Step By Step
Cherokee (XJs) and Comanche (MJs)
The 84-01 Cherokee and the 86-92 Comanche are great wheeling Jeeps right off the lot, and the aftermarket has really started to support these models in the last couple of years. The 4.0L engine, available in 87-and-later Comanches and Cherokees (try to hold out for a 90-or-later if you can) is your best choice for a powerplant. Look for 96-and-up Cherokees with reverse-rotation Dana 30 front axles with 297 series U-joints (same size as the Dana 44) and check for Comanches with a Dana 44 rear axle instead of the 35C. Buy the latest model your budget allows, but dont worry if you cant get exactly the one you want because there is huge parts interchangeability amongst the product line, and you can always swap parts later.
The Daily Driver vs. the Project Jeep
You have to be honest with yourself here. Somebody elses nonrunning project M38A1 is not worth blowing all your new Jeep funds on if what you really need is something to get you back and forth to work or school. It can be so hard, but sometimes you might have to let the perfect Jeep get away. Dont worry, there will always be more. It will help if you keep reminding yourself that the coolest Jeeps are the ones you can drive. Sure, if you have another source of transportation a vintage Jeep like our Ultimate A1 could be perfect, because then it wouldnt matter that your new toy didnt come with an engine.
Score the Best of What the Factory Offered
The ultimate factory CJ-7 has got to be the late-86 model. Since it has a Dana 44 rear axle and the Dana 300 transfer case, youre half way to a great drivetrain. You might even be able to find one for sale where the owner is ignorant of the significance of this model. A used car dealer could potentially have an 86 CJ-7 and price it lower than an 87 Wrangler simply because it is older. Same goes for J10 and J20 pickups. If you can find a J20 with an offset rear Dana 60 youll be way better off than with the Dana 44 in the J10. Deals like these are entirely possible because not every seller knows what they have unless they bought the Jeep new, and even then some still dont know.
Buy Something Nobody Else Wants
FCs, CJ3Bs, and 87 Wranglers scare a lot of buyers away because they are thought to be either ugly or pieces of junk. If we wanted to build up a Wrangler like this with custom axles, a V-8 swap, and an NV4500, wed start with the cheapest one we could find. That might even mean a recovered stolen vehicle or the dreaded 87 YJ with the 258 carbureted six and the NP207 transfer case. If were gonna scrap the drivetrain, strip the interior, and rebuild the whole suspension, we might as well start with a Jeep that doesnt have anything we want to keep.
The best deals to be had are on Jeeps that no one else wants but will still suit your needs perfectly. If that doesnt work for you, look for Jeeps that are the first year of a body style/chassis configuration that you like. Vehicles such as a 94 Grand Cherokee or a 97 TJ will let you get into the model you want without having to shell out the new-car cash to get all the latest bells and whistles. The factory hasnt made the ultimate Jeep yet, so the trick is to find something that you can afford and that will still leave you with some extra cash on the side each month to personalize your rig to best do what you want it to.
Best Case Scenarios
A young couple with a baby on the way and one too many partially running project vehicles in the yard can lead to great deals on a used Jeep. A seller with no money, no time, and a wife and baby that need attention is your best ally in getting a good price. This type of situation can be tough to plan, but if you see a Jeep with a For Sale sign outside the maternity ward, its worth taking a closer look.
The easier targets for good deals come near college campuses. We dont mean Ivy League schools; we mean large state universities that have students who are running out of funds toward the end of the summer and need extra money for beer and food. Local college papers will often list automotive classified with words like leaving the country, must sell. Jeeps are popular with college students, and as a rule, college students are usually broke, so they often accept ridiculously low offers just to get back on their financial feet. Dont feel guiltythe seller will probably become a doctor or lawyer someday and make more money than you do.
Buying From a Used Car Lot
The trouble here is that places that sell used Jeeps are doing so to make a profit. Most private party sales involve sellers that are just trying to get back some of the money they have tied up in the Jeep. Dealers, on the other hand, have to make a few hundred to a few thousand dollars over what they paid for the Jeep. So its hard to get a really good (low-price) deal on a Jeep from a dealer, and you arent going to get much of a warranty anyway. There are a few exceptions, such as a modified vehicle where the dealers ignorance on certain upgrades could lead to a good deal for you, the informed buyer. A Cherokee with a Ford 9-inch rear axle and a Detroit Locker means nothing to many used car dealers, but its a dream come true for you.