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Get Your Own Jeep! - First Time Jeep Buying

Posted in How To on May 1, 2013
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So you’ve decided to buy a Jeep for the first time? Good for you and welcome to the club. But buying a Jeep for the first time is just a little bit different than simply flipping through the Kelley Blue Book and making an offer. There are so many factors involved in buying a Jeep that Kelley never even thought of. Fortunately for you first-time Jeep buyers, we have.

The word “Jeep” spans well over 60 years of off-road vehicles, and while we don’t have the space here to go into depth on what to look for in every model, we will be able to offer some general things to keep an eye out for and some ideas on what to expect.

In general, we prefer to buy our used Jeeps in stock condition or as close to stock as possible. Sure, you can save a lot of money by picking up a Jeep that has already been lifted and is sitting on huge tires with lockers and gears. However, like Kim Kardashian, the “but” here can be huge, and the “but” here is that you can’t be sure how well the parts were installed. If they weren’t installed well, you can toss a lot of money at the Jeep to fix other’s mistakes.

With that one little caveat out of the way, check out some of the “dos” and “don’ts” of Jeep buying.

Pick Your Price
Unlike a normal car, buying an old Jeep doesn’t guarantee it will be cheaper than buying a newer model. In fact, the opposite is often true. We’ve bought a lot of Jeeps over the years, and all that experience has taught us what we can expect depending on how much we are willing to spend up front.

Up to $2,000
If you are trying to snag a Jeep for under $2,000, you better know your way around your well-stocked toolbox. At the lower end of the range you might find a simple pile of parts with a VIN, someone’s half-completed project, or a pile of Toledo metal that is almost indistinguishable from the field it has been sitting in for the last several decades. At the upper end of the range, you can expect a running and possibly driving Jeep. However, odds are good it will need some major drivetrain part rebuilt, or other critical areas addressed before it could be a reliable daily-driver. What we are trying to say is if you are buying a Jeep in this range, make sure you have cash left over after purchase because the Jeep will eat more money before it is ready to go.

Just like any used vehicle purchase, check the fluids. Power steering fluid should not smell burnt, brake fluid should be clear, engine oil should be at the correct level on the dipstick with no obvious contamination, and automatic transmission fluid should be red, at the correct level, and not smell burnt. The coolant should be green with no oily residue, and no fuel smell (either can indicate a head gasket problem). Unless the seller was obsessive-compulsive about maintenance, at least one of these checks will fail. Don’t sweat if one or two checks don’t pass. But if the Jeep fails all the checks, you might want to think about moving along.

$2,000 - $3,999
In this price range you can expect to find decent runners and drivers that will usually need less than an additional $1,000 to get them up to full-time driver duties. There will be a lot of higher-mileage Wranglers in this range as well as older and often more-neglected CJs. You know, that CJ hasn’t been driven in a decade and the owner finally decided to get that space back. Given the choice, we’ll take the Wrangler every time. They are more reliable, less likely to rust away from under us, and we can usually get in a Wrangler and wheel it faster than a new CJ purchase. Either way, odds are good you will still end up needing a rear main seal, and plan on replacing all the fluids for good measure.

You might think that a clean engine compartment is a good thing. Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Shady car dealers and private sellers will steam clean or power wash the engine compartment to hide leaks and other problem areas. On an inline-six Jeep, the valve cover, oil pan, and often the valve cover breather gaskets tend to leak. Some seepage is OK, but puddles under the Jeep aren’t. You can also check T-case, manual transmission, and differential fluids, but unless something is very wrong with these parts, a fluid check will reveal nothing. And, if something is really wrong, it will usually show up on the test drive.

$4,000 - $5,999
If you can bring this kind of cash to bear, you will be looking at a Jeep ready to drive home, and most likely drive every day after that. You might find it ends up needing a few hundred more greenbacks to get rid of annoying things that you don’t like, but mechanically it should be sound. You’ll find some very nice Wranglers and Cherokees starting to make an appearance at the lower end of this category, with some good-looking CJs at the upper end. Even the best-looking CJ might have problems running and/or passing smog thanks to some of the emissions-related equipment foisted on it.

Unlike a normal car purchase, odds are really good that the Jeep you are looking at got to see something other than dry and sunny pavement in its life. Off-road and snow usage doesn’t automatically mean that the Jeep is a lemon. Check skidplates for gouges and dents and check the frame around suspension, body, and steering mounts for cracks or repairs. While you are under there, keep an eye out for surface rust and scale. Some surface rust isn’t a deal breaker, but flaky, scaly rust can be. If you find repairs for either cracks or rust, ask what the problem was and more information on how the repair was performed.

$6,000 and Up
Now we are talking what we consider big bucks. This is the category of rebuilds, restorations, or primo low-mileage survivors. Be very careful of “rebuilt” and “restored” because like our theoretical lifted Jeep in the intro, there are good and bad rebuilds and restorations. If you are looking at a rebuild, restore, or even a restomod in this category, ask questions. When you look at the Jeep, either take someone who knows a lot about that particular model, or study up for weeks ahead of time. You should plan on spending hours with the seller and the Jeep asking questions about it. And, the seller should have no problems answering all your questions. Even if the Jeep runs and drives well and passes all of the other visual tests, if you don’t get a good feeling from the seller it might be better to put your hard-earned cash elsewhere. Jeeps in this range are just about all the cream of the crop, and unless it is a super-rare model, it should be ready to be driven every day as soon as the cash changes hands.

Once you get done with all the visual tests, it is time for the test drive. The Jeep should be cold when you get there. If it isn’t, come back later. You want to keep an eye on the tailpipe for smoke at a cold startup. Blue smoke can indicate burning oil, white can mean its burning water, and sometimes a carbureted rig will puff a bit of unburned fuel. Once it is fired up, take it for a drive. Pay attention to how it runs as it comes up to temperature. Play with everything and note what doesn’t work. Put it in 4-Hi and 4-Lo and drive it. While driving it pay attention to how it shifts, steers, and stops. Try the wipers, horn, and stereo (if equipped). Test the lights and walk around the Jeep to see they are actually working.

The Negotiation
Whether it is a personal seller or a dealership, negotiation is an important part of a Jeep purchase. Don’t just walk up and pay the full asking price. Run through the checks we talked about, making notes of deficiencies that you can use to knock the price down. Don’t try to get full market value for problem areas, and don’t try offering half the asking price right out. Either can offend the seller and shut negotiations down real quick. If the Jeep is priced appropriately, getting one eighth of the asking price off might not be out of the question. If it is overpriced, thank the seller for their time and walk away. There will be another Jeep out there for you. The worst thing you can do is buy a Jeep feeling like you are paying too much.

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