance and TnT Customs both make good kits. Once your Unitbody is stiff then have a glass shop pull the windshield and reinstall.
Or, pop the drain plugs out, ignore it, and hope your floor doesn't rust out.
If you haven't done it already, it is probably too late, but we'll tell you anyway. The bolt that holds the shackle to the Unitbody is problematic. The bolt loves to rust to the captured nut in the frame, or the welds that hold the nut in place like to break loose. Either way, we are way under 50 percent at getting them loose without having to "window" the Unitbody. Some have had better luck, but you've read our stories and know how often things go wrong for us. And, you can tell yourself you'll never remove that bolt and suffer with the short, twisty, light-gauge factory shackles, but if you keep and drive the Jeep, it will need to come out eventually.
Prevention: Go back to the designer of the Jeep and smack that guy. Technically, it is a slick design, because the gas tank is right on the other side, but the guy who did it either messed up the amount of zinc coating needed or the amount of voltage needed to weld that nut to the sheet metal. Another preventative could be to pull the bolt out of the Jeep when it rolled off the line so you can smear anti-seize on it. Use the copper stuff, it works way better than the silver stuff.
Cures: If you can get the bolt out, use the above anti-seize method. If you can't, or suspect it won't come out (you know your area and your Jeep by now), try drilling a little hole below the approximate location and squirt some PB Blaster up in the hole on the end of the bolt and captured nut. Also squirt either side of the shackle. You are trying to break the bolt loose from the captured nut and from the sleeve inside the shackle. Do so every day for a week or so, and then try removal. If that doesn't work, and it still breaks loose from the frame, you can cut the head off the bolt and push it into the Unitbody and then remove it from the rear. Or, if it strips the bolt, you'll need to cut a window in the "frame" to get it out and weld a new one in.
Run, Run, Rudolph
Maybe it is age, maybe it is mileage, but we've seen a lot of Renix-era ('87-'90) Cherokees where the bolts holding the intake and exhaust manifold to the six-cylinder engine work themselves loose and cause the engine to race around 2,000 rpm.
Prevention: Tighten the bolts, dummy!
Cure: Tighten the bolts, dummy!
Seriously though, if your Jeep isn't doing this yet, just check the bolts. If it is idling erratically, grab your 9/16-inch wrench, get the Jeep to operating temperature and tighten the bolts while the Jeep is hot. Be wary of over tightening, though-they like to snap. If you let the leak go for too long you might need to just bite the bullet and put in a new gasket, but often tightening is all that is needed.
They are called "quick-connect lines" in the manual. We call them "quick-leak lines." We are talking about the cooler lines that run from the AW4 to the cooler built into the radiator. Sure, they go on and off easily, but they always seem to be leaking from somewhere or another.
Try praying or joining a cult. We've tried perpetual finger-crossing and transmission stops-leak and neither works. Face it, they are going to leak.
Cure: The "approved" way to do it is to buy and install new lines, but at a cost of about $90 for lines that we know are going to leak, we take a different route. We use rubber hose rated for ATF and cut the line with a tubing cutter, flare it a little bit, and put the rubber hose on with two hose-clamps per end. Pretty? No. Effective and inexpensive? Yes. We aren't even sure that the two clamps are needed, but what's an extra five cents of insurance hurt?
The specified operating temperature for the AW4 automatic transmission is between 125 and 176 degrees. Without an auxiliary transmission cooler, ours can run from 160 degrees up to 260 degrees. The killer of all automatics is heat, and at about 240-degrees important additives cook off. Maybe when it rolled off the line it was OK, but with added weight of armor, skidplates that guard against rocks and prevent cooling airflow, and age, they run hotter.
Prevention: Live in Canada or Alaska. Or install a temperature gauge and keep an eye on it. Using low range when wheeling can help keep temps down. Kicking it out of overdrive for long grades and when towing or hauling heavy loads can keep it down as well.
Cure: Install an auxiliary transmission cooler. They can be as cheap as $30. We like the B&M Supercoolers. They are durable, compact and tuck up under the radiator or under the Jeep behind the driver's side of the T-case very well. If you put the cooler up front it is a great time to fix the leaky lines too.
For once, we aren't talking about Trasborg's pile of Jeepsters. We've hit on this one before in these pages, but it is worth covering again. The '87, '88, and some of the '89 model years had this wonderful connector, called the C-101 connector. It connected all the wiring from the inside of the Jeep to the wiring outside of the Jeep. The problem is, it is over 20 years old and is mounted right at the top of the firewall where all the water cascading off of a newly-opened hood can go. If all that wasn't enough to prove a point, there is a TSB from Jeep way back in '89 that provided a crankshaft sensor bypass kit and instructions to get around the C-101 connector and keep the Jeep running. Most of the '89 models, and all of the '90 models didn't even have the C-101, they just went to a rubber grommet passing the wires through the firewall.
Prevention: You can build a rain shield for it, or just be aware of it when you open the hood. Periodic disassembly, cleaning, dielectric-greasing, and reassembly also help the issues.
Cure: Get rid of it. Solder all the wires from the inside of the Jeep to the corresponding wires from the outside of the Jeep and heatshrink it. All the issues will be gone forever. The risk is if you cross wires just once you can fry stuff pretty easily.
The, ahem, unique design of the inner fender/door area where the hinges can be seen from the inner fender is often problematic. The factory installed a flimsy piece of closed-cell foam rubber in the fender and inner fender plastic to prevent kicked up dirt getting to the hinges, wiring, and door-strap. Dirt in this area can cause the door-strap to seize, the hinges to wear prematurely and possibly damage the wire. Many of us remove those plastic liners or modify them when we cut the fenders, leaving an opening for dirt to get in. The closed-cell foam falls out more than it stays in and many XJ owners don't even know about it. It all contributes to problems down the road.
Prevention: Leave the plastic inner fender liner in-place and make sure to clean and oil the hinges and door-strap after wheeling trips if they get dirty. Check that your rubber wire loom going to the door is attached at the door and body and has no rips or tears.
Cure: Leave the plastic inner fender liner in place or use a pool noodle jammed between the inner and outer fender. Google pool noodle if you don't know what one is, but one noodle will usually do both sides of the Jeep, and with some trial and error you can get it to fit in there really tight and keep more dirt away from the door than the factory ever did.
Top Shock Shatter
This is another example of a brilliant engineer/designer getting beaten by good old Mother Nature. The top mounts for the rear shocks are captured nuts. Makes them real easy to install if they work correctly but a seemingly small amount of oxidation can make the bolts non-removable. How do you know if they are non-removable? Glad you asked. You find out when your 3/8-drive ratchet with extension and 13mm socket suddenly break loose and your knuckles end up in the exhaust or the gas tank. The crux of the matter is that the "captured" nuts are really more like "lazy" nuts. They just lay on the top of the crossmember; they aren't in a box. So, every time you go wheeling you get a little more dirt up there. Dirt attracts and retains moisture. Then you've got a great recipe for seized bolts.
Prevention: Make it a point to get up under there and get as much dirt as possible out by sliding your air-nozzle on top of the crossmember and blowing it out with compressed air after each wheeling trip. Use anti-seize when installing the bolts.
Cure: Once you break the bolt, you have two basic options. Either drill the captured nut out and re-tap it or punch it out with a hammer, slide a bolt in from the back side, and tack weld it from the bottom.
This is an area you might never see, but the very first time we pulled our trim panels off, both sides were filled with water looking very much like a metal fishbowl. We thought about putting some guppies in there, but then decided to figure out the problem. By tracking the water trails, it turns out that the rear quarter window seals don't seal quite well enough. The water gets past the quarter windows, drips behind the trim panels and right into the rear lower quarter panels. The water normally doesn't get onto the carpet, and doesn't create any mold smells so it often goes unnoticed. However if your Jeep has this ailment, it is only a matter of time until your quarters will rot out. The water will always find a way out.
Prevention: Either pull the drain plugs located on the inside vertical face of the fishbowl or drill a small hole through right at the bottom and above the pinch seam. Too big of a hole will let mud and dirt in, too small will clog very easily. We use a 1/8-inch bit normally. By drilling the hole, all the water gets out, not just the top three inches' worth.
Cure: Pop the quarter windows out and reinstall with some RTV. We like using Right Stuff, but any kind will do. On the downside, if (when) you smack the rear quarter panel, instead of popping out, the window will likely break. On the upside you keep the water out.
The hinges on the XJ doors are notorious for having issues. The sheetmetal can bend or break, the hinge-pins can wear, and the above-mentioned dirt and debris won't help any of this. It is more prevalent on the two-door model than the four-door model, but all can have problems. There was a redesign of the hinge for '98-'01 and it seems to have helped with the four-doors, but the two-doors still have issues. Of course, keeping dirt away from the hinges will help you, but there are still other things you can do.
Prevention: Pay attention when getting in and out of the Jeep not to use the door for leverage. Don't lean on the doors when they are open either.
Cure: If your hinge is pulling away from the sheet metal, open the door, get all the body sealer out from around the hinge, and then weld the body-side of the hinge to the Jeep. If the hinge pin is loose in the hinge itself, remove the hinge and door from the vehicle. Like any other automotive door hinge, you can drill the old pin out and upsize the pin. There are enough XJs in junkyards that you can just pick up some new-to-you hinges from a junkyard.
Like a Wrangler
The heading for this sidebar is a bit misleading. The Wranglers of the era actually borrow a lot of things with the XJ. For example, the TJ's front suspension design wasn't a Chrysler thing. AMC figured it out way back in '82-'83. The XJ also shares many drivetrain components with the corresponding year Wrangler. All of the advice that pertains to the steering linkage, control arms, unit bearings, ball joints, and exhaust leaks are things shared with the Wrangler. If your XJ is one those with the CAD, the fixes are the same as the YJ Wrangler. Check out articles "Ten for TJ" (page 20) and "Square Problems" (page 32) in this issue for more possible drivetrain-specific issues.