Good afternoon, Autopians! It’s your favorite weekend writer, editor, annoyance — whatever you feel, it’s valid. I am starting a new weekly feature which I shall call “High Mileage Heroes.” Take a wild guess at what will be featured. Did you guess “cars with the coolest rear-entertainment systems?” Well, you’re wrong, but I do think I’d enjoy that. Jokes aside, I am starting a weekly feature on unique, atypical, and uncommon high mileage vehicles. I’m using the term “hero” not just in reference to the car, but also to the owner, as anyone who keeps a car this long, drives this many miles, and deals with all the maintenance/repairs associated with getting the vehicle there is a “hero” in my books. Let’s get started!
Today’s feature is near and dear to me. If I asked who’s the most enthusiastic lover of XJ Cherokees, you’d respond with, well, David Tracy. Hmmm, how about my neighbor/adoptive grandfather Vito — an 81 year-old former tugboat captain and high school math teacher — who, at 81, has been driving XJ Cherokees since 1989, only 5 years after they were first released? Checkmate. I’d like to see an epic battle between DT and Vito as they battle each other for the crown of XJ ownership [Editor’s Note: We’d just talk about XJs and become friends, let’s be honest. -DT]. Anyways, let’s check out Vito’s Jeep, which he bought brand new, and which has accumulated roughly 300,000 miles since 1997.
Vito originally bought his 1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport in 1998 from East Hills Jeep in Roslyn, New York. He’s even got the original plate frame to show it. Note the “Eagle” stamp in the right corner. That’s cool.
Vito does not remember how much he paid for the machine, but he says it “was a good deal.” He doesn’t still have the window sticker, unfortunately.
This XJ is a white Sport trim with black fender flares, grille, and bumpers. [Editor’s Note: I call this the Storm Trooper XJ color-scheme. -DT]. The interior has gray fabric seats and an automatic T-handle shifter, which connects to an AW4 four-speed hooked to the legendary 4.0L inline 6, which is the engine everyone wanted back then.
The sole modification present on Vito’s XJ is the 15-inch alloy rims found on the ZJ and TJ Wranglers of the era. Wrapped around those wheels are BF Goodrichs ready to conquer the harsh streets of Long Island; those potholes are no joke! The factory AC/Heat work well and are all original. [Editor’s Note: AC works?! This is rare on an old XJ! -DT]. The stereo system functions as it should, sporting the sweet sounds of a cassette straight out of 1997.
Surely you must be familiar with the robust reliability of the 4.0, and Vito’s is no exception. Since 1997, he has traversed an impressive 299,387 miles. In case you’re interested in seeing any service records, I’ve got nothing. I do have something even cooler to share: he does all the work himself!
Specifically, about every 5,000 miles Vito does nothing but a simple oil and filter change. Vito also tells me it’s been “years” since he has done spark plugs, and that the last time he took a peek, they “looked brand new!”
That’s seriously it according to him. He has done absolutely nothing else to his knowledge. There are definitely some parts that have been replaced, but for the most part, it appears to be all original. I’m impressed, more so by his dedication, not by the reliability of the XJ. That was a given. Disclaimer: I expect the “maintenance” section of “High Mileage Heroes” to be much longer than this. Vito’s Jeep is an anomaly between its extreme durability and simple service history. There is not much else to share.
[Editor’s Note: I think it’s awesome how much Vito loves his XJ, and I think it’s great that he does his own work. Though, as an engineer proficient at vehicle maintenance, I will say that there’s a zero percent chance that all he did since 1998 was basic oil changes. 300,000 miles on the original differential gear oil? 300,000 miles on the original water pump? 300,000 miles on the original serpentine belt? 300,000 miles on the original tie rod ends and ball joints? This is extremely, extremely unlikely, especially given that this Jeep had to get through a safety and emissions inspection each year:
I will note that there do appear to be some severely worn and old and therefore most-likely-original parts on this machine. Look at the shocks; you can see part of it has rusted off ad is dangling around the base of the shock:
You can also see how arched those rear leaf springs are; definitely original!:
That muffler has clearly been replaced, though. And, though Vito claims he doesn’t remember having to do the brake pads, let’s be honest, those were done at some point in this Jeep’s 300,000-mile life. Still. Even if it’s unclear what all had to be done, the fact that Vito doesn’t remember all the service this thing has needed tells us it’s been a trusty steed. Any vehicle accumulating 300,000 miles without requiring extremely painful and therefore memorable repairs — well, that’s a feat in and of itself.
Why the XJ?
Vito tells me he bought his very first Jeep Cherokee in 1989, which he still has. It’s a Limited trim, finished in brown over a gray leather interior. Here it is:
Check out that old-school license plate! I wish New York had brought back the “liberty style” plates; they looked so damn good. Vito keeps this old friend around for “parts,” but he has not had to use it all that much considering his 97 is running great. This particular XJ, the “parts” one, was driven by his children until it was in an accident in 2002 and has sat in this driveway since. Check out the old New York registration and inspection:
So why does Vito enjoy his Jeeps so much? “Jeeps can handle anything,” he told me, “They’re safe and well-built!” Naturally, he tells me he bought a Cherokee for each of his four kids to take with them away to school. Now that’s a good, smart, dad-decision.
He also enjoys the size of the XJ, stating, “It’s small on the outside, but huge on the inside. I can fit all my tools inside. It is simple and easy to park. Just how I like it.”
Besides the 89 and 97 XJ Cherokees, Vito says he has also owned 91, 95, and 96 Cherokees. Thrown into the mix were a 98 Grand Cherokee and a 2008 Grand Cherokee, the latter of which he still has and uses to drive to visit family in Massachusetts. “More comfortable,” he says, in regards to the Grand Cherokee versus the XJ Cherokee.
Vito particularly reminisced on a time when he and his wife, Jeanne, were visiting family in southern New Jersey when a snowstorm hit a decade ago. “There was probably about three feet of snow. I put the Jeep in 4WD and made it home safe and sound to Long Island. Best damn 4WD there is,” he says with a laugh.
“I will never sell it! It’s my ‘DD'” says Vito. I do tell him all the time that if he ever wants to sell, he’s got a buyer right across the street. It’s me; I’m the buyer. Maybe one day he will get sick of it? I have a feeling I will be waiting a long time for that. Knowing him, he’ll be driving that Jeep for another 20 years. I’m sure it will still be running just as well then as it does now.
In the meantime, I can’t wait to throw a party when it hits exactly 300,000 miles, especially with just simple maintenance. We will tie a bunch of balloons to it and hope it doesn’t float away like the house in Up. How many 80-year-olds do you know drive a 26-year-old car with that many miles? One that does all the work themselves? Vito is a legend, a Jeepster, and a great neighbor. I hope his Cherokee brings him many more miles of no trouble.
Do you have an unusually high mileage vehicle or do you just want to add my name to a spam mailing list? Email me, at email@example.com to submit your unique car. Maybe it will get a feature, depending on what mood I’m in. Bonus points if it’s NOT a Toyota or Lexus… I’m kidding. You can send me your 250,000-mile Tacomas. I just might skip past it.
My dad’s 2002 Tundra just rolled 600k this month. Shockingly original, but it did just get a reupholster/repaint because the seats showed their age and the paint had Imperial Jade clearcoat issues
Check out the “Mileage Impossible” facebook page!
My mk4 jetta gasser is at 150k right now despite having been owned by a succession of high school students and based on how it was when I got it, about 0 maintenance by anyone who actually knew what they were doing. And then I took it rallying. It made it to around 148k mi before the suspension bushings disintegrated and 140k before I had to replace the shocks. Not to mention the fact that at least 10 people learned to drive stick on it. 150k is not a ton but considering the fact that pretty much all of them were very hard miles and the lack of maintenance on a car known to be horrifically unreliable I’d say it’s pretty impressive.
Hey @Rob “High Millage Heros” is a good idea for a series. Our family DD’s are two Toyotas (04′ Sienna aka the family hauler that likes to moonlight as a light duty truck & 2012 plugin prius, which isnbotha comfortable economical commuter & a surprisingly capable roadtripper champ.) and with over 200k miles each certainly are considered high millage though given they Are Toyotas… so probably not super interesting.
When it comes to a dd, like I’m sure a lot of people, I just want them to work and (w/regular maintenance) I expect them to work well (ie all systems must be functional, yes including a/c). Outside of regular maintenance (brakes, shocks/struts/springs, belts, tires, fluid changes), only items have been for the sienna: front downpipe replaced, radiator, ac condenser & compressor & 1 motor mount.
Now B/f switching to Toyotas I daily drove VWs for 22 yes. (84′ Golf/Rabbit GTI went to 240k & was sold to a neighbor, 91′ GLI drove 120k miles myself, total vehicle miles was just shy of 300k bf selling to my mechanic for parts & last VW was a 98′ Jetta TDI I drove for nearly 200k & sold to junk yard at 300k).
Each of the VWs were reliable only bc I did as much of the work myself & I took a proactive maintenance approach. Still each always seemed to need something done & I learned the approx. miles when regular parts which would normally Not be a ‘regular maintenance item’ on another vehicle would need to be replaced on a VW, like the ignition switch as an example. I learned that by approx. 180k it was a part you should replace b/c that’s the milage at which that part would geadually fail & when it fails starting the car became harder & even with the car running you might not have all your accessory electronics work like headlights, interior fan, dash lights etc…
Likewise 180-200k was the time to replace all shifter bushings. Timingbelt changes also had much shorter intervals than Japanese makes at every 60k & I learned you wanted to make sure at every other timing belt change to change the waterpump too. Suspension (gas shocks/struts) were every 100k & springs replaced at 200k, etc., they were fun cars, though it is fair to say each VW required at least 2x as much maintenance as our Toyotas, much like most European cars.
We have had a good run with Saturn s series. Sold a 2001 SC1 at 350000 and our 1996 SW1 is still going strong at 284000. Most of those miles are ours.
Not pictured is Vito’s 2009 Saturn Astra with a 5 Speed. He loves that little thing. It’s an extremely durable grocery-getter.
My 1989 BMW 325i had 250,000 miles on it when I bought it in 2010.
The previous owner loved it, but it had a bit of rust and a new company car meant it had to go. The last thing he said to me was “She likes Pirelli P5000s, it’s the only tyre I’ll fit to her”.
One week later and it was painted in camouflage, the diff was welded up and I was giving drift taxi rides round the local track. I swapped it for free track time after the radiator blew on the second day. I’m pretty sure it didn’t make it to 251,000 miles.
Back then we thought we’d never run out of old E30s to hoon. Now they cost stupid amounts of money, even the four cylinder four doors. I feel bad.
A regular customer of mine at work (I’m a waiter) has an E28 328e with 316,000 miles. He’s the original owner, but when proper maintenance is inflicted, lots and lots of maintenance, they can run forever.
I think DT is pointing out potential problems so he can justify a low ball offer. Vito knows what he’s got.
First owner of my MJ put 239k miles on in their first 16 years of ownership. They sold it back to the original Jeep dealer they bought it from. That dealer used it as their parts running truck for 15 years. Sold it to a guy in town that had a corner car lot, he towed his boat with the MJ. I bought off of him after a year and plan to put many more miles on it. Almost at 260k miles and use it as a truck for truck things very frequently, key of which is towing trailers heavier than I should. MJs and XJs are just great.
When i turned wrenches full time, we had a customer who had(i believe still has) a 95 2.5 I4 5 speed wrangler, 450k before original motor kicked the bucket(last 100k we were using 15w-40 in winter and 20w-50 in summer to help the clearances) it was his daily from CT to southern Westchester county every day, somehow had the original frame in it with no rot, pretty sure its still alive today
I’ve been daily driving a ’96 Cherokee for the last 8ish years now. She’s up to 218k. Generally working fine, with the exception of the electrical system, which has a short somewhere (and a collapsed headliner that I swear I’ll fix one of these days….)
This is my second Jeep, after a previous 2001, which was totaled in a wreck. The think that got me into Cherokees was the SciFi show Eureka (2006-2012). They pushed Subaru like crazy in the later seasons, but the thing that really stuck with me was the running gag of the everyman Sheriff’s crusty old Cherokee, which got comedically destroyed in every episode, only to be resurrected the next week.
I once found a spark plug worn to almost 1/0” in a Grand Cherokee I was called in to diagnose ‘running’ bad’ on. .097, iirc. It was a true, ‘I’m not even mad: I’m impressed’ moment, given I nagged her about maintenance. Mileage was up near 300k
Just want to point out- in NY, the ’emissions test’ consists of: Does it throw any OBD codes? Does the inspector see a cat, and does the underhood look like its right? No and Yes? Okay, it passes.
At least in my part of the state there is no sniffer, but it still shows as that on reports.
That’s true. Vito is one of those folks who “knows a guy.” In the scheme of NY state inspections, Vito’s guy likely takes a look at his cars, shakes his hand, slaps a new sticker on, and sends him on his way. That’s how Vito is able. to get away with having many original, potentially inhibiting parts.
Of course he “knows a guy”. Dude is named Vito, ffs!
“Former tugboat captain & high school math teacher”… are you sure he wasn’t in “waste management”?
That’s basically here in PA too, you only get a tailpipe test if your car is older than OBDII otherwise its see if there is a code, see if there are holes where holes should not be and that you have a cat and a muffler, send you on your way.
Don’t ever give DT Vito’s address. If David ever visits him, this Jeep will spontaneously develop a rust problem and fall apart within a few weeks.
Good thing DT moved to the opposite coast a few weeks ago!
My dad’s ’85 (I think) Cherokee got up over 400k, and I don’t recall any major problems with it. I don’t remember what motor was in it, but I remember some discussion about how it was supposed to be “the bad one” but it just wouldn’t die! He was not a handy guy, and he didn’t treat his Jeep gently, but I’m sure he got the oil changed like clockwork and they were mostly highway miles. By the end in the late ’90s, the driver’s side floor was rusted clear through and the headliner was completely detached, but it still ran perfectly. He traded it in and bought another Cherokee.
So DT is saying that it is unlikely that it’s at 300k with the original water pump, tie rod ends, and ball joints.
Idk, my 95 XJ has 230k on the original water pump and on all of the suspension. Has a few other things that might be surprising too, like the starter. Motor mounts are a different story…..
I almost spit my coffee out this morning at the lack of a certain person’s posts. I am relieved. 🙂 (what a witless wonder am I)
With respect to the article, what a wonder feeling of achievement and other pleasant emotions one must get from a vehicle that goes so far. Nice.
Thad! Had a late start this morning. Here I am. I’m alive.
I was looking forward to your weekend posts and momentarily concerned you might not be back. However, as a serious late starter myself, I get it. Glad to see you back!
I put over 500,000 on SAAB 900 Turbo, bought new in 1986 and passed to the Kidney Foundation in 2016.
Wow, now that’s cool. Would love to hear more about this!
That’s incredible. What a feat, seriously.
The only thing i drove that many miles was my work box truck. Pretty much just oil changes, tires, engines, and transmissions. Damn Fords and their 5.4s.
Had a 2000 XJ with 236,000 when i sold it, still have a 96 xj with 287,000. Both on the original engines, the 96 had a junkyard trans put in at 260,000. Both 4.0L auto 4WD. The 96 sounds very agricultural compared to other 4.0s I have had.
363k and adding 135 miles 6 days a week on my 95 rhd xj. 500k is no sweat on these; I’ve heard someone did over a million .
Knew a guy who had an XJ in the mid 90’s. Same..6/auto..over 300 when he sold it to a friends daughter who was still driving it when last I knew.
Mine’s getting there but not quite yet. 228k miles in 11 years.
He is a former Tug Boat? I kid.
Yes, while traversing the Atlantic as a tug boat, he decided he wanted an XJ Cherokee and morphed into a human. The 90s were weird, man.