LONG STORY - Advice to overhaul my 2000 XJ
This will be a LONG post, but hopefully has a positive impact on someone out there, especially if you're in a bad spot financially or emotionally. I kept a positive attitude and things have really turned around for me. You can skip the reading and just tell me what you would do to overhaul a 2000 XJ given a generous budget...
Have you ever broken up with a someone you love only to later rekindle your romance? The first time you kiss them after being apart tastes sweeter than any before it. Well, that is how I am feeling about my XJ right now. But, if we're going to be together, she needs a lot of work done. I am mostly interested in hearing what you guys or gals would do to overhaul a rusty 2000 XJ and make it a dependable and attractive daily driver for years to come.
But first, some backstory:
My dream car as a kid was never anything lavish, I lusted after Cherokees and Grand Cherokees. When the XJ was refreshed in 97 I fell in love. I had a buddy in college who with an XJ, and he let me borrower it when my '88 Toyota pickup was in the shop with a blown head gasket (this was 2007). Granted the stock Cherokee probably had 1/10 the off road capability, but compared to my truck it was a Cadillac. My truck had noisy 35" mud tires, no cruise control, no speedometer (broken), and no storage space. After spending >$2000 on numerous repairs for the old truck I decided to sell and finally buy my dream car, a 97-01 XJ. I didn't like the goofy cursive Sport stickers on the 97-98 and I was hoping to find a 5 speed, but I settled on a forest green '99 auto Sport w/150k that I found for $1900. The hatch wouldn't open, horn didn't work, and there was a curious whining sound, but for the price it was a steal. After figuring out the hatch myself, having the dealer replace the horn for under $200, and replacing the alternator myself in a parking lot on campus it was perfect. I loved that Jeep but realized how badly I wanted a stick, the Full-Time 4WD option AND the overhead console with MPG and such.
I ended up finding a dark grey '99 Sport with 110k miles, the NP242, and the overhead trip computer, but no stick. I picked it up for $4000 and had both for a couple weeks before selling my first '99 for $2800. Still a somewhat broke college student when I started dating a girl back in my hometown 3 hours away, the weekly trips to visit became VERY expensive with 19mpg and I wanted a manual trans anyway. I sold the XJ for $5000 and bought an '03 Civic. I graduated from college in 2010 and decided I wanted to have an XJ as a second car, just like my old one, but black and with a manual. My nationwide search led to the crushing discovery that the NP242 and manual do not exist together, and for good reason. I decided I would rather live with an auto NP242 to deal with the nasty Ohio winters than take the NP231 with a manual. The choice was easier considering I only found two 4D 99-01 manual XJs in the nation with the overhead console and 4WD. It was fun calling all these random dealers and having them check for full-time 4WD and the overhead console. I found a couple nice black 99-01 4D np242 XJs with the overhead console (auto of course). The cleanest was a '00 Classic w/120k about 900 miles away in Minnesota for $5000. I was brainstorming a way to get this Jeep and decided if I could get them to install a hitch, I could have a hitch carrier shipped to the dealer and ride one of my motorcycles out there, load it up on the hitch, and drive home. I had a CBR600RR, which would have been marginally more comfortable, but only my WR250R was light enough to ride home on the hitch rack. I did the 900 mile journey 2-up, my girlfriend was a real trooper. We napped at a rest stop in Chicago but otherwise rode straight through. Upon arrival there were numerous issues with the Jeep that the dealership didn't disclose (rusting roof, no keyless, no A/C, power mirrors not working). We had to choose between calling the hitch carrier a loss and riding the dirtbike 900 miles home or working out a deal. They knocked $900 off the price and paid for our dinner so we bought it anyway. Unfortunately Waconia, MN didn't have great dining options but we got the most expensive things they had on the menu. We loaded up the bike to head home but after being on a dirtbike for 18 hours straight we didn't make it far before we had to pull into a rest stop to sleep. We made love in the Jeep and passed out, the first of many fond memories with this XJ. The next morning we stopped in Chicago on the way home and got back to Ohio that night. This was September 2010. I have kept her as a second car all these years.
She towed a 5000lb trailer with all my stuff across the country when I moved to Florida and has been a reliable loaner to friends when their cars broke down. My girlfriend drove her while I was on active duty in 2012.
In 2015 my finances were going downhill and I had to move from Florida to Chicago for a new job. I could not take my car and Jeep to Chicago, so she was parked outside at my dad's house in Ohio for the last year and a half and only started a handful of times. When I parked it there were already plenty of problems, overheating around town, occasional white smoke (engine bay not tailpipe), occasional misfiring on hot starts, sagging leaf springs, a weak battery, extensive underbody rust leading to leaking differential fluid, and some body rust that has only gotten worse sitting outside through two Ohio winters.
When I got to Chicago in August 2015 I started working hard at my new company, bartending on the weekend for extra cash, and even driving Uber/Lyft in the only hours I wasn't asleep or at work. I remember so many days getting up at 6am to drive a couple hours for Lyft, working 10a-530p at my real job, then changing in the car while driving from business attire to jeans/bar staff shirt to make it to the bar by 6pm. I would close the bar, get home around 330-4am, then repeat. After 9 months of 100-120 hour weeks my hard work paid off and I got a major promotion.
June 8 2016, my second week in the new position I got hit by an SUV while bicycling back from lunch in downtown Chicago. The driver ran a stop sign, and if he had stopped about two feet farther he would have run over my head. He fled the scene, but I got his license plate. I called the police, filed a report, then limped back to work. Since I was in progressively worse pain all day, I finally left work to head to the ER. I had two fractures in my right knee, a sprained neck, and strained back. I couldn't drive or bartend for a while, but thankfully my new position paid plenty to live well without the extra income. I bought a little electric scooter (like an electric Razor scooter but for adults) to get to work for about $1200 since I couldn't bicycle or even get in/out of a car with my leg in a brace. Some wonderful human cut the lock on the scooter and stole it one evening when I went to meet a few coworkers for a beer after work. I was not bicycling again yet- I was in physical therapy for both my back and knee. Well, at least I could drive again since I was in a much smaller brace. The next day, my car was stolen from right in front of my house.
So there I was, with my d*ck in my hand and two police reports in the other. Ironically while the cop was filling out the report for my stolen car, he got a call on the radio that someone was riding in the street on a small black electric scooter obstructing traffic near us. I told him he would never believe it, but that HAD to be my scooter, it was just stolen in the same area the night before. He told me they weren't going to check because they wouldn't be able to prove it was mine. I told him I bought it new and had the receipt with the serial number. He replied that even if it was my scooter, they wouldn't be able to prove that the person who had it stole it...WOW. My car was found in a church parking lot missing the wheels and various interior parts the next day. I knew I had done nothing to deserve this awful run of luck and maintained focus on my new position at work. I saved money, and dreamt of escaping Chicago, a city that had shown me very little love (I also had two iPhones stolen last year).
In December I was approved to move back to Florida and continue my same position working from home. This meant decision time for the old Cherokee which has been collecting dust outside at my dad's house since August 2015. My first impulse was to dump it for what I could and buy a brand new Tacoma TRD Off Road. I have no debt and could easily afford the payment, but I know from my past that buying shiny new things does little for your happiness aside from the initial excitement. I love the XJ, and have so many memories in it that no doubt I would be just as happy restoring it to its former glory and putting that $600/mo in the bank instead of into a shiny new Tacoma.
To top it all off, I am probably getting a large insurance settlement very soon from the insurance company from that hit and run accident last year, so if I so desired I could write a check for the Taco and call it a day. However, when I think about writing a check for $37,000 I think about how much better off I would be to invest that money instead of sinking it into a depreciating asset.
So, if I keep the XJ and want to make it a great daily, I am willing to do much of the work myself. I am handy and have most the tools, and since I work from home having it out of commission for periods of time is fine.
When I fly up to my dads to drive her down (again after 1.5yrs of basically storage) I am thinking I need to do the following before driving it back down to Florida:
-Replace battery (Optima Yellowtop?)
-Top off diff fluid (has that minor leak from rusty axle)
-Run some injector cleaner through her
-Replace spark plugs (NGK copper)
Once I get her home I am thinking:
-Replace electric fan (I believe this is the cause of overheating)
-Replace air filter
-Replace rear liftgate supports
-Replace radiator and hoses (has a leak somewhere, coolant looks like sludge)
-Replace starter and alternator (turns over slow and batteries seem to die faster than they should)
-Sand, bondo glass, and repaint all body rust (mostly minor)
-Pull dash and replace that pesky evaporator coil so I finally have A/C
-Brand new rear leaf springs with rough country add a leaf for 3" lift
-Brand new front shocks with rough country 3" lift
-Replace rusty rear D44 axle (Chrysler 8.25?)
-Replace front axle if it looks as bad as the rear, maybe just a better condition D30
-Spray entire underbody with something to slow down rust
-Slip yolk eliminator
-Brand new 31" tires on factory Cherokee Classic rims
-Replace speakers and speaker wiring
-Upgrade stock head unit to something with bluetooth
-Possibly DIY rear sub enclosure for something like 8"
-Tear up the carpet and see how bad my floorpans are
The short question is, what all would you guys replace given pretty relaxed finances, decent mechanical skills, and your knowledge of XJs? Am I off to a good start? Anything I am wasting time/$$ on or I should also be doing?