When Sabrina and I moved to Chicago a year and a half ago, we sold both our cars. I’m not saying that was a mistake, but I have to spend an hour each way on public transit for both hackerspaces and the radio station, and the grocery delivery people always manage to surprise you. We decided we wanted a reliable vehicle to see us through the next few years here in the Second City. I, being me, want something fun and a little ridiculous. I managed to talk Sabrina into a TJ Wrangler.
What’s a TJ Wrangler? Well, it’s Chrysler’s second stab at making a Jeep. Back in the mid-80s…
Hang on, let me hit up Wikipedia here.
Okay. Back in 1987, the American Motors Corporation was bought by Chrysler. AMC made the vernerable Jeep CJ-7, a small, light weight, leaf-sprung, two door SUV with four wheel drive. Chrysler took that and made it into a slightly larger vehicle with slightly more creature comforts and called it the Jeep Wrangler. The first generation Jeep Wrangler, known as the YJ, was sold from 1987 to 1995. Much like the CJ, it had leaf springs and a rudamentary suspension. It was a weird compromise between the bare bones CJ and a passenger car.
I owned one, and it was an absolute blast.
It had a lot of problems, so we sold it.
In 1996, Chrysler didn’t make a Wrangler (okay, they did, but they were sold as 1997 models). Instead, they re-designed and re-tooled the plants to produce the second generation wrangler, the TJ. The TJ was a little bit larger than the YJ, and had coil springs in the front rather than leaf springs. This gave it better road manners without sacrificing too much offroadability. Under the hood, it came with the same choice of I4 or I6 engines, the same AX-5 or AX-15 transmissions, the same NP231 transfer case, and the same Dana 30 front and Dana 35 rear axle (later years got a different transmission, Rubicons got a different transfer case and rear axle, non-Rubicons could be specified with a different rear axle, blah blah blah).
The thrust of all this is that TJs are sturdy vehicles, and intensely simple to work on. That I6 motor I mentioned makes an almost criminally low amount of power, but when the bombs drop, the last scrappy survivers will find perfect Jeep 4.0 engines still running. They’re hard to kill.
What am I looking for in a Jeep Wrangler? Well, sir:
- 4.0 I6 – They’ll last a good long time
- Manual transmission
- Reasonably unmodified. I’m okay with a little bumper action or a tasteful lift, but I’m not going to deal with a bubba’d-to-hell Jeep like the last one I bought.
- 2000 or later – This is a Sabrina requirement. I’m OK with cars from the last century, but she isn’t.
- 150,000 miles or so – Even I get a little unnerved buying a car with 200,000 miles on an odometer, even though I know I’ll probably see it some day.
- Cloth top
- Cruise control
- Minimal rust
I’ll detail my journey to Wrangler-hood here. Jeep-quest! Here we go!