In January 1984 when I bought my CJ7 (Chapter 4) I seriously considered the newly introduced Jeep Cherokee (see Paul’s recent post). When my 1996 Eagle Talon (Chapter 12) died in July 2014 fifteen months after I bought its replacement, the 2013 Dodge Dart (Chapter 18), I had neither the time nor the spousal permission to resurrect it. Having recently brought my 1944 Willys MB (Chapter 7 and Chapter 16) home on a flatbed tow truck a couple of times I decided that it was time to buy a tow vehicle and trailer.
When I’ve loaded my 1944 Willys MB and 1942 Willys MBT trailer onto the 16′ tandem axle trailer and loaded my gear for the weekend I’m pulling about 4800 pounds. I looked at several vehicles including the Nissan Xterra and the Dodge Dakota that could tow at least 5000 pounds. This Cherokee was the first mechanically sound vehicle that I found in my price range (the insurance payout on the Talon).
This Cherokee started life as a fairly basic 2WD model. With the SE Value Group (code AA3), the Convenience Group (code AJK) and an automatic transmission it wasn’t quite a stripper. (The tow rating is reduced if you have either 4WD or the manual transmission.) After adding the trailer towing group components my Cherokee has a 5000 pound tow rating provided I use a load leveling hitch and the trailer has brakes.
It was rattle can black with a mismatched hood and tailgate. The interior was the same Patriot Blue as the 2001 Minivans that I’d previously owned (Chapter 13 and Chapter 15), the air conditioning didn’t work, it had the infamous jeep death wobble and the interior reeked of cigarette smoke.
I stripped the interior. Above is an interim photo before I removed the carpet, headliner, interior panels and dash. I replaced all of the soft goods, cleaned behind all of the interior trim panels, cleaned the HVAC ducts and replaced the leaking AC evaporator. I also added the components for the trailer towing package (mostly with factory components). Replacing all of the bushings in the front end solved the wobble.
The “new” carpet, power & heated leather driver and passenger front seats (and associated wiring harness), leather rear bench seat and upgraded Instrument Cluster (with Tachometer and gauges for the the Voltage, Oil Pressure and Temperature) came from a Cherokee in Mandeville, LA. The seller had the factory trailer wiring harness that he’d pulled out of a yard in Lafayette, LA. I stopped at that yard on my way home and acquired the Auxiliary Automatic Transmission Oil Cooler. The factory hitch came out of yard in Tupelo, MS. I acquired a “new” headliner locally. Living in “hot as hades” Houston I added a second Automatic Transmission Oil Cooler (out of a 2002 Jeep Liberty) in series with the factory cooler.
In early 2015 I took it to Maaco for a basic paint job back to the Factory color. It’s not a perfect paint job but I’ve always been a fan of painting for preservation.
In addition to towing my Jeep the Cherokee is used in support of a couple of Sea Scout units. Most of my annual mileage on the Cherokee has been in support of Scout activities. The photo above is the local 4th of July Parade in 2015.
For 2000 Jeep changed the ignition system from conventional points to an electronic system. This necessitated a redesigned cylinder head. Unfortunately this head used only on the 2000 & 2001 engines (it was redesigned for 2002) was prone to cracking. In early 2017 my cylinder head cracked and I commenced the task of acquiring a new one. After a few weeks of searching I found a yard that had a Cherokee that had a recently rebuilt engine (allegedly with approx. 1000 miles since the rebuild). Having not yet found a replacement head and being offered a very good price ($1600 installed) I bought their engine. I got the Cherokee back on the road in mid July.
Hurricane Harvey struck in late August. I’d disconnected the battery so the electrical system was unpowered. I cleaned and reused the interior fuse panel but chose to replace the Airbag Control Module (the only two electrical components that got wet). I removed and replaced the interior components that got wet (the carpets, trim panels, seats and seat belts). The passenger seat is no longer powered and neither seat is heated. Automatic transmissions don’t like being submerged in water. There are water soluble adhesives used internally. The transmission rebuild cost was significant but it was less then it would have cost me to acquire a replacement vehicle especially since I’m only driving it a couple thousand miles a year.
In 2018 I upgraded the suspension with heavy duty shocks and springs and replaced the sway bar link bar bushings.
Cherokees with the Police Package were offered with disc brakes on the rear. The 2002 (and later) Jeep Liberty which uses the same axle was also equipped with disc brakes on the rear. In January 2019 I purchased the disc brake components and converted my brakes. Towing capacity is primarily based on vehicle stability (helped by upgraded shocks and springs) and the ability to stop. With the upgrades I made I probably have more margin with my 4800 pound load but still drive like I don’t 🙂
European market Cherokees were sold with rear head restraints. The rear seat back frame on domestic Cherokees is the same part. I salvaged the head restraints from my Hurricane Harvey flooded front seats and welded them onto the rear seat frame.
In October 2020 as I was headed back from the (then named Fort Hood, now Fort Cavazos) Historic Military Vehicle Rally an 18 Wheeler in front of me lost a tire. A piece of the tread made it through the grill, missed the transmission coolers and took out my ac condenser. I got to rebuild the ac system again.
As far as I can ascertain this has always been a Texas vehicle. As the vehicle has aged in the Texas weather extremes some of the vacuum lines have developed cracks and needed to be replaced. Nearly six years after Harvey the insulation on the Engine Compartment Wiring Harness is starting to break down and I’ve experienced some electrical funnies with the cruise control and instrument cluster. I recently acquired a good wiring harness and when the weather cools down next winter I’ll install it.
When last I drove it a couple of weeks ago the odometer was showing in the neighborhood of 252000 miles. Those miles aren’t real. 12098 of them are the delta between the original basic instrument cluster and the upgraded instrument cluster that I installed in 2014.