The Ultimate WJ Grand Cherokee Buyer's Guide
The Ultimate WJ Grand Cherokee Buyer's Guide
"What SUV should I buy?" It is a question that has plagued Mankind ever since first he gazed upon the vast Mojave desert, the striking peak of Kilimanjaro, or the crowded Costco parking lot. The WJ model has a lot to offer for a reasonable price which is why nearly 1.6 million were produced over a 5-year run.
If you're reading this, you probably have a lot of questions! "What engine should I get?" "What are some common problems?" "What should I look out for?" "What's the difference between models?" See the posts below to find out more!
The WJ Grand Cherokee was released in 1999 as replacement for the successful ZJ Grand Cherokee (1993-1998). It featured a similar basic chassis design with a completely updated interior and exterior design. Improvements were made to the existing 4.0L inline-6 engine and an all-new 4.7L SOHC V8 was released as well. The uni-frame chassis was made considerably stiffer and the suspension was refined with new control arms all around, rubber spring isolators, a new steering system, and a new 3-link rear suspension. The brakes were also enlarged to 12" diameter rotors and dual-piston calipers were added up front. Other improvements included moving the spare tire under the cargo area floor (improving cargo volume), and dual-bulb headlights which put significantly more light on the road with less glare to oncoming drivers. The new 4.7L engine also gave better fuel economy than the 5.2L it replaced, though it did make slightly less torque.
The end result is a quieter and more responsive driving experience with improved cargo capacity.
The WJ won numerous industry awards for its engine and 4WD systems, including Ward's 10 Best Engines (for the 4.7L PowerTech V8), North American Truck of the Year, 4X4 of the Year (Peterson's 4-Wheel and Offroad), Best of What's New (Popular Science), and Technology of the Year (Automobile Magazine, for the QuadraDrive 4WD system)
The early 2000s were a boon time for SUVs as the economy was strong and fuel prices low. There are dozens of mid-size SUVs that are comparable in size and features. However, you'll find that most offer lower power for a higher price. There are only two SUVs I would consider a direct competitor in terms of features, luxury, and off-road prowess: The Land Rover Discovery II and the Toyota Land Cruiser. Yes, there are more luxurious, more capable, and more sporty SUVs, but very few successfully blend in all categories.
The WJ was available in 3 primary models (Laredo, Limited, and Overland) and numerous small-run special editions.
The "Laredo" model was considered the entry level Grand Cherokee. These were typically lighter on features but solid all-around vehicles. Exterior features included a chrome grille, black-trimmed headlights, unpainted grey or brown/taupe plastic bumpers, grey or brown/taupe plastic body cladding, and 16" wheels. Interiors came with cloth seating, and a standard manual HVAC system, although leather, sunroof, heated seats, and automatic HVAC controls were available. Most Laredo models had the 195hp 4.0L Powertech I6, while the 235hp 4.7L Powertech V8 was an available option. Laredos were available in 2WD or 4WD versions. SelecTrac was the standard 4WD system, but Quadra-Trac II (rare) and QuadraDrive (very rare) were available options.
A typical Laredo:
Note the unpainted plastic mouldings and bumpers, the black door handles, the chrome grille, and black-trimmed headlights.
The "Limited" model was the "top-of-the-line" from 1999 to 2002 and typically included all the best options as standard equipment. The Limited models featured painted grilles and body cladding with a smoother appearance than the Laredo models. Headlight housings on Limited models featured chrome trim where Laredos used black plastic. Starting in 2001, beaded chrome trim was added to the grille. Both 16" and 17" wheel options were available on Limited models, with 17" wheels becoming standard in later years. Fog lights were standard for Limited models as well. For interior accountrements, leather seats and wood trim were standard, heated seats and sunroof optional, and the Automatic Zone Control HVAC system was standard. Engine options were similar to the Laredo, although the 4.7L V8 was much more common in the Limited model. Starting 2002, the 265hp 4.7L High Output engine was available as an option in the Limited. Again, 2WD and 4WD models were available. The standard 4WD system for a Grand Cherokee Limited was Quadra-Trac II but QuadraDrive was a common option. SelectTrac is very uncommon in Limited models but is occasionally seen.
A typical Limited (early):
Note the painted smoother bumpers and mouldings, painted door handles, painted grille, foglights, and chrome-trimmed headlights.
The "Overland" model was added for 2002-2004 model years and represented an extra set up from the Limited models in terms of standard equipment. The exterior received standard 17" wheels, unique front and rear bumpers, and Overland badging. The interior was treated to suede/leather heated seats, wood-trimmed steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, all standard. Tire-Pressure Monitoring System, and power-adjustable pedals were available interior options. Mechanically, the Overland received the 265hp 4.7L High Output and QuadraDrive 4WD system standard. Additionally, the Overland received 1" lift springs with monotube shocks (aka "Upcountry Suspension"), chrome front tow hooks, 3 skid plates, and functional rock rails, all standard. The intent was to provide the most luxurious and off-road-capable Grand Cherokee of the model line. Upcountry suspension was phased out over the course of the 2003 model year and was not available in 2004.
2WD Overland models are exceedingly rare and were only produced for the 2004 model year.
A typical Overland:
Note the bumper (similar to a Limited but with a textured center), chrome tow hooks, and grey rock rails. Also note that this was a pre-production model Overland; the production models never received the painted exterior mirrors.
Special editions available included the aptly-named Special Edition, 60th Anniversary Edition, Rocky Mountain Edition, Columbia Edition, and Freedom Edition. Typically, the various special editions come in between the Laredo and Limited models, both in terms of pricing and options. These various editions often have special paint schemes, bumpers, wheels, or interior fabric but are fundamentally similar to all other WJ models. For more information on a special edition WJ click its name above to be redirected to www.wjjeeps.com
A typical Special Edition:
Note the Limited-style painted bumpers and cladding with the Laredo-style black headlights, chrome grille, and black door handles.
The 2002 Update
The WJ saw minor changes from year to year which can be researched in detail here: http://www.wjjeeps.com/newoptions.htm . However, the 2002 model year update was one of the most significant. The 2002+ models saw the introduction of a new 4.7L High Output engine, the Overland model was introduced, and 17" wheels became standard on the Limited models. The front brake calipers were improved to reduce the possiblity of warping. The HVAC was revised for more A/C output, the gauges on Limited/Overland models were changed to white-face electroluminescent. Adjustable pedals, rain-sensing wipers, tire pressure monitoring system, and side-curtain airbags were also available starting in 2002. Limited models saw an update to the grille design with chrome trim on the painted grille
A Limited model with the updated grille design:
The 2004 Facelift
The final year of WJ production saw a new front end look to better transition to the new WK model for 2005. The grilles were changed to a vertical slat style (instead of angled) and the bumper no longer had its traditional 7-slat lower openings. Fog lights were changed from rectangular/oblong to round lenses.
Some 2004 Facelift models.
Note the differences in grille and bumper shape and the addition of round fog lights.
Nearly everything was available as an option during the WJ's production. You could buy a Laredo and special order everything to Limited spec when new. Here are some of the more important option packages to keep an eye on when shopping.
The roof rack cross-bars were no longer standard for the 2002 model year, but rather were a Mopar accessory.
The Towing Package adds a Class-III or IV trailer hitch, a standard 7-pin trailer wiring harness, and a transmission cooler. Inline-6 models also got an additional mechanical cooling fan and an upgrade to 3.73:1 final drive ratio. For 2001 only, there was also standard wiring for an electronic trailer brake controller. With no tow package, all WJs are limited to 2000 lbs towing capacity. With the tow package, 4.0 models are rated at 5000lbs and v8 models rated at 6500lbs.
This package adds a 1" taller, slightly stiffer set of springs to the vehicle along with inverted monotube shocks for better ride/handling on-road and off. While it is a nice upgrade to have, if you plan on lifting your WJ, it doesn't matter what you start with as all of the Upcountry suspension components are replaced when lifted.
Adds 3 skid plates to the undercarriage of your WJ. Front, Transfer Case, and Fuel Tank. The front skid plate is up high behind the bumper and is not particularly useful, offering limited protection to sway bar, steering box, and the accessory belts. It reduces wind noise significantly. The transfer case and fuel tank skids are useful and protect two critical, low-hanging areas.
Often paired with Upcountry suspension and skid plates, the OEM tow hook package came in black or chrome finish and offer a convenient point to pull your Jeep if you get stuck. They are not suitable for on-road towing.
Rear Tow Hook
This provided a recovery point on the rear of the WJ with a single tow hook mounted up behind the bumper on the left side. It could not be combined with a trailer hitch as it mounts in the same location.
4.7L High Output V8
Available as a special order for Limited models, the same 4.7L HO that came in the Overland. Get Overland performance for the Limited price. This engine could not be combined with the Upcountry suspension package as this would have put the Limited in competition with the Overland.
Adds a front ashtray. If you don't have this option, you get a small cubbyhole for storage.
Adds a self-dimming rear view mirror. Handy to have!
Available from 2002-2004, it combines an optical sensor in front of the rear view mirror and 4 settings for sensitivity. Some report glitchy operation, but there are kits available on Amazon to improve operation and reattach the sensor to the windshield.
Available for 2003-2004. This is also known as the RB1 Navigation system. It combines a 4.1" LCD screen with DVD-based navigation software by NavTeq. The last update came out in 2008. In general, it adds a modern touch the dash but is not the best navigation system out there, having been eclipsed by 10 years of development in the industry. If you are considering buying a WJ and it has the RB1 system, be sure that it comes with a DVD AND that it works. The lens can get dirty and stop reading discs. A replacement disc with the current maps/software is around $200. There are numerous older versions on ebay (likely bootleg copies). The author believes that current standalone navigation units (ie: Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan) are more functional and a better value.
 A new software and map update for the RB1 was released in December 2011. Its part number is 05064033AK and it retails for $210. The author has no comment on its function but remains dubious as to its value.
Adds a 10-disc cartridge-based CD changer to the trunk area. These often do not work after 10 years, but the wiring harness makes a convenient way to add an iPod.
Only available as Mopar accessory, this adds a paper cabin filter to the cowl/HVAC air intake.
Beginning in 2003, LATCH anchors for child seats were made standard. The loops are easily accessed between the rear seat cushions and the rear anchor is mounted on the roof so it does not compromise cargo space.
The US-market WJ had 3 available engines, the 4.0L Powertech inline 6, the 4.7L Powertech V8, and the 4.7L High Output v8. Export models (the "WG") had additional options of the 3.1L TurboDiesel inline-5 and the 2.7L CRD turbodiesel inline-5.
4.0L "Powertech" I6
The I6 is a classic design with a few modern touches added to keep it "fresh". It is a solid chunk of iron....iron block AND iron head. With an all-iron construction, it is not as sensitive to temperature as an aluminum/iron motor and can survive a few overheatings. I personally ran my old 4.0 with the upper coolant hose unhooked for 25 miles with no ill effects! (although I wouldn't recommend it). Its design is similar to the I6s dating back to the AMC days and was shared in many Jeep platforms. It's nearly identical to the motors in the XJ, MJ, TJ, LJ, and ZJ, so many Jeepers prefer this motor because it is something they are already familiar with.
The 4.0L I-6 produces 195hp @ 4600rpm, 230 ft-lbs @ 3000rpm. The 4.0L runs fine with regular grade fuels, 87 octane is recommended. EPA estimates for fuel economy are 15 city/21 hwy (2WD) and 15 city/20 highway (4WD). Towing capacity for the 4.0L models is rated at 5000 lbs (when equipped with the towing package).
Unfortunately, even the base model WJs are right around 4000lbs curb weight and 195hp/230 ft-lbs is not all that much power/torque. While it is more than enough to safety get into traffic, commute, and generally use the vehicle, you may find it lacking in power for towing or carrying heavy loads/lots of passengers. Off road, the low-range gear reduction negates the lower power output to some extent. If you plan to add larger tires (reducing effective power), then you might find the 4.0 sluggish. Some feel it doesn't have enough power to really spin the wheels like you would need in deep mud.
Daimler/Chrysler paired the I6 up with the 42RE transmission and Dana 35 axle....neither of which has a stellar reputation for being durable. Even when properly serviced, many 42RE transmissions fail in the 120-150k range. They are...ok, but not great.
As an owner, one of the best things you can do for your 4.0L engine is to run the proper weight and quality of oil. While the 4.0 is not a highly-stressed motor that quickly breaks down oils, it is older technology that current oils are not well-suited to. Due to EPA regulations, zinc-containing additives (ZDDP) have been phased out of most motor oils. Excessive cam/lifter/piston wear can occur if you just run standard passenger car motor oil. Heavy-Duty motor oils such as Rotella T5 will greatly prolong the life of the engine and are not very expensive either.
The 4.0L has only two vulnerabilities - piston cracking and head cracking. 99-2000 4.0s apparently suffered from a poor casting run on pistons and the skirts can break off, destroying the engine. In addition, the 0331 casting head (2000-2001) is prone to cracking and mixing oil and coolant. Check the oil cap for milky goo, this can indicate a cracked head or head gasket problem.
Advantages: Durable - survives neglect. Common - easy to replace. Easy/cheap to work on. Torquey - decent low end torque off-road.
Disadvantages: Noisy - old technology, sounds like a tractor motor. Inefficient - yields a massive 48hp/liter and a best 19mpg. Transmission/Axles: unreliable. Need to regear if you go with larger tires.
4.7L "Powertech" V8
The v8s are something completely new that Chrysler released in 1999. They were on Ward's 10 Best Engines of the Year when they were released. They used a over-head cam design with aluminum heads, a generational leap over the previous v8s which were straight out of the 60s (with fuel injection added as an afterthought). The v8 motors tend to produce equal or better fuel economy AND more power than the I6. As for the reliability concerns - there are many well into the 200k zone. The V8s are less forgiving of neglect and do require specific coolant to prevent corrosion of the aluminum components. In addition, if overheated, the head gaskets WILL blow and the heads will probably warp. This is due to the difference in expansion between aluminum and iron and is typical of ANY engine of iron/aluminum design.
Other somewhat uncommon issues: if overheated, the valve seats can drop from the head since they are made from steel and the aluminum head expands far enough for them to drop out. The front cover near the water pump can become eroded from corrosion, but this is usually caused by using the wrong coolant (HOAT only!). It also may have been caused by a faulty casting run on the front covers. For most people, if this part were going to fail, it would have failed and been replaced already. There is a rumor that sludge is an issue with the 4.7L v8, but that is a rumor carried over from the discontinued 5.2L in the Dodge Dakota and ZJ Grand Cherokee. Failure to change the PCV valve every 60,000 miles also contributes. Sludge is always possible, but with proper maintenance should not be an issue.
The V8s bring an extra 40hp and 70 ft-lbs of torque to the plate without being much heavier than their I6 counterparts. Most of the weight difference isn't in the engine though, and the engine itself may be lighter than the I6. The added weight is elsewhere: transmission and axles.
The V8 got the much-stronger 45RFE (and later, 545RFE) transmission which is still used today in the 390hp Hemi Ram. These rarely ever fail. In addition, they added a Dana 44a rear end which is not perfect, but is much stronger than the Dana 35 in the I6 models.
The standard 4.7L v8 makes 235hp @ 4800rpm and 295 ft-lbs of torque @ 3200rpm. The 4.7L Powertech runs fine on regular grade fuel, 87 octane is recommended. EPA estimates for fuel economy on 2WD and 4WD 4.7 models is 14 city/ 19 highway. The 4.7L models are rated at 6500lbs towing capacity.
Off road where torque is the king, both motors are fine. On-road is where the v8 shines. How often do you need to do 0-60 off-road? Most of the wheeling I do has an average speed of about 6mph and a top of 22 (per my GPS). But where the I6 will get you to 45mph quickly, the v8 has no problems getting up and going into freeway traffic, towing a heavy load, or climbing the pass fully loaded.
Advantages: Power/Torque, mileage, stronger transmission/axles, towing capacity, won't have as great a need to regear due to higher torque, alternator/power steering pump located up high away from the ground/mud/water.
Disadvantages: not as forgiving of neglect, a little harder/more expensive to work on, not as common if you need to replace it.
4.7L High Output
The 4.7L High Output was introduced in 2002 as standard equipment on Overland models, special order on Limited models. It was not available on Laredo models, but some of the 2004 Rocky Mountain and Freedom edition models had the 4.7HO as a special order option.
The V8 High Output adds a ton of upgraded hard parts to the standard v8, bumps the compression ratio up to 9.7:1, adds a forged crank, and makes an extra 30hp/30ft-lbs of torque. The nice thing is that it makes the extra torque EVERYWHERE in the power band, not just up high. You'll be able to feel a difference right off of idle.
In addition to the forged crank, the pistons, rods, bearings, heads, valves, intake manifold, fuel injectors, airbox, air plenum, intake tube, and spark plugs were also changed. The ECU was also modified and the engine is equipped with 2 knock sensors to allow peak performance with higher octane fuel.
As for maintenance, the HO is no worse than the standard v8 and only has a few unique maintenance items: spark plugs, air filter, oil. The rest of the different parts are not maintenance items and should never fail in normal usage.
The 4.7 High Output produces 265hp @ 5200rpm and 325 ft-lbs @ 3600rpm. The 4.7L HO was designed to produce maximum power with premium fuel (91 oct or higher). However, it is designed to safely run on 87 octane fuel with slightly reduced power output. Many owners find that fuel economy is same-or-better with regular grade fuel during normal driving.
Jeep recommends premium fuel for ALL of the gasoline engines during heavy load or towing to reduce the possibility of knocking/engine damage.
The 3.1 Turbo Diesel was an inline-5 engine co-developed by Detroit Diesel and VM Motori, known as the 531OHV. The architecture was all cast-iron, iron block, iron head with a gear-driven cam. It was produced entirely in Italy for use in the Austrian-built WG export model from 1999-2001. It developed 138hp and 283ft-lbs of torque. This is also paired with the Jeep 44RE transmission similar to what is found in the ZJ models. Alas, my information on this motor is limited, but it seems to suffer common head gasket failures and does not deliver stellar fuel economy, although better than any of the gas offerings (23-29mpg). These engines usually come paired with Quadra-Trac II 4WD, a Dana 30 front axle, and a Dana 44a rear axle. As this was an export-only engine, my personal experience is limited. More info to come...
The 2.7 CRD was the replacement for the 3.1TD engine and was released in 2002. It was also an inline 5 engine design but in this case was sourced through Mercedes-Benz (a result of the 1999 merger that formed Daimler-Chrysler). This engine was considerably more modern than the 3.1 it replaced and has an aluminum head, dual overhead cams (as opposed to the overhead valve 3.1TD), and 4 valves per cylinder. The CRD acronym stands for Common Rail Diesel (injection), a modern form of diesel injection similar to what is used in VW TDI offerings from the mid-2000s. Despite its lower displacement, it produced more power, torque, and better economy than the 3.1TD, with 161hp and 295ft-lbs. The same engine was also used in Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, a popular commercial vehicle. This motor is paired with the 5-speed Mercedes 5g-Tronic/W5A580 transmission, the Quadra-Trac II 4WD system, a Dana 30 front axle, and a Dana 44a rear axle.
Generally, reviews of the 2.7 CRD Grand Cherokee say it is a "good buy", not surprising given Daimler-Benz's extensive experience and stellar reputation for diesel engines. At this time, information (and personal experience) with this motor is limited.
The Four-Wheel Drive
The Jeep brand is renowned worldwide for its 4WD systems and off-road prowess, and the WJ is no exception. However, the WJ has not one, not two, not three, but FOUR 4WD systems installed in various submodels throughout the model line. It can get confusing, but I've broken them down below.
"Is it Four-Wheel-Drive or All-Wheel-Drive?" Well ,this is a tricky question and could be a big semantic argument. On one hand, all 4WD WJs offer a "full-time 4WD" option that can be used on all surfaces, roads, and speeds, and some have automatic engagement whenever wheels slip (typical of all-wheel drive cars). On the other hand, all 4WD WJs have solid axles front and rear, a central transfer case that transfers torque, and most have a low-range mode and fully-lockable center differential (typical of 4WD trucks). Some even have a normal RWD mode like one would expect to see in a 4WD truck. It is this author's opinion that the Four-Wheel drive systems are much more similar to a typical 4WD truck and I'll refer to them as Four Wheel Drive from here on out.
"How do I tell what 4WD system I am looking at?" In general, looking at the transfer case shifter in the center console will tell you all you need to know. They are usually labeled with the 4WD system that the Jeep is equipped with. You can also look at the modes available (does it have 2WD?) and the badge on the liftgate (QuadraDrive).
Primarily found in Laredo, Special Edition, Freedom Edition, and Columbia Edition
Transfer Case: NV242J (I6) or NV242HD (V8)
Transfer Case fluid: ATF+4
Also, with open differentials front/rear, you have the option of easily installing lockers or limited slip differentials. The Dana 30 and Dana 35 differentials have many options from the aftermarket community, but the Dana 44a only has a few options for lockers.
Found only on 2004 Laredo I6 models (optional)
Transfer Case: NV147
Transfer Case Fluid: Mopar NV245/247/249 fluid, P/N 05016796AC
None! The transfer case in this 4WD system is permanently in "4 HI". It uses a gerotor-driven hydraulically operated clutch pack to transfer power from front to rear. It operates just like the more-common NV247 transfer case but does not offer a neutral or low-range selection. This 4WD system will operate as a RWD system until the rear axle slips, at which point the transfer case will send power to the front axle.
Editorial Notes: This 4WD system epitomizes the unfortunate "soccer mom" image that the WJ sometimes carries. Since it offers no low range selection, it is the least desirable 4WD system for off-road use but should still provide good mobility on-road in wet or snowy conditions. It is also the least common of all the 4WD systems and many people aren't even aware of its existence.
Found in Laredo and Limited models, standard equipment for V8 models.
Transfer Case: NV247
Transfer Case Fluid: Mopar NV245/247/249 fluid, P/N 05016796AC ONLY
The NV247 transfer case is generally reliable, but unfortunately does have occasional issues with the progressive coupler used in 4 All-Time. Most service documentation lists ATF+4 as the correct fluid for it, but this is incorrect and Chrysler published a TSB about it in 2000. ATF+4 will cause premature wear and binding in the transfer case and will eventually cause destruction of the case. If the coupler fails, then the vehicle will be in RWD mode unless you engage 4 LO.
With open differentials front and rear, the same locker/limited slip options mentioned for Selec-Trac are available.
Special Order for Laredo, Optional for Limited, Standard on Overland
Transfer Case: NV247
Transfer Case Fluid: Mopar NV245/247/249 fluid, P/N 05016796AC ONLY
Off-road, the Vari-Lok differentials give tons of traction and often help the WJ hang with more-built rigs. They function better than most other LSDs due to their excellent reaction time and ability to operate with one wheel in the air. Unlike the older Trac-Lok differentials offered by Jeep, they operate with virtually no wear in normal driving (since their clutches are not pre-loaded) and also offer considerably more torque-holding power.
One slight disadvantage: the VariLok differentials require Mopar friction modifier with their gear oil, making maintenance slightly more expensive. If the wrong amount of friction modifier is added, the differential will either bind or slip too much. Redline's 75W140 gear oil has the proper amount pre-mixed, as does Amsoil's Severe Gear. Other oils have *some* friction modifier already added but not enough so you'll have to add a little more until it doesn't bind.
QuadraDrive has one other slight disadvantage - by adding VariLok differentials, Jeep changed the differential carriers and axle shafts for front and rear differentials. This makes installing any other locker/limited slip impossible without procuring the appropriate parts from a Quadra-Trac 2. If you MUST have a locker, start with a Quadra-Trac II or Selec-Trac vehicle. However, most users of Quadra-Drive (myself included) are very happy with their operation.
The Test Drive/Common Problems
WJ Grand Cherokees are generally pretty reliable vehicles... after all, you wouldn't see them EVERYWHERE when you drive around if they were unreliable or expensive to maintain. But, like any vehicle, they are not without their faults. Here are some common issues to be aware of and some things to look into during your test drive. As with any used car, service history is important. A Pre-Purchase Inspection done by a dealer or a trusted mechanic can prove to be a good investment if you are considering buying one.
Limited and Overland models (those with the dual-zone/automatic climate controle) have a 100% failure rate on the HVAC Blend Doors. These doors regulate the mix of hot and cold air and ride on thin plastic axles controlled by electronic actuators. The actuators go through a frequent self-test mode that breaks the axles that the doors ride on. While this is extremely common, it is also a very easy and inexpensive fix. There are kits available to replace the defective parts with prices ranging from $80-180. It takes about 2 hours of easy labor and is repaired through the glove box.
In addition, the recirculation door does the same self-test cycle and can break from its axle. In most cases, it just dangles there and you lose the ability to close the cabin off from outside air. In some cases, it drops down and blocks airflow completely.
On your test drive:
Cycle the heater through all of its settings. Be sure that you can get hot and cold air through BOTH sides of the dashboard vents. If you have the chance, run the HVAC diagnostics. When the doors fail, you lose the ability to get hot air through the heater. If you can't get hot air, don't pass on the vehicle if it is otherwise in good condition. This is an easy fix and also an easy way to talk $500 off the price.
Models with QuadraDrive and Quadra-Trac II require special fluid for the transfer case but unfortunately, ATF+4 is often used instead (as that was the original specification in 1999). The end result is that you might notice some scrubbing sounds or binding from the front tires when you turn sharply (like in a normal parking lot manuever). Changing the fluid to the correct fluid often fixes the issue, but if it is left unresolved for a long time it can damage the transfer case. Repairs can be expensive, but swapping to the NV242 (Selec-Trac) transfer case is a cheaper alternative.
On your test drive:
Do a few sharp turns in a parking lot and see if you notice any scrubbing or hopping from the front wheels. If you have a mechanic do a Pre-Purchase Inspection, have them check the transfer case fluid. If it is red, it is the wrong fluid. It should be honey-colored. The correct fluid is only about $30 for enough to do the job and it is an easy do-it-yourself job. If you can change your oil, you can change the transfer case fluid.
Warped Brake Rotors
Early WJ models (1999-2001, early 2002) had a new dual-piston sliding caliper on the front brakes known as Teves or ATE calipers. The caliper carriers freeze up easily and then cause uneven clamping on the rotor. This usually goes unnoticed by the driver as braking performance does not suffer noticeably... but it does eventually result in warped rotors. Chrysler published a TSB on this and also released an updated brake caliper for late 2002-2004 models called "Akebono" calipers and many earlier models were upgraded to them by the dealer. They had a much stiffer caliper carrier and a design less susceptible to freezing. They do not provide any additional performance increase, just improve reliability. Regardless of what caliper you have, be sure to grease the caliper carrier sliders when you replace the brake pads/rotors.
On your test drive:
Test the brakes. Really *test* them. Find a section of empty road, prepare yourself, and do a good stop from 45-50 mph. If you notice suddering or shaking in the steering wheel, you probably have warped rotors. Visually inspect the brakes. If you have the Teves calipers, either plan on replacing them soon, or pass and look for another WJ.
One thing to consider with ANY 4WD vehicle: matching tire size is ABSOLUTELY critical. Jeep allows only 3/32" difference in tire size between front and rear. Any more and you risk damage to the transfer case and the possibility of being stuck in 4WD. Even different model tires of the same listed size can vary enough to cause damage. This is also key with your spare tire. If you change tire size, always get a matching spare tire.
On your test drive:
Look at all 4 tires. Look for irregular wear, have different tread depths, and check If any are not matching brands/models or matching sizes, pass on the vehicle. This is indicative of a vehicle that has not been cared for and is likely already damaged to the point that it would need major repairs. One forum member found this out the hard way when his front differential seized up completely on his drive home from the dealer.
Other Common Issues
Other common but relatively minor issues - some people have bad luck with power window regulators and heated seat elements. Taillight sockets can corrode and may just need the tabs bent slightly to make contact again. Axles tend to leak more often than I would like. Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors have 7-10 year battery life and the batteries are not individually replaceable. If you are looking at a WJ with TPMS, try to find out if the sensors have been replaced. Throttle position sensors can fail and cause erratic response and shifting. Hood, liftgate, and popper glass support struts commonly fail, but again, easy and cheap to fix.
On your test drive:
Treat the WJ as if you were looking at any other used car. Check that everything works!
Despite these faults, the WJ is overall a dependable vehicle. Every used car can have problems. Buying from a private party is going to yield a better indication of what kind of vehicle you are looking at; you will get more information, some indication of service history, and slightly more honest answers than from a car dealer. Buy the best WJ you can, take care of it, and you will not be disappointed.
Test Drive Checklist
Aftermarket and Upgrades
The WJ is a great vehicle to own! Whether you are just looking for a comfortable, practical daily driver or you want an SUV to take camping, hunting, fishing, or four-wheeling, the WJ is an excellent choice. Some people keep their vehicles totally stock, and that's ok. But if you want the most from your Grand Cherokee, there are number of things to consider for upgrades. Jeep as a brand has one of the largest enthusiast communities around.
In general, the WJ has weaker aftermarket support than other more popular Jeeps, but it is in no way lacking. Whereas a Wranger has dozens of suppliers for upgrade parts, there are only around a dozen for the WJ. Selection is more limited and prices for parts are a bit higher.
Compared to the Wrangler models, the WJ is very similar in overall design, but one place it is lacking is in the size of the fender wells. A stock WJ is limited to about a 30" tire without a lift of some sort. Lifts are commercially available anywhere from 3/4" spacers to a 6.5" long-arm lifts. Generally, for every 2" of lift you can increase 1" in tire size without trimming.
One thing to be clear on: there is no such thing as a body lift for a Grand Cherokee. The frame is incorporated into the body and there is no way to separate them.
The chart below details common lift heights as well as the components required/recommended for each level. Everyone's situation will be slightly different with different combinations, but this is a good overall guide.
Smaller lifts are common among Grand Cherokee owners because they are relatively inexpensive, add some needed ground clearance, give a more aggressive stance, and are still practical for a daily driver. Spring spacers (aka: Budget Boost) are cheap and are commonly available in 3/4" and 2" sizes. In general, using lift springs will yield better ride and handling than spring spacers will, albeit at a higher price. Lift springs are available in 1" (OEM Upcountry), 2" (BDS/Fatbob's), 2.5" (Rusty's, Old Man Emu medium-duty), 2.75" (Kevin's Off-Road), and 3" (Iron Rock Offroad, Old Man Emu heavy-duty). Follow the lift chart above for recommendations for other needed/recommended ancillary parts. 31" is the recommended no-trim tire size for lifts up to 3"
The 4" lift size is also very popular as many aftermarket companies offer a more-or-less complete kit for a very attractive price. Entry-level 4" lifts start at $500 and range as high as $1500. A 4" lift is also where things start getting...complicated. The pinion angle of the front differential is too steep and most budget kits offer some sort of lengthened or adjustable control arms to correct this. In addition, the OEM track bar is well beyond its limits (it should be replaced around 3" lift). Most kits offer a lengthened or adjustable track bar as well. This is preferable to a track bar drop bracket and/or dropped pitman arm, both of which should be avoided). At 4" of lift, a rear A-arm spacer (or a new A-arm) is required to keep the rear ball joint from breaking.
Better kits will include a more comprehenisve parts set and/or better quality parts. Popular budget kits include Zone 4" kit and the Iron Rock Offroad 4" kit. Do your research, you may find that cheaper kits are lacking in required parts and quality/design considerations. Avoid drop pitman arms, drop brackets, and transfer case drops.
"Can I take 2" lift springs and add 2" spacers?" This may seem like an attractive idea because a $200 budget boost with $200 springs can theoretically get you to 4" lift. However, this not a great idea. There are so many other parts that need to be changed at 4" lift that you would be better served selling off your budget boost and buying a complete 4" kit. Parts needed include new shocks, sway bar end links front/rear , track bar, control arms, and rear A-arm spacer. Buying all of that separately is much more expensive than a complete kit.
Four inch lift is also where the stock control arm angles become so steep that ride quality may suffer. As you hit bumps, the force on the axle will be transmitted down the arm to the body and make the ride harsher. It's a personal preference, some people say it rides great, some people want a smoother ride, just something to consider. For the ultimate ride quality, look into long arms.
4" lifts are ideal for 32" tires with no trimming and 33" with moderate trimming.
4-6" and Long-Arm suspension
Beyond 4", most recommend going with a long-arm suspension. A system like this will add a new subframe to the vehicle and longer, stronger control arms with geometry optimized for a lifted Jeep. This will give the best ride quality as well as the most flex off-road. Systems like this usually cost $1500+, popular brands are the Iron Rock Offroad "Critical Path" kits and the Clayton long-arm system. People also stack budget boost spacers on 4" lift kits but this isn't the best idea for ride quality or flex. Do your research when considering going beyond 4". 33-35" tires are appropriate for a 5-6" lift.
Always worth mentioning when talking about lifts. Combining a solid axle and coil springs on the front end has only one troubling issue. Death Wobble. This is not a Jeep phenomenon...it can happen to any vehicle with a solid front axle... Jeeps, Land Cruisers, Discoveries, any number of trucks. Basically, under certain conditions the front end will start resonating back and forth causing a violent shaking and loss of control.
There are a number of causes, but the most common causes are issues with the track bar, worn steering components, wheel balance, and alignment. Whenever you install a lift, have some extra money handy to combat death wobble. Here are some things to check/fix to reduce or prevent death wobble.
Armor and Recovery
If you are preparing for the trail, be sure to research available armor and recovery gear. The OEM skid plates are useful to protecting your transfer case and fuel tank, although there are much stronger options for the transfer case skid available from the aftermarket community. In addition, the OEM Overland Rock Rails are good protection for your rocker panels, but the aftermarket has better, stronger options that offer more protection. A set of Overland Rock Rails is a good upgrade for someone doing mild-moderate wheeling and needing some protection, but if you plan on using them frequently, there are much better options out there. Do your research!
Recovery is equally important. There are OEM black- and chrome-finish tow hooks available but they are somewhat limited as their hooks point downward. It can be frustrating when your recovery strap keeps falling off the hooks! Rusty's Off Road has a set of front recovery hooks but some people have reported bending them on hard recoveries. Saguaro 4x Components has a very nice set of 3/4" D-rings available that solve some of these issues. The last bolt-on option is a front receiver hitch which bolts to both frame rails and lives behind the stock bumper cover. Front receiver hitches are available from Curt, Warn, and Fawkes Offroad (Minimax). These give a single recovery point in the center of the bumper, and some models like the Minimax also have additional mounting points for D-rings on the sides. A front receiver hitch also opens up options for a multi-mount winch or any number of 2" hitch accessories. For rear recovery, the trailer hitch is more than adequate. The OEM trailer hitch is preferred as it gives the most off-road clearance.
Aftermarket steel bumpers are available for front and rear, although they tend to be expensive, much more expensive than similar offerings for Wranglers. Still, this offers a much higher level of protection and a strong recovery point/winch mount. Iceland off Road offers a strong fiberglass bumper as well as high-clearance fenders which add about 2" of tire clearance (run 35s on a 4" lift). Differential covers are also a good investment to make sure that you can drive your Jeep home when you're done.
Other Used Car Buyer's Guides
This section will be dedicated to off-site buyer's guides that are not WJ-specific. These will be good ideas for used cars regardless of make or model.
Jalopnik: Top Ten Warning Sign's A Used Car's A Terrible Deal
Edmunds.com: 10 Steps to Buying a Used Car
Edmunds.com: Used Car Questionnaire (pdf)
Edmunds.com: Inspect That Used Car Before Buying
Autotrader.com: Used Vehicle Inspection Guide
Cars.com: How To Buy a Used Car (with 6 sub-sections on inspection, test drive, asking questions, etc.)
Ok, that's all I have for now. I'm leaving the lower Placeholder posts in case we need to expand this post.
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