Used Jeep Buyer's Guide
Cherokees for Cheap A lot of people say a lot of nice things about the XJ. We often look at it as smoke being blown into unwanted places. You know the kinds of things you always hear:
"The Cherokee is an icon in the four-wheeling world."
"The Jeep Cherokee is the vehicle that started the SUV craze."
"The Jeep Cherokee was built for 17 years, proving how popular it was."
Yeah, that's great. We like this one better-"There were almost three million Cherokees made, which means they are dirt cheap today," or this one, "The Cherokee features the best of both suspensions: coils up front for flex off-road and leafs out back for stability and off-camber predictability," or even this one, "It's got a 4.0L engine, a choice of two good transmissions, a solid T-case, and decent axles- buy one and beat it."
You can think whatever you want about the XJ. The fact is that today a single paycheck (and often less than that) could have you in one, and out wheeling tomorrow. There might occasionally be a screaming deal on another Jeep, but we see XJs for sale every day for under $1,000.
The XJ has a lot going for it. More interior cargo room than a Wrangler, yet it still has the bomb-proof inline-six; many of them got the decent AW4 transmission or had the AX-15 as an option, high-pinion front axles, and non-C-clipped rear axles were also fairly common. What's more, if your XJ didn't come with the better parts from the factory, there is one in a junkyard near you that did, and you can easily upgrade it if you don't mind getting dirty.
There are plusses and minuses to all the years of XJs, and if you are out XJ hunting, let us give you the ammo you'll need. We'd ignore the four-cylinder XJs, both because there were less of them, and because you'd be better off with a six.
There are four basic eras of the XJ, and they break down like this:
This was a dark time for Jeep, and the Cherokee in particular. These Jeeps were saddled with an unreliable V-6 that put out about as much horsepower as the four-cylinder did. Unless you are planning on completely swapping out the drivetrain, we'd suggest looking at a newer version.
Also known as the Renix years, as the French-sourced multiport fuel injection was called. These motors are reliable, and the fuel-injection's operating parameters are looser than what came later, allowing more power to be made without the computer freaking out. Many guys also cite better mileage numbers with these XJs than the later ones. However, if you don't have someone that knows and can work on the Renix system, repairs can quickly become costly, especially if you try to fix it by throwing parts at it. The newest one of these is 19 years old now, and will need some help. Often when they stop running, it is because a sensor went bad.
The downside to these years, if you are a manual transmission connoisseur, is that until mid 1989, these Jeeps were saddled with the less-than-great Peugot BA 10/5 transmission. Somewhere in 1989 the AX-15 replaced the Peugot, but the output was still only 21 splines, which means if you want to swap in a later more common transfer case with 23 splines, you'll have more work to do. Aside from the output shaft spline count, the AW4 of this era was basically the same transmission that was put in all the XJs. That is to say, for an auto, great.