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OWNING A JEEP CHEREOKEE XJ

With our "kids" now of working and driving we found ourselves with a decision to make. We had 3 cars now; my wife drives a 2017 Ford Edge, my oldest drives the 2002 S-Type and I have the 2017 SS. My youngest will be getting a car soon as well so that we can finally retire ourselves from taxi duty. But...there's always one of those...we still live in a state that is prone to 4-5 months of snow and icy weather that can occur at the drop of a hat. Two of the mentioned motor vehicles are rear wheel drive. The youngest is not keen on the SUV/CUV/XUV/Whatever-UV fashion that has gripped America and wants a car as well. So hers will most likely be an AWD something or other. But that still leaves me and my oldest with V8 rear wheel drive. So why not find something that winter ready and capable to in case our other AWD vehicle is otherwise being used? That was the decision we had to make. After deciding on getting something else that was AWD/4WD came the hunt for the right vehicle. Cheap, dependable and easy to work on the main criteria. Oh. And no pickups. After a month of searching we finally found Gemma the 1998 Jeep Cherokee Limited.

Gemma was born Aug 1997 in Toledo, Ohio. She was shipped to Pitre Chrysler-Plymouth Jeep-Eagle of Scottsdale, Arizona. Original sticker price: $25,140. The new owner added a sunroof soon after through the dealer. Gemma lived in AZ until sometime in late-2010 when she was sold in Denver, Colorado to a new owner. This owner kept her until 2018. Her third owner kept her until I bought her for $5,000 in Aug 2020.

When I got Gemma she had only collected 94,000 miles. In general she had been well taken care of until the last few years. Her paint was solid and the interior was generally clean save for a ton of dog hair that the dealer had to remove. The engine was in good shape but did have a rear main seal and oil pan gasket leak (common XJ issues). Transmission was stout with no leaking or slipping. And surprisingly, though XJs can be prone to rust especially at the floor pan and side sills Gemma was totally rust free. Even more surprisingly the sunroof wasn't leaking either. There were a few minor things that needed work; at least one seat motor and three door locks weren't working. The jack was missing. And the suspension was in need of a complete going over (tie rods, stabilizer bar bushings and links, steering stabilizer, shocks, etc). But in general she met the criteria set out: cheap, reliable and easy to work on. On the plus side, the dealer put on new tires and a new radiator in it prior to my purchase.

As with the S-Type and the SS, I'm doing the running tally of expenses and lessons learned for this Cherokee. Unlike the SS and more like the S-Type it'll be a daily driver so entries may be more frequent; or not. Only repair/replacement costs are listed. Regular preventive maintenance things like wiper blades and oil changes are excluded.

2020 - Starting Mileage: 94,147 (mid-August)
ITEM COST REMARKS
Stabilizer Bar Link (front) $99 Fairly easy to replace. Can be done without removing the wheels. But, there's more room to get at them with the wheels off.
Seals $750 Had this done by a local shop. Included the rear main seal, oil pan seal, oil change (full synthetic), filter and labor.
Drive System Inspection and Service $275 Had this done at the same time as the seals above. Inspection turned up no problems. Serviced the transmission, both differentials and the transfer case plus labor.
Stabilzer Bar Bushings x 6 $50 Replaced the front and rear bushing because they were pretty soft and worn into a nice elliptcal shape. Front bushing: Duralast FA1783 x 2. Rear bushings Moog K3130 x 4. All were easy to replace. However, I changed the stabilizer bar links on the rear at the same time as I did the bushings. Front and rear bushing bracket bolts are 15mm. Heavily greased all 6 to keep sqeaking to a minimum.
Stabilizer Bar Link (rear) x 2 $15 The rubber bushing in the link at the leaf spring was shot plus it was much easier to get the bushings in as well. Duraast SL354 but internal packaging was marked TRW. Easy to replace. Bolt is 18mm and screw is 10mm. The screw that came with the new part was much longer than the original so I cleaned up and reused the original instead.
Radiator Hoses - Upper and Lower $30 Went ahead and replaced these since the dealer didn't do it when they replaced the radiator and I was having to drain the radiator due to a heater hose issue (next entry).
Heater Hoses $46 While checking things out under the hood I had noticed that the upper heater hose had a tap added to it for flushing the system at some point in the past. A small leak had developed around it. Upon inspection I found that the leak was caused by the plastic tap breaking off in the hose. So I replaced both hoses. The lower hose is a common 5/8-inch size that any auto parts store has in bulk; no need to use the fitted one specifically for the Jeep. The upper is a different story. It's an 11/16-inch that no auto parts store seems to carry in bulk. At least not around my area. So I had to spring for the more expensive ($36) fitted/angled custom hose.
Electric Auxillary Fan $0 I noticed that when the AC was on the auxillary fan wasn't kicking on like it should. Popping the connector loose and wiring it directly to the battery got it working; full speed motion with no noise and no wobbling. Pulled the underhood relay and found the contacts had a dark buildup on them. Sanded them down to a nice shine and added some dielectric lube. Fan started working as it should.
Steering Stabilizer $45 Again, a fairly easy replacement. Plenty of how to videos on the interweb.
Wheel Center Cap $6 Missing this from one of the wheels when I bought it. Always some on eBay.
Power Door Lock Actuator x 3 $45 Got these from the local you-pull-it. Of the 4 doors, three of them had inoperative power door locks. Hitting the button got sound from the actuator but nothing happened. Inspection found the little plastic gears inside were shot. Replacement is a pain in the tuckus the first time you do one but once you do it, the others go quick. Be gentle with the plastic clips that hold the various rods in place. Time isn't kind to these and they will break if you use too much force to pop them loose. The good news is they are all the same size so you can scavenge good ones from the non-working actuator.
Turn Signal/High Beam/Emergency Flasher Unit $15 Another you-pull-it find. The one in Gemma worked fine except that the turn signal didn't turn off after making a turn. More of an annoyance than anything else but figured since I was scavenging parts I'd grab this too. Replacement is fairly simple but tedious. Remove the plastic panel under the steering wheel and drop down the metal panel under that. Then remove the three Phillips screws holding the steering wheel cover on. Then the three Torx screws holding the dust cover over the turn signal and wiper stalks. With some wiggling and cajoling, the turn signal unit lifts up and out to the left where you can unplug it.
Power Seat Motors x 2 $165 The driver's seat is powered and the front up/down tilt motor wasn't working. These are a known weak spot in the Cherokee. The plastic teeth at the motor that drives the metal worm screw get weak and break off. So while the motor is fine, all you get is a loud clicking sound out of it. I found the motors online at 2 Men 1 Garage. They also have replacement metal gears as well but the information I found on replacing those looked like it was way more involved than it should be. So I opted for replacing the entire motor complete with the gear and worm screw instead which is a very tedious process in its own right. While the seat is easy to get loose (3 bolts and a nut), you have to separate the seat from the seat carrier and pull it out of the car. Then using a small punch, tap out the two pins holding the motor to the seat carrier. Only then can you get the motors out. I did the job in about 2 hours start to finish.
Shock Absorbers x 4 $120 Another easy job. Used Monroe OESpectrum shocks. The old ones were definitely past due for replacement so I have no idea how these Monroe shocks compare with others or OEM.
Distributor with Rotor, Cap and Camshaft Sensor $112 About a month after getting Gemma home a loud squeaking sound in the engine bay started happening. Very random. Happened when cold or warm and sometimes both. Sometimes loud, sometimes soft. Sometimes a few chirping squeaks, sometimes a long series. This made it a bit hard to pinpoint. But some patience and a automotive stethoscope tracked it down to the distributor. Pulling the cap and wiggling the rotor side to side showed some play had developed. A closer look showed it was the original Mopar distributor. So it got replaced with a Duralast unit with a lifetime warranty (part BDLG-CH17). This isn't a hard job physically (although the location of the 1/2 inch bolt (nope, it's not metric) holding the distributor down is pretty stupid). But, it is a job that takes a moderate level of technical skill if you haven't done one before. There are plenty of videos on how to do this. A number of them say you don't need to worry about setting cylinder one to TDC. That's not a good idea. While setting to TDC adds time to the procedure, it is simple and more importantly will make sure the timing is not screwed up thus causing a redo of all your work because the distributor is 180 degrees out of time. Also, get a new gasket for the distributor. For some reason they don't come with one. I used a FEL-PRO gasket; part number 70051.

One additional note. After installing the new distributor unit and driving a couple of times, I got a check engine light due to a P1391 code. I cleared the code but it came back. Some internet searching turned up two useful bits of info: 1) the code is related to the crankshaft position sensor and 2) this happens often in Cherokee's that use after market crankshaft sensors. However, I didn't replace the crankshaft sensor; but, I did replace the camshaft sensor as part of the distributor replacement. The old one was still sitting on my work bench so I cleaned it up and put it back in then cleared the code. But it came back about four drives later. So I had to replace the crankshaft sensor (next entry).

Crankshaft Position Sensor $97 As noted above, after replacing the distributor the crankshaft position sensor started throwing a P1391 code. This is NOT easy to replace. Watched any videos on the internet about this? Yeah, it sucks just as much as they all say. I managed to do this without taking anything else loose as some others did. I used a genuine Mopar part (56027866AC) due to some horror stories I heard when researching this; I really didn't want to have to do it again for a very long time. Bolts on my Jeep were 11mm. As some have noted there is a dust cover where the sensor inserts into the transmission. Mine did not come off when I replaced the sensor. But if yours does be very careful not to drop a bolt into that open hole.