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Project "Steal J" - 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ - Part 1

Tj After
Christian Hazel
| Brand Manager, Four Wheeler
Posted July 21, 2006

We Lie, Cheat, and Beg a Cheap TJ

The previous owner wasn't into aesthetics. The Jeep hadn't been washed, and the top hadn't been put up in over a year. The Bestop Sunrider top had mold growing in it from pooled water, and the Grizzly wheels were caked in brake dust.

If Four Wheeler Magazine can have its "Teal-J" project Wrangler, why can't Jp Magazine have its "Steal-J" project Wrangler? The difference is, where Four Wheeler took the high road and forked over big bucks to get its '97 Wrangler, we lie, beg, and low-ball some sucker who doesn't know what he has.

Monkey on My Back

Anybody who has read Jp longer than a year knows about the problem I have with buying Jeeps. It's really no joke. My wife thinks I need help; I think I just need more vehicles. I've honed my Internet searching skills to the point where I can find at least five Jeeps of any kind at nearly any price within a matter of minutes. So when I decided I wanted a cheap TJ right after the Winter holidays, the gods smiled on me and threw a $3,700 '97 TJ in my lap.

The Ad Process

My new favorite Web site is It's like eBay, but without all the scammers looking to steal your bank account information and dreamers thinking their junk is worth its weight in gold. For the time being, most sellers on are just looking to quickly and conveniently unload a vehicle they don't want. The only downside is that there's no phone number required for listing, so you're often at the mercy of waiting for an e-mail back from the seller.

The ad read, "'97 Wrangler 4.0L, air conditioning, rear axle broken, $3,700." Any fool knows a 4.0L TJ with air conditioning in running condition is worth an easy $5,500, even in sad shape, so I frantically tried to contact the seller. However, two days went by before I got a response. Apparently, the seller got hit badly with the flu and couldn't even make it to his keyboard to check his ad. By the time the seller got back to me, he had already received around 150 e-mails inquiring about the Jeep and said he needed to be fair and take the buyers in the order they contacted him.

The interior was disgusting. The carpet can't be saved. There's so much mold living in it that it may as well be a Petri dish. The plastic was brought back with a stiff brush and some 409 cleaner. Thankfully, the AC just needed a can of R134a to work perfectly. Just cleaning the interior and washing the outside probably raised the Jeep's value $1,500.

Fair is for Fairies

After much e-mail brow-beating, I finally convinced the seller to give me his phone number. Man, was that a mistake for him. I must have called him about a dozen times. I started slowly, insisting that I had e-mailed him right after the ad was placed (I didn't) and asking a few pedestrian questions to which I really didn't care about the answer. What color was the Jeep, how are the tires, did you have a nice holiday? I didn't even listen to his answers. Hey pal, I'm your buddy, sell the Jeep to me.

I then kicked it up a bit, commiserating with him about how deathly sick my wife had been over the holidays (she had a slight cold) and how she's always wanted a cute little Jeep to drive (she thinks I have enough Jeeps already) since she has to drive a crappy minivan around with duct tape on the seats and a coat hanger antenna (she drives a $40K Hemi Durango). It would really make her feel better and help save a lousy holiday season (she got everything on her Christmas list and then some) if I could surprise her with a Jeep in the garage with a big, red bow on the hood (I have so many tools, parts, and other Jeeps in my garage there's no way I could fit the spare tire in there, let alone find a silly red bow).

Then I started in with the, "Aw, just let me come over and look at it; you don't even need to meet me outside." Yeah, I'll just come look at it with a wad of $100s in my pocket and my trailer. When he said I couldn't because he had to go out and get some cold medication, I told him I'd pick it up on my way. Remember, I'm now his buddy. He finally capitulated, probably more to get me to stop calling than anything else.

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