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RepConsul 08-31-2013 09:12 PM

RC's Hit & Run XJ
A few months ago my 96' Cherokee Country met a drunk driver. Hit a curb on the opposite side of the road, going around a bend, doing well over the speed limit. He spun his car around (and sideways) into the front drivers side corner of my Cherokee. Which absorbed the force into the front left lower control arm, bumper/header panel, drivers front fender/tire, curb and the WK Grand Cherokee parked behind it.
Here is the damage...
Yes, that is the drunk drivers cell phone laying on the ground. I wasn't told much besides the guy is a repeat offender, on a suspended license, driving a car he borrowed and was on probation. No one was seriously injured.
Lower Control arm is twisted/bent but no welds broken off of axle housing.
WK Grand Cherokee the XJ was pushed into didn't take much damage. It has a hidden tow bar setup between the bumper openings with 2 large round steel tube mounting points sticking out from the frame. So just destroyed the XJ bumper & unibody mounting points.

With surprisingly no real frame damage to the 96 country, the plan was/is to fix it. Replace fender and header panel, possibly update it to 97+ fenders/header panel setup. Straighten and weld support on to lower control arm mounts (or weld on new mounts). Cut out rear frame/unibody mounting points that are toast and mount a bumper inside the frame. Use steel I was planning on making bumpers for the CJ7 to make new front/rear bumpers. Then to PAINT the 96 XJ, which was the plan before the "accident." It still runs & drives fine, even tracks nearly straight. No other noticeable drive-train or suspension damage besides the lower control arm mount.

So I have been looking around for cheap parts, 97+ parts or a donor vehicle for cheap. Figured while I was at it i could update more than the front clip, such as front doors with 1 piece windows, center/overhead console, fender tucked washer fluid bottle, etc... I found a 97 Cherokee Sport a few nights ago a guy was looking to part out or to sell whole. I was surprised at the condition its in so bought the whole thing for $500.
Before anyone gives me grief, yes we were lazy about strapping it down, but was good enough. Has an 8000lb winch around axle pulled chains taught in back and heavy yellow ratchet strap for "safety". Didn't feel like chaining the whole thing down with tensioners for a fairly short drive.

Guy I got it from bought it for his son in 07' and he drove it until a few months ago. They had coolant loss issues a few times. Changed the water pump a couple times and put in a new radiator. Had it running between coolant loss issues over the years they've owned it. Was told it started, but ran "off" and had a leak coming from "somewhere" with coolant coming out. Dead battery and wasn't buying it expecting it to run anyway.

Got it home and decided to mess around with it to see if i could get it to run and trace the problem. It clicks 'hard' when trying to start it, not cranking. Made us think the block could be seized, for obvious reasons. Put a ratchet on and the engine turns... Voltage seems low for battery, haven't load tested yet, no change with boosting to jump it or screwdriver to starter posts. Said screw it and took off starter and went to auto-zone to replace/test it. They said it passed their test, but so did the last 2 starters that were bad we took there. No point in wasting money on it at this point, so I plan on grabbing the battery & starter off the 96 and checking all the wires/grounds in the process. The engine compartment looked 'clean' when I looked at it before buying it, got the impression he just washed it in the last day or so... (BTW no noticeable coolant on dipstick, seemed like just oil, but it's been sitting awhile)
Now 2 days later the engine compartment and front axle have a nice look going. This might have something to do with the issues turning it over, when he said it started a few days ago. Especially with the amount of fluid i found in the starter when I pulled it, grounding issues there alone could be causing the crank problem.

So I have a running 96' that needs work/paint and a 97' that's in great shape that doesn't run. Obvious solution, put the engine from the 96' into the 97'. Should be obvious right? :shhh: but what if i can fix both... Can't tear either down for a couple weeks until some old (and sold) jeep FC's are moved out of the fenced "courtyard" to make room. County ordinance + pissy old *insert expletive* here who lives around the corner. She complains to the county if she sees anyone with/doing anything she doesn't like during her daily walks :rantscream:. Fenced in gravel "courtyard" = Can do whatever the hell we want, much to the dismay of the county inspector and that 'woman.'

So what do you all think? Swap engines and call it a day? Fix no-start issue and trace coolant issue? (likely head-gasket, cracked head or water pump again, with underlying over-heat issue) or swap the good engine, fix pulled engine to put into the 96 and eventually fix/paint it. I'm trying to not part-out or scrap either, but we'll see... (should this be a poll?)

Any opinions, thoughts or advice you have on anything I mentioned is welcome.

Camfam07 09-02-2013 10:16 AM

wow thats crazy! well good luck with either way you go on this. personally I would use the wrecked one maybe for a trail rig only.. lift it, trim it, chop it, do whatever and use the other for mild driving.

VegasGT 09-03-2013 07:55 AM

Id fiddle with the 97 a bit more and see what you come up with. If you can at least listen to it run to make sure it doesnt sound like a bunch of hammer wielding chimps are inside the block then you stand a chance at just doing a head/gasket swap. If it was drove a long time with a cracked head/leaky gasket then that could be a problem if theres coolant in the oil. Id start by draining the fluids and checking it all out real good too if you do get it to fire up and things seem ok.

For longevity sake, however, go with what you know. You know (im assuming) the engine in the 96 is good, but it needs cosmetic work and new LCA mounts. You also know the 97 is cosmetically good with no bent up suspension components, but an iffy engine. Assuming the 97 doesnt have wild amounts of rust in bad places, I think swapping the 96 motor in it and parting out then scrapping the 96 body would be the best option. I would still try to get the 97 going first though, it might need less work than you think. Sometimes previous owners arent all that knowledgable and let something that needs next to nothing go for a cheap price for no reason other than to free up a parking spot. This could be that situation for you.

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