COAL: 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee – Stepping Up


The company car my Dad was looking to help sell on was a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee; a Limited, pretty loaded with the Chrysler 5.2 liter V8, Quadra Trac, sunroof, heated seats, pretty much the works for the time. It had about 60,000 miles and the company just wanted loan value. It could be ours for no money out of pocket, and a very good deal. I wasn’t thrilled about the V8 or the full time four wheel drive. We had some winter weather where we lived, but the year round wear and tear and gas mileage weren’t ideal, in my eyes.

This pillow effect was optional on the Grand Cherokee Limited and standard on the short-lived Grand Wagoneer.

Being a good deal, though, we went forward. It was sharp for sure; black with the gold emblems and wheels, and gray leather interior. I was attracted to the pseudo European vibe of the vehicle, especially the interior. The seats, stalk controls, and switch gear all exhibited a contemporary appearance and solidity that most American cars did not have at the time. This would be attributed to the new and short-lived Renault/Chrysler tie up and the resulting Renault influences and sourcing. My uncle had a Jeep Comanche and a Renault Alliance, and the Grand Cherokee seemed like a grown up big brother to both.

It was in showroom condition, maintained very well, with new tires. After the deal was done, we hit the road a few weeks later for a last pre-baby trip to the beach. My first car loan, the nicest car I had bought for myself for sure, lovely wife, first baby on the way, and we had bought our first home after renting for a couple of years. Life was coming up roses…until a few exits later.

The Jeep started running rough, so we pulled off. And it died. Dead as a doornail, it would crank and crank but never start. Was I out of gas? No, we just filled up. I don’t know that we even had a cell phone at the time. I remember using a “bag phone” in the Buick but it wasn’t something I carried with me everywhere I went.

After waiting a few minutes, it started, but it would not idle. You had to keep your foot on the gas a little at idle to keep from stalling. We made it a few more miles to a small Jeep dealer I knew to be up the road. We pulled in about closing time, naturally, but they instantly knew the problem. Carbon buildup in the throttle body, or something to that effect. They dumped some fuel additive into the tank and sprayed a bunch more in the intake and the car started, ran, and idled like new. They told me it would recur unless I used Sea Foam in the tank every so often. I added Sea Foam every 4th tank or so after that and it never happened again.

From that experience, I became a Sea Foam devotee. I buy it in gallon cans now, and add it to all my higher mileage cars, my boat, lawn equipment, you name it.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. What a ride…nice CD stereo, my first heated seats, and a crude trip computer that was quite impressive twenty years ago. I don’t remember a keyless entry remote, so maybe that wasn’t yet standard.

The Jeep never needed much. Just oil changes and tires. It ate the brand new tires at an alarming rate, I guess that all wheel drive I was concerned about. Gas mileage was horrible, but that was to be expected. I slid off a snowy road and sheared the passenger door mirror clean off on a road sign, but somehow caused no paint damage. A new painted one was hundreds more than a black plastic one for a Laredo version, they were both power controlled and heated. Since the car was black, I went with the Laredo version and it looked fine.

The hatch handle never worked right; you had to force it up to open the hatch. And you had to slam the rear hatch hard to get it to shut the first time. The paint had already chipped around the handle from all the rough use.

The front fog lights looked added on but they were factory. They started rusting soon after our purchase. The factory hitch receiver always looked rusty and cruddy. I tried to keep it scraped and sprayed painted black, but it didn’t last long.

My wife was driving the Buick and I was driving the Jeep. But the decision to keep the Buick came back to haunt us sooner rather than later. It developed a short or some electrical gremlin that drained the battery without warning. Many attempts to find the fault were made, including searching for a shorted wire and replacing the alternator. But after stranding my pregnant wife a couple of times, it couldn’t be trusted for her. And she didn’t want me driving it on the long and sometimes isolated routes I was covering for work.

Baby on the way, new house, my first car loan, and now I need to buy another car? Bad timing. We had talked about my wife not going back to work right away after the baby, too, so that would make things tighter. We had gotten a good deal on the Jeep, so that helped. I needed another something “adult”, good for a child car seat, presentable, but not flashy. Comfortable and quiet would be nice, but it didn’t need to be as well equipped as the Jeep. I needed another Buick, basically. And the SUV phase/interest/boom was picking up speed. It was a good body style for a young family.

But Buick didn’t make the Rainier yet. Ford Explorers were all the rage and nobody would dicker on them. A friend had the new “rounded” Chevy Blazer, but it seemed a little meh to me….a new Grand Cherokee was out of the question, price wise. The small, older Cherokee was too small for us, and pricey too. In the 1990’s, that didn’t leave a whole lot of other options.

As for the Jeep, we kept it until 2000 or so, when another COAL you’ll read about came along. We took the Jeep over 100,000 miles, and sold it to my wife’s elderly aunt and uncle. They had a 1984 Jeep Wagoneer (the baby one) that was on it’s last legs. It was their “winter car” and the Jeep would be perfect for them: 4WD but nice and new enough to be their everyday car too.

She was elderly, but still worked every day as a bookkeeper for a family lumber yard. The Jeep got regular use, at at about 180,000 miles she gave it to a new 16 year old driver on the other side of the family. I saw him and the Jeep every now and then after that; it had gotten pretty rusty around the front wheel openings and the rockers. It had been hit a time or two at the lumber yard too in their congested parking lot.

The last time I saw it was when I ran into him (and the Jeep) at a local shopping center. He told me it had turned 200,000 miles a while back. Not long after that, I heard “the engine blew”. And that was the end of the Jeep.  I’m never sure what is meant by “the engine blew”. I guess the head gasket goes? Maybe it can mean a lot of different things to different people.

What was your first “nice” used car?