Home » What It Was Like Owning And Fixing My First Jeep After Owning Over 100 Non-Jeeps

What It Was Like Owning And Fixing My First Jeep After Owning Over 100 Non-Jeeps

Liberty Top

We’re approaching the darkest, coldest, most brutal part of the Wilmington, NC winter season where temperatures will sometimes dip into the high 40s, but mostly linger under cloudy skies in the 50-70 degree temperature range. The beautiful town that I call home sits on the coast of the Tarheel State and is flat as you’d expect a coastal town to be. In fact, you won’t find much of a hill anywhere in Eastern NC until you get up around Jason Torchinsky’s neck of the woods in the Piedmont area of the state (150 miles northwest). And even there, you may need a 1hp Changli to get around all the hilly treachery and formidable weather conditions.

It was under these dangerously balmy conditions late this fall that I received a text from a longtime colleague and friend who is presently in the tow business named Todd: “Blue Jeep; runs. They’re getting rid of it today or tomorrow if you’re interested, my dude. Cheap.”

You see, The Port City of Wilmington is home to my alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and since ’47, has been known as a college town. This means that there is a consistent source and market for cheap, bottom-end, often-beat-up College Kid Rides. UNCW is an awesome school, but it is a state school, so there is a good mix of rich kids and not-so-rich kids. I fell into the latter category while I was there, and this was evidenced by the ‘84 Cougar that I drove while I attended — it featured rust holes large enough to stick your hand through at the bottom of the doors and an engine that I rebuilt myself in high school (in Upstate NY, hence the rust). It was recently shown on “Mercury Monday” a couple weeks back here, still sporting its UNCW parking sticker on the rear glass on the day we parted ways and said goodbye at the local junkyard. Sadly, the car was in great shape by the time that day came, except for the blown engine and the penniless owner’s emotional state

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A First Look At The Jeep

The Jeep seemed to be owned by a college kid of similar economic background, as its previous owner told me that she was a working class gal who was hustling after class each night as a server at a local restaurant. She had come all the way from Alaska (with her mom) to escape the cold and enjoy life at the beach. Their ride of choice was a beach-buggy blue Jeep. She told me later that she drove it on-road, to work and school.

We had agreed to check it out in her apartment parking lot, in the dark, after a long, hard day of freelance work at The Autopian. As car-legend Bruce Meyer told The Autopian Podcast, checking a car out in the dark is a bad move, but time was of the essence – I’ll explain below. The seller’s mother was with her and I brought along a scan tool and flashlight.  Up until this point, I didn’t even know which model of Jeep it was, I had just texted that I was interested and set up a showing without being that annoying guy who asks a million questions via text during every car sale. I just knew that it was cheap and that it was an opportunity to save a Jeep. You gotta move fast if you wants to wins, I says.

[Editor’s Note: Good god. What kind of man buys a random Jeep of unknown model just because it’s cheap? SWG, you are sicker than I! -DT]

Why I’ve Never Owned A Jeep

At this point in my career of rescuing shitboxes from demise, I had about 114 cars under my belt and none were Jeeps. This makes little sense, as they’re cheap, busted and everywhere, but they’re also popular. That’s what makes them different and what has kept me from getting my hands on one up until this point. There’s competition with other prospective buyers when it comes to Jeeps, and that just doesn’t exist for the colorful J-Bodies I that recently fixed or for that sweet-ass Dodge Stratus Coupe or Dubya Bush-era Grand Am

Growing up in Utica NY, my parents drove a ‘94 XJ Cherokee “Country” that they bought in about ’97 due to the ridiculously nasty Central NY snow/winters. It was our family’s “nice car” while my dad drove a rusted $500 beater Celica. An ex-girlfriend had a Liberty and constantly complained how bad it was on gas, while maintaining that she thought it was “still cute”. My little brother (and fellow Autopian) Michael always has had a Jeep of some sort for the past 20 years as did my stepdad Paul (also a fellow Autopian). I’ve had the requisite exposure to them, but they just never hooked me and they were just never really my thing.

OG Jeeps (not FWD car-based Jeeps) are handsome machines for sure, and their capabilities are stuff of legend. They have also always struck me as heavy, fuel inefficient, hard-riding, more complex (4WD), and less reliable than the other 114 cars that I have chosen over them up until this point. And that says a lot considering the flaming piles of garbage that I’ve chosen over the years. Literally flaming. Everyone has their own decisions and opinions and I never said that all of mine were the best.

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Buying The Jeep Liberty

Ok, so back to the plot. Here we are, in the dark apartment parking lot with the seller, her mom, and me walking over to a corner of the lot where there seems to be a really, really clean blue-green Jeep Liberty just like the one my ex-girlfriend had. It looked wicked good, especially in the dark. A quick once-over was all that I needed before asking the seller why she was selling and what she was asking for it. But really, I knew I was hooked.

She told me that there was an “occurrence” of sorts (and obliquely left it at that) that had the Jeep slammed into a curb hard enough to bend the right front wheel and break the lower ball joint. I didn’t ask for any further details on that situation — not my business. She said she wanted $700 for the Jeep and that it had to be gone in 24 hours. She had already placed the spare wheel on the front right and replaced the ball joint to get it to roll. She said the shop that did that work quoted her an exorbitant amount to fix “additional damage,” although she didn’t remember what that even meant. 

After receiving a tow notice, she had reached out and was quoted at about $400 from the local parts yard for them to come get it. Feeling pretty sorry for the position she was in, I agreed to pay full asking price and told her I’d have it removed from the parking lot in time. I probably could’ve offered anything over $400, but that just ain’t how we roll. The still-incredibly-cheap $700 deal was struck, and that was it: I had bought my first Jeep. 

I messaged my buddy Todd The Tow Guy back to tell him that I snagged the Liberty. He then informed me that the young lady that was selling it had left it in that corner of the apartment parking lot long enough for the registration to expire and the tow vultures to start circling with their boots-of-prey. It’s clear that a series of unfortunate events that had led to this beautiful Jeep making its way to me, Lemony Snicket-style. Was it the greatest set of circumstances under which to buy a car? Hard nope, but everyone is held to the outcomes of their decisions and my decision here was to save a cool Jeep.

Honestly the first person I thought about once I got it home was David Tracy. You see, I’ve been following David’s writing and adventures ever since he left Chrysler, and I count myself as one of his biggest fans. He plucked me out of complete car-culture writing obscurity and did a piece on my fleet and shitbox rescues here a couple years ago which ended up bringing me here to The Autopian. I owe him, big. [Ed note: Just keep blogging about your wrenching endeavors so I can tone mine down and have an actual, normal life. Please! Also, I’m gonna need you to fly to Mongolia and fix something. -DT]. 

DT is into Jeeps in a way that is intimidating for a guy like me who has but a little more than a layman’s understanding of them. DT can literally rattle off engineer-level performance, capabilities and specs regarding most Jeeps off the top of his head at any moment (remember, he doesn’t drink either). Now that I have one, how the heck am I going to be able to write a cool Jeep rescue story and get it past The JeepMaster editor and boss? Luckily, DT is the Good Dude that DT is. Upon getting the truck back to my Evil Wrenching Lair (underneath that volcano) and sharing the news and a photo with the rest of the Autopian staff in our Slack channel, the first thing he did was ask me if I wanted to do an off-road comparo piece with the Liberty versus his $700 Tracker versus whichever of the 22 cars Mercedes owns. Didn’t see that coming, but it sounded awesome! The only problem was that he lives in MI (at the moment) and I’m here in NC. The logistics didn’t pan out, but my worries about presenting a new-to-me vehicle to those much-more knowledgeable than I were quelled. He said that he was “slowly coming around to the KJ Liberty,” which I’m guessing is a good thing. I was too.

Being as jazzed on my new Jeep as I was, I joined the FB group, read through the forums and started thinking about my first Jeep tattoo. I found a really cool image of XJ->KJ->KK production numbers and told DT it was a cool tat idea. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a response. Admittedly, a few past tattoo ideas have been on par with past car ideas (see above flaming Cougar).

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Fun Side fact: The KJ Liberty outsold the XJ. See above chart.

[Editor’s Note: The Jeep KJ Liberty was, in diehard Jeepers’ eyes, the beginning of the end for Jeep, in that it took the tried-and-true formula of solid front and rear axles, and replaced it with independent suspension for the first time in 50 years (even then, the old SJ Jeeps with independent suspension sold in ridiculously low numbers). Independent suspension is great for steering and handling, and even certain off-road conditions like dune bashing, but for what diehard Jeepers want (the ability to lift their vehicle, great articulation for a variety of uneven terrains, durability and replace-ability of universal joints), it was a major downgrade. Plus, that suspension downgrade was appended with a huge engine downgrade: The legendary 4.0 gave way to a boring, completely-unremarkable 3.7-liter V6 that was gutless and not as reliable as it could have been. Add the “soft” looks of the KJ Liberty, and compare it to the legendary XJ, and it goes down in history as one of the worst Jeep debuts ever. Is it one of the worst Jeeps ever? I don’t think so; it’s got decent geometry, and I love rear-mounted spares. But the KJ is embattled in the annals of Jeep history, just know that.

Note #2, in the plot above, that should say “I6 upgrade at 1991, when the INLINE-six got Chrysler fuel injection to replace RENIX fuel injection. -DT]. 

The Daylight Analysis

Here’s what I did know after inspecting the Liberty in the daylight for the first time: it was a really clean, solid machine. The paint looked great, although the front bumper was cracked from the impact mentioned above. 

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Who cares. One cheap used bumper was added to the Pick ‘n Pull list. The washer pump runs right under that section of the bumper, and it took a hit as well.

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Not a problem; wicked cheap, easy, and added to the list as well. The interior was super clean, but had strange electric blue-colored floor mats that didn’t really match the rest of the truck:

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Pulling up the driver’s mat revealed a wet floorboard. Wicked bummer. Let’s put that on the list as well. Getting behind the wheel and spinning the Jeep around the block immediately showed a steering wheel that had to be turned 90 degrees to the left for the Jeep to travel in a straight line: not good. The windows were up at that moment and the cabin then became hot with frustration; I was getting worked up, as this repair list was growing longer and longer. An attempt to turn on the AC yielded a bad blower motor resistor. Dammit.

What really worried me was how greatly the steering/alignment was off. Especially considering that the seller was told that it needed further repairs as well as considering the nature of the “occurrence” (curb whaaack). Looking underneath, at the front suspension, I noticed a new lower ball joint on the right side, but the joint on the left side looked like it had been through The War of 1812 and was the original from the Toledo, OH assembly line in ’04 .

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That was going to have to be the first order of business, since that’s a huge safety item. Once that was done, I could look into the alignment issue. A few wrenching buddies of mine swear by MOOG suspension parts over the cheap Chinese-made alternatives at the parts chain stores, so that’s the first thing I bought. $56 bucks, not bad.

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The blower resistor was ~$15 online. Damn!

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I know DT is a self-proclaimed “cheap bastard, but I didn’t realize Jeep parts were this dirt cheap. 

Jeeps Are Cheap And Easy To Fix

The wet floorboard issue turns out to be a wicked easy fix just like the one shown above. The A pillar and lower kicks panels removed, a few shots of compressed air in the moonroof drain lines, and Bob’s your uncle.

The blower resistor was also a simple 20 min job like the one shown above. Pop the glove box off, two fasteners, a wiring clip and that’s it. As you can see, there were plenty of resources to help me solve my problems, because Jeeps are so ubiquitous.

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At this point my admiration and appreciation of this thing was hitting an all-time high. Parts were cheap and everywhere, I didn’t have much money or time into it at all and the repairs were all going swimmingly.

I then popped the torn driver’s seat out to be sent to my buddy Brian at Port City Custom Upholstery. Good dude. We filmed a reality show pilot about drag racing together back in the day. It never saw the light of day. The seats in Libertys are probably the easiest seat to remove and replace out of any I’ve seen. They sit high above the floorboard, so access is great, and there are just four bolts, a couple wiring connections and five minutes needed to yank the thing out. Brian got the seat stitched up nicely a couple days later, and back in the Jeep it went.

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I never understood why anyone would ride around with cheap set covers over ripped seats when upholstery (with leather alternative or cloth) is such an easy thing to fix. [Editor’s Note: Really? I always thought it was prohibitively expensive? I’m gonna wanna learn more about this. -DT]

The bumper and washer reservoir were picked up that weekend from a junked donor Liberty. There were quite a few available to choose from in the local parts yard, as these trucks are now at the age where there’s a Great liberty Die-Off. Seriously, you won’t believe how many Liberties there are in your local junkyard.

For the bumper and reservoir, I removed a few fasteners on a junkyard Liberty, and I was all set.

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“Man, this Jeep rescue is so frickin’ easy, cheap and fun, I totally get why DT is into this!” I said to myself, before realizing that I was indeed talking to myself and nobody was around to listen. This was also without having spent much time behind the wheel, mind you.

Well that last sentiment started going downhill when I realized how slightly less easy and semi-annoying the ball joint replacement was going to be. You have to remove the caliper, axle shaft (because 4WD Jeep), then re-angle the knuckle to pop out the joint. Not the worst job in the world, but not that much fun either. 

Not having a good press, my plan was to remove the knuckle and take it to a buddy’s shop to be pressed in/out. Sure, you can utilize the caveman hammer method as shown here, but that doesn’t always work, and plus we’re a bit more civilized in our approach. [Editor’s Note: Actually, a ball-joint removal tool that you can rent from your local O’Reilly is the move, here. SWG, you should have called me! -DT]. 

That repair was going to take a whole afternoon, and honestly those are hard to come by these days of 4:45pm sunsets and holiday madness. It’ll have to wait for a free weekend.

I Decided Not To Fix It Completely

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That free weekend never came and the Jeep ended up sitting in my driveway for a few weeks. This scenario led me to begin to doubt if keeping it was the right call. After all, as you can see in my profile, I have a fleet about 50% of the size of the Mercedes Streeter Grand Fleet, and new backyard shitbox rescue opportunities arriving each month.

Parking is at a premium at The Evil Shitbox Wrenching Lair and insuring, inspecting, registering and maintaining my fleet is a part-time job that pulls me away from my Autopian duties. Serious, important stuff too! Recently, I attempted (unsuccessfully) to help Torch out with some brand reference research in our team’s Slack channel; this led to an article he did about a cream cheese Mitsubishi. 

Plus, I’m one of those weirdos who loathe inefficiency. DT is always voicing his firm belief that modern EVs are carrying around huge batteries stuffed with cobalt and nickel when a smaller, more eco-friendly battery would suffice for most use cases. The same can be said for lugging around an extra axle and transfer case on flat, dry ground here in Wilmington for 99+% of use cases. Local sidebar: Yes, I’m aware that there is an off-road scene on the North End of Carolina Beach and in the rural inland, but most of the Jeeps that are on the roads here never see them.

The added weight of the Dana 30a front axle and transfer case and driveshaft and other ancillary bits is 135lbs, per Edmunds (both below figures are for the 3.7 6cyl engine):

4×2 Curb, 3,898 lbs

4×4 Curb 4,033 lbs.

…I honestly was shocked to see it was only 135lbs! I figured it would be much more, as axles are, to quote my favorite protagonist of all time, “…heavy, Doc”.

Fun Sidebar: The 3.7V6 was made from the same design architecture and engine family as the 4.7 V8 found in my Durango. Setting the timing on both these engines is a flaming bitch.

And this mildly warm take isn’t just specific to Coastal NC. I mean, is 4WD needed for commuting in the South in general? Most Jeep buyers don’t go off-roading nor use them in any way near their capabilities. I know there are millions of DTs around the world that just absolutely love Jeeps because they’re Jeeps and you know what, that’s all that matters. Hell, as I said above, my ma dailied a Jeep with the 4WD on from Dec-March in Utica, NY in the late 90s. 

I get that this isn’t specific to Jeeps either, but opening this take up to 4WD trucks and SUVs would be a much larger discussion and today is not that day. This discussion on how much car is really needed has been had since the beginning of car-time. Also, this is purely a take on 4WD Jeeps, and not on AWD, which has different weights/capabilities. All of the above is part of a discussion that is beyond an S.W Gossin Wrenching Tale of Woe and Wonder. Anyway, glad that’s out of the way.

Of course it’s ok to rock a vehicle that has capabilities beyond its typical use case – in fact that is what most buyers prefer – just look at modern pickup trucks. Just because some weirdos like me are out there who prefer to tailor their vehicles acutely to their use cases, it doesn’t take anything away from those who don’t. You may feel otherwise and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Honestly, I think I just had a moment of realization where I said to myself,  “I’m not sure I need to lug around all this off-road capability on my way to work each day.” Twas a Non-Jeep Guy moment of mechanical appreciation, non-necessity and self-awareness. 

Selling The Liberty For Good Coin!

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I ended up following my colleague Thomas Hundal on Instagram and also following the approach he takes in his new car reviews, where he advises on who a car’s intended audience is. His usual prescriptions for the buyers of newer cars include “DINKs” (dual income no kids), empty nesters and Millennials. 

I posted the Jeep under market value and said that it would be perfect for Crypto Bros, Vape Bros, Tech Bros, Mario Bros/Hammer Bros, and Chemical Bros, yet it ended up selling to a sweet local woman and her electrician husband.  They told me they planned to drive it around town; on-road. I didn’t realize the <$4K 4WD market was so hot and it sold nearly instantaneously before the additional repairs were done. Buyers didn’t even care — they just wanted it.

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The couple planned on taking the vehicle straight to their shop to have that MOOG ball joint installed and to have the alignment done. I told them used wheels were about $50 at the local Pick ‘n Pull and that there were about 15 Libertys there to choose from to replace the bent one slung out back on the rear gate. 

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I took a few hundo off the price to make it right by them and cover those repairs, and they were happier than anyone who hedged against Carvana this year. Nothing is more sad in my World of Wrenching than sending a car to its death before its time. It’s such a waste of the carbon that was expended to create it. It’s bad for the planet and, as a membership-carrying Autopian, it hurts my soul. 

So just like that, the only Jeep I’ve ever owned was saved from the crusher, it was fixed up cheaply and easily and it found a new home with folks that will appreciate and take care of it. I’m super glad, too, since it only had ~140K on it! It was officially time to celebrate a successful rescue with a Stanley Tucci Tuscan Negroni

Was It Worth It?

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The KJ Liberty apparently isn’t the most popular in Jeep circles from what I’ve heard as a person that’s not in those circles. It’ll be interesting to see a line graph of DT coming around (Y-axis) vs time (X-axis), to see how long it will be until the glorious day that he fully warms up to the KJ to the point that he’s a full-fledged KJ advocate. Hmm. Anyway, maybe one day they’ll become more popular in the off-road community. They will certainly continue to become less popular in the on-road community, since they are now almost 20 years old. 

In the end, I loved the color, the heated seats were nice and for a person my age (who has no generation – I was born in ‘80) I enjoyed recalling the outdoor adventure coolness vibe that followed vehicles of this ilk (and made them take off in popularity) when I was a teenager in the mid ’90s. Yes, it was $85 to fill up and the ride quality was pretty harsh/bad (solid rear axle) with plenty of head-toss, but it had character and a certain x-factor that came with the seven slots in the nose along with that legendary badge. What really mattered is that it’s still on the road, generating smiles and racking up miles instead of being junked.

Maybe these early aughts DaimlerChrysler XJ replacements are great Jeeps for the breakover and departure angles and other engineering features that make them uniquely qualified for a particular muddy, sandy or snowy task. I don’t really know about all that, since all the roads I travel upon are flat, clear and paved.

Photos courtesy of Stephen Walter Gossin

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67 Responses

  1. Great story, as usual. A friend of mine used to have one of these; I never cared for it, personally. My main recollections are that it was a reverse TARDIS (big on the outside, small on the inside) and that it was always breaking down on her for one reason or another.

    I remember driving it back from a wedding venue to the hotel we were staying at with the damn thing stuck in 4LO because one of the fittings in the transfer case was just plastic, and it had (inevitably) snapped off and disconnected the shifter. The tow truck guy was able to bodge together a fix so that she could drive home though, which I guess is typical Jeep. Not particularly reliable, but easy to repair and everyone and their uncle knows how to fix them.

    1. I didn’t get the reverse TARDIS feel with the Liberty, although I did get the feeling that you were sitting on it instead of in it.

      You’ve gotta love a resourceful tow guy; there’s a wizardry involved to that art that escapes many.

      Thanks for the kind words and for reading!

    2. I’ve worked on my friend’s KJ for years. That little plastic piece on the transfer case is a poor design, but I kid you not that I have it fixed with a nylon bushing and a hair pin. Works great. The other pain point is that the coolant reservoir is right above cylinders 4 & 6, so any leaks cause those ignition coils to go out. Ball joints failed at 200k. Replaced all lift cylinders. Brake system needed a new master cylinder and a couple calipers. But hey, parts are cheap.

  2. Stephen, always enjoy your articles. You have a very conversational style to your writing that makes me think sitting around a campfire trading stories would make for a great weekend.

    1. Great idea! The Autopian Campfire Story Swap: coming Fall ’23!

      …as long as I get fire marshal, insurance and DT’s approval.

      Thank you for the very kind sentiment and for reading – it means a lot.

  3. Another good one, Stephen! I think Jeep gets a bad rap for reliability (yes, yes, my username). Some of the electrics can be a bit finicky, but overall, the important parts are usually rock solid. Before I bought my first XJ, one of many, I was disabused of the whole “Jeep = unreliable” myth, which I’m thankful for.

    I don’t fix and flip anymore, but when I did, you could find good deals to make solid coin on. I’ve purchased a Cherokee that needed a $40 transmission solenoid and doubled my money, I bought another XJ that needed an axle swap (included) for $300 and quintupled my money. To be honest, I don’t think there’s really been a jeep that I’ve lost money on.

    One of the things I like most about my Wrangler is that suspension modifications and repairs are extremely easy due to ease of access. For no other reason than because I wanted to, I preemptively replaced the lifters and rockers, rebuilt the transmission valve body, installed a cast aluminum engine oil cooler and spin on filter adapter, and a number of little quality of life things. All of these jobs were reasonable to do and I think that’s partly due to the engineering and design of the vehicle. The only thing I’m going to hand off to a shop is the re-gearing of my front and rear axles. That’s something I don’t want to deal with on my garage floor.

    You’ve already touched on a number of points as to why Jeep ownership is pleasant. They are easy to work on, the parts are usually cheap and plentiful, and if you’re stuck there’s no shortage of helpful online communities that know a ton about Jeeps. All of this means the cost of ownership actually ends up being quite reasonable for the capability you get, which offsets the fuel economy penalty. In the case of my JKU, how else can you get a vehicle with four-wheel drive, convertible capability, and room for the whole family? There’s just nothing else quite like it. The whole “It’s a Jeep thing” is definitely a thing.

    1. I think my favorite thing is the mod community, but not in the way most people think. Buy a base (ok a Sport S- Let’s be civilized) jeep and then go onto the forums- someone is selling that upgraded big touchscreen for pennies on the dollar- Plug and play (saved $1100), LED lights- ($2000) package bought MOPAR all around 800 bucks- Again Plug and play- Rubicon Steel Winch bumper (1500), 750…. don’t even get me started if you want the Jeep Fox Suspension or stock Rubicon Rims….. Pennies! Oh and if you mash in the rear bumper dropping in on a rock….. 100 bucks….. There is literally people with new engines and drivetrains (Dana Diffs, Etc) out there that upgraded to some crazy 4WP special and a 392…..

      1. I’ve long thought that stock Wrangler wheels must be the easiest and cheapest things to find since they’re usually the first thing to be upgraded.

        I’d think there are countless Wrangler owners with a set in the corner or their garages until the day their significant other complains enough that they are then posted for sale, cheaply.

        Thanks for reading and for the comment!

    2. My counterargument is that my wife purchased a Grand Cherokee in the late ’90s, and it was the single worst vehicle ownership experience of my life. It was in the shop so often that we drove loaners almost as much as we drove the actual car. It once broke down in a driving rainstorm mid-intersection during rush hour traffic. My wife was 8.5 months pregnant, and the car was less than a year old. That was about the third of about 50 things that went wrong during the three years we tried to make it workable. I HATED that vehicle by the end, and just got out of it as soon as possible.

      Oddly, I think it’s still my wife’s favorite car that she’s ever had. She talks about it to this day like it was a perfect, rust-free, faultless vehicle. I basically had to force her to get rid of it before we were out of warranty because I couldn’t imagine PAYING for all those repairs. I’m not sure she’s ever forgiven me fully. She might have Dave Tracy’s vision issues when it comes to Jeeps, but I’ve avoided them as much as possible since then (we’ve rented a few on vacations).

  4. I’ve found blower motor resistors are almost always cheap as a part but the labor (aka your time) is what gets you – glad that wasn’t the case here!

    I replaced one on an ex-girlfriend’s VW, and there were two options – dismantle the entire dash OR take off the glove compartment like here but then contort your arm up to the elbow to do it all by feel. I opted for the latter, with a piece of string tied around said resistor so it wouldn’t be irretrievable when I dropped it into the firewall by accident. Which happened.

    And on a side note, hey Autopian overloads – SW has the best selfie game of all of you. He consistently comes across as a combination of Jim Halpert from the Office and Aaron Kaufman from Fast and Loud.

    1. That string idea was a fantastic move, although tying string around a blower resistor in a VW dash itself seems like a very difficult task.

      Also, the guy from The Office and Aaron Kaufman from Fast n’ Loud?! The Santa-beard guy?

      Thanks as always for the kind words and for reading, Jack!

      1. In all the best ways I do assure you. Quizzical “can you believe they built it this way?” looks into the camera while being the guy who has like a week to fix the stuff that Richard buys with an eye toward flipping to some rich guy.

        1. Ive long thought that Discovery needlessly dumbed-down that show to make it fit in their box. Aaron is such an immensely talented wrench along with most of the guys working around him.

          It’s also interesting to see how quickly Richard’s empire of airport restaurants, bars and such imploded.

          On the other hand, John Krasinski’s career seemed to explode around the same time frame.

      1. And good riddance. There’s a small handful of XJ guys out there that were nuts about the RENIX system (because reasons), but I don’t get it. The system that followed was better in every respect. I’ve had XJs with, and without, and definitely preferred the latter.

  5. I had an 03 Liberty that I bought new and kept for 11 years. And you know what? I really liked it. I lived in the Seattle area at the time, and when my neighbors got stuck after a snow storm, I was easily cruising along. Stopped on an uphill in the snow? — no worries. Great vehicle for our regular jaunts up to Whistler BC too. Only major problem I had with it was a transmission that gave out in 2012 — it was a known problem with these Jeeps. Everything else with it was just regular maintenance (okay, the blower motor died around 2008 but that was due to dog hair).

    Finally traded it in around 2014 for a Ford Escape. Kind of regret it now as that Escape didn’t wear as well as the Jeep did.

    1. Bacardi 151 should be involved so that the drink can be lit and served “flambe”.

      A much more entertaining option to just making something with Fireball and Mercury.

      Thanks for reading and for the comment; much appreciated!

      1. Perhaps the ColecoVision-based Content Management Server that Torch built assumes that all Jeep content is David’s in order to save an extra storage bit – just like the whole Y2K problem.

  6. So, I’ve been idly looking for a cheap car for my wife, mostly to pop around the neighbourhood. She likes Jeeps, and because they’re plentiful, reasonably cheap, and don’t seem to have a ton of insurmountable problem areas, KJ’s are on my short list (I’d be lying if I didn’t find it appealing they can tow 5000lbs and all have a recall-mandated rear hitch). I’m assuming this is just the universe telling me to follow through.

    1. I submitted the above to the team Slack channel regarding the mandatory hitch aspect; it was appreciated.

      Excellent call-out about one of the weirdest recalls in recent history.

      Thanks for reading and for the comment!

    2. You will not be disappointed with a KJ.. The secret sauce, besides being both crude and reliable, they are a phenomenal around town errand runner. Great visibility, easy to park, cheap to buy, capable of towing heavy things, and VERY good in snow.

      MPG’s aren’t great, but besides that, they’re excellent 2nd or 3rd car beaters that are pretty much up for any task. I wouldn’t throw a yard of mulch in the back of my Stelvio, but the Liberty is always up for dirty work.

    1. You’re forgetting the moonroof drain, the blower resistor, the ball joint part purchase, the washer tank, a junkyard run, the DMV lines, and my time.

      My time is very valuable. I felt bad for the previous owner as well, but as stated above, “everyone is held to the outcomes of their decisions” and they made theirs, on their own.

      Would you have sold it for a deep discount instead of near market value out of a sense of obligation to the prior owner?

      A friend of mine works at the local pick n pull. He says folks drive cars there to junk them everyday. This Jeep was saved from that fate.

  7. If you want to expand your cheap 4×4 horizons, look into Isuzu some time. Old Troopers and Rodeos are dirt, dirt, bargain basement cheap. New Parts can be a little scarce at times (Orphan brand, last sold in US in 04 (unless you count the re-badged Chevy Trailblazers and Colorados sold until 07)), but there are lots of junkyard Isuzus. And there is an Isuzu owners group that does a twice yearly meetup/campout at Uwharrie National Forest in NC (planetisuzoo.com)

    1. As a twice Isuzu owner, DO NOT get a Trooper. The two main problems they have are very expensive to fix. The first main problem is AT transmission failure. Used transmissions are virtually unavailable at any sort of reasonable price because they are so crappy. Second problem is oil consumption. They have a problem with the piston ring design. Mine was using a quart like every 250 miles. The only way to really fix it is to disassemble the engine and replace the rings.

      I bought mine because I owned a 91 4×4 P’up back in the day and it was a reliable vehicle. So a couple of decades later when I wanted a smallish SUV I thought a Trooper would be great, plus I already knew how to work on most things on the truck. I lost my shirt on that Trooper, and got just a couple of long trips out of it before I had to admit it was a failure.

      1. I’ve got a 99 Trooper. It has the Isuzu oil burning malady. But so long as you check it every day, that engine is good for 300k miles.

        The auto trans can be an issue (GM made 4L30-E), but most issues stem from shift solenoids, which are available and cheap.

  8. At least the 3.7/4.7 have the timing on the front of the engine. When Ford adapted their Cologne 4.0L to the SOHC 4.0L, they opted to recycle the head casting from the driver’s side bank on the passenger side. This puts the chain under the cowl up against the firewall. So you’ve got the cam-in-block replacing prop shaft running all the way out back to drive that head. And because it could, SOMEHOW, get balance issues only in the 4WD models, there’s a 4th timing chain driving a balance shaft down in the oil pan. But again, only in 4WD applications.

    1. I still can’t believe that cost/benefit analysis worked out that way for Ford with that 4.0 engine.

      Apparently everything involved with putting that chain on the back of the engine was cheaper than a reverse head casting.

      Madness. As a guy with wrenches that enjoys serviceability, that makes me greatly perturbed.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing that bit of knowledge!

  9. That’s a nice rescue Stephen. Jeep enthusiasts will turn their noses up at it, but the Liberty is perfect for someone who wants a cheap snow car.

    I also swear by the compressed air fix for clogged sunroof drain lines. I had that happen to a 2nd gen Escape, and I figured my options were either A) Caulk the sunroof and never use it again or B) Flush the lines with compressed air and then caulk everything if the drain lines fail instead of clearing out. I definitely was not going to pay someone to fix it because money was tight. I taped a small section of refrigerator water line I had in the basement to my blow gun and slowly increased the PSI until the clogs blew out. A glass of water slowly poured into the channel washed out the rest of the gunk.

    1. Have you had a certain percentage fail and not clear out (referring to “B”)? I’ve yet to come across that outcome and am now concerned for my next attempt.

      Also, thanks for the kind words and for reading!

      1. I think I got almost all of it out. The amount of unspeakable goop that splattered on the garage floor was impressive, and I never had issues with it leaking again. I read online about people using bicycle brake lines or something similar to break up clogs without using compressed air. The logic was that compressed air could cause a drain line to rupture if the clog didn’t budge. I could see that being a concern, but figured that if the line was fragile enough to rupture from compressed air it might not hold up to me stabbing around in it with a steel cable. I’m personally a big fan of using compressed air to solve my garage problems.

        If you can find a diagram showing the path your drain lines take, that should give you a decent idea of how risky the DIY method is. If the line runs in some weird path and kinks around stuff before it exits then every sharp bend is both a clog point and a potential failure point. The lines on the Escape took a pretty direct path to the drain ports inside the fenders, which made me a little more confident that I could fix it myself.

  10. Having owned an XJ and currently being a KJ Liberty owner for the last 20 years,, I would argue that the Liberty is WAY underrated. Here are my thoughts about why the KJ is better than it gets credit for and in some ways better than the XJ.

    The KJ powertrain is perfectly fine. The PowerTech 3.7 has plenty of snort. In fact, it makes more HP and torque than the legendary 4.0.with less displacement.

    The KJ 42RLE 4 speed auto is ok as well. Certainly not as bullet proof as the XJ’s AW4, but for regular use, you’ll get at least 200K miles out of a 42RLE with out touching it.

    The KJ is slightly faster 0-60 than the XJ in spite of being 500 lbs. heavier.

    Plus, the KJ gets better MPGs than the 4.0 equipped XJ (although admittedly the bar is pretty low.)

    Rack and pinion steering on the KJ is miles better than the recirculating ball steering on the XJ.

    KJ’s independent front suspension is superior on road. (Yes, we get the whole easy to modify for off road and articulation advantage of the solid front axle XJ.) For most owners, this is a non-issue.

    KJ suspension and powertrain components are for the most part very sturdy. When you look at things like control arms, etc.they are very similar to what you see on full size pick-up trucks.

    The KJ has better approach and departure angles and similar or better break-over angle.

    The KJ has excellent outward visibility and big windows. You could argue it’s at least an equal to the XJ.

    KJ’s are easy to work on. I can change out a blower motor in 10 minutes. (Unfortunately, I get to change one out yearly which isn’t necessarily good, but still.)

    KJ’s are still cheap, XJs are not.

    While I’m a huge XJ fan, there is an argument that the KJ is at least as good for most uses and most drivers. They are probably the best kept secret in the realm of cheap off-road capable RWD based 4WD vehicles.

    End of rant.

  11. I had a 2002 XJ (2006-2008) and 2018 Renegade Trailhawk (2018-2021) as daily drivers for a few years. I wouldn’t do that again. They’re uncomfortable, loud and will nickle and dime you to death as they age. Not to mention the TigerShark engine issues with the Renegade…

    Now I have a 1995 YJ as my toy. Never sees off road use and has been an absolute joy to work on and improve. I can drive it whenever I want, but don’t have to live with it daily. It’s the best way to Jeep ownership.

      1. Oh boy…. let me start with the pros: None.

        Cons: The power train is desperately underpowered. Like, floor it on the on ramp, wait for the downshift and say 3 Hail Mary’s while you hope to get up to some semblance of a merging speed before being flattened by an 18-wheeler.

        It burned oil like no other. We made it 80K miles (my wife and I average 25K/year each) before tiring and dumping it on CarMax. In between each oil change we were adding 1 qt every 600-800 miles.

        Finally, An oil change necessitated the removal of the skid plate.

        We traded it in for a 2016 X3 and never looked back.

        1. Let me also add, we learned about the oil consumption issue at about 50K miles, just out of warranty when the oil light came on and we learned it had NO OIL when we had an oil change 3K prior. Took it to the dealer, who filled it up and told us it was out of warranty and a “known issue”.

  12. Your problems with the 3.7 liter gas engine are understandable. We had the 2.8 liter diesel that would get 30 mpg on long highway trips. Plus men would constantly run up to my wife telling her not to put diesel in it at the fuel station.

    1. There was a side conversation this week in our editorial slack channel regarding the CRD Liberty being the best version.

      I always liked the way the “Renegade” package looked also.

      Thanks for reading and the comment!

  13. My buddy Rob, the Shitbox King of Baltimore, bought one of these for his wife when they were new because she thought they were cute. She’d traded her YJ, which kept getting broken into, for a Miata, which fared equally as well, and they decided to get something that would lock properly. She was working a sales job and her territory was most of the Mid-Atlantic so she put thousands of miles on that thing over the course of a couple of years, and they both fell out of love with it quickly. As I recall the aforementioned transmission problems hit them pretty early, it was a pig on gas, and it nickled and dimed them incessantly the day the warranty expired. After she left that job they ditched it pretty quickly.

  14. I am in total agreement with your rescue philosophy- it’s always more ecologically sound to keep using the thing that’s already made than it is to cause a new thing to be manufactured.
    But I’d have run like the wind the moment I saw it was a Liberty. I’ve known several people who owned them (and the better-looking twin Dodge Nitro) and it was like owning a used Bimmer. The transmission seems to be especially problematic.

    1. Total agreement on the Nitro here.
      I know they also get little love in most circles, but I personally love the style.
      I’m currently trying to buy one off my local FB Marketplace and may have a piece coming up soon about it, should it work out.

      Thanks for reading and for the comment!

    1. Every time I see that old Oldsmobile emblem, Im instantly transported back to the late 80s in my grandfather’s Delta 88, being told not to mess with the power window switches from the front seat with a stern tone.

      Thanks for the kind words and for reading!

    1. Torch’s new Editor/Contributor Mixilator Machine worked! Briefly.

      (Clarification: this story was mistakenly presented as written by DT when it was initially posted)

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