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How To Buy The Right Used Jeep

Jeep Caravan
Rick Péwé
| Four Wheeler Network Content Director
Posted September 1, 1998
Photographers: Rick Péwé

Picking The Cream Of The Crop

Finding the perfect used Jeep is like looking for that proverbial needle in the haystack. And what's perfect for one Jeeper may not be the right choice for another. In fact, every model of Jeep has its strong and weak points. We'll point out both here to make your search a little easier.

We're limiting our discussion to the traditional Jeeps-the MB, CJ, YJ, and TJ styles-rather than all the other variations and sizes that make up the complete Jeep history. We're not saying that there aren't a lot of good parts and vehicles in the bigger Jeeps; there's only so much we can fit in these pages. And whatever you do decide to purchase, remember that a stock Jeep is a rare one: Assume something on a used Jeep has been modified.

The original flatfender: MB/GPW.
The MB/GPW Jeep from World War II is a supreme vehicle in its own right. The fenders allow for maximum tire clearance, and the windshield can fold both down and out. The unique grille features widely spaced headlights for the best light distribution, and the recessed buckets keep glare to a minimum. The wider grille opening and nine grille slats allow for a larger radiator area for better cooling of the engine.

But the MB has some weak points too. The T-84 transmission and the Dana 25 rearend. Both units were used only on these Jeeps and break easily because of their small internal parts, especially when larger tires, bigger engines, or aggressive and inexperienced drivers are added to the vehicle. Even though the rearend is a full-float design, the axleshaft diameter is just as small as the front axle and won't last long under severe service. Unless these Jeeps get new drivetrain components, the stock engine is best.

  • Widely spaced small headlights
  • Nine slats for maximum cooling
  • Full-floating rear axle
  • Fenders you can eat lunch on
  • Windshield folds out and down

First civilian Jeep: CJ-2A.
The CJ-2A was an improvement over the MB except for the grille, with bigger lights closer together accompanied by fewer slats, which stayed the same until the first Wranglers. While still the same basic body style, the 2A featured some definite improvements to the drivetrain in the form of a stronger Dana 41 rear axle and a tougher T-90 transmission with better gear ratios.

The taller windshield is great for tall drivers, and it retains the fold-out-and-down feature. Other niceties are the handy tailgate, although the wheelwells are smaller. And the exterior fuel fill is a definite plus rather than having to lift the driver seat as in the MB model. These Jeeps are highly modifiable and are still plentiful, as are replacement bodies and parts.

  • Dana 41 rear axle
  • Tall windshield
  • Tailgate
  • Exterior fuel fill
  • Strong T-90 tranny
  • Bug-eyed grille

The last true civilian flatfender: CJ-3A.
Nearly identical to the 2A it replaced, the CJ-3A had a few extremely important differences. The biggest visual difference was the windshield frame made from rectangular tubing with one piece of fixed glass. This frame was taller than the 2A's and made for a smoother look and a tighter fitting top. Ventilation was through a small port under the glass, which is very convenient.

The major mechanical advances were the switch to the Dana 44 rear axle, still in production to this day. It was a 10-spline axle with a tapered hub and axle design, and it's still better than many other rearends currently produced. The chassis was also modified on the 3A so the bumper attached directly to it rather than through gussets, and the chassis is also stronger with more reinforcements. While more 2As were produced, the 3A is probably the best flattie for restoring or modifying.

  • One-piece windshield
  • Dana 44 rearend
  • Strong frame
  • Fold-out vent

Last military flattie: M38.
One of the most sought-after flatties is the M38, which is basically a militarized CJ-3A. Even though most of the components can be interchanged with the civilian style, items such as the waterproofing system and the 24-volt electrics are unique and expensive. The multipiece floorboards are much easier to modify when swapping in different transmissions, and the exterior battery box is a bonus when it comes to tight-fitting engine conversions.

Jeeps issued to the Marine Corps may also have the optional Powr-Lok limited-slip differentials front and rear. Even the front grille is hinged to make access to the radiator and engine easier, and if you're a bracket and brace freak, this Jeep is for you.

  • 24-volt waterproof electrics
  • Strongest flattie frame
  • Exterior dual-battery compartment

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