The AMC Cherokee is a fantastic design. There’s no denying it, the longevity of the platform and the cultish following it has developed in the forums and aftermarket are testament to the Mighty XJ. And while the Liberty may have finally gained an aftermarket for serious offroaders, the Cherokee lefts a preposterously big shoe to fill. Which is why I’m kind of in love with mine right now, I feel like an initiate to a boys club. The Pow Pow Powerwheel feel of driving it (oh, balljoints in solid axles, you are the worst.) is such a relief from the borrowed 98 Civic I’ve been schlepping (thank you Samantha Boogie! You are the best.) that I don’t even mind its various problems, which I have spent the last few weeks assessing and addressing.
I already talked about the dragging brake caliper, which is apparently common, research into which revealed some kind of simmering Jeep forum furor over steel pistons versus composite pistons. The condition of fluid and overall thickness of the pads told me the front brakes had been done recently, but they just reused the original calipers. I went with some Duralast/Cardone remans (composite – it’s what they had in stock) and new pads. Despite the dragging the rotors looked great, though the wheel unit bearings and front U joints all look petrified. I shot everything underneath with PB Blaster and crossed myself.
Even with free spinning wheels, it gets ludicrously bad gas mileage. I don’t drive a lot so it’s not a major problem but wowee can that sumbitch drink. I’ve been through a few air cleaners so far (see CCV below) but I finally went Wix. I’m trying to learn how to drive with a lighter foot (tough again because it’s so fun to romp on)
The 4.0 Continuous Crankcase Ventilation system is fully reverse-polish threaded and I fixed it with some other Jeep parts. Works perfectly so far, no valve cover trimming. I just went to the parts counter and got the PCV off a 1983 Jeep Wrangler with a 258, the grommet for it, and two feet of ⅜” fuel vapor hose. I already had a quick-connect air cool nipple which threaded perfectly into the intake manifold, though I could have just gone to the hardware store and gotten a nice brass one just as easily. Crammed the grommet right in the rear valve cover hole, where it deformed around the locking tabs and sealed “good enough”. If I buy a new valve cover to clean up and paint I’ll trim it for the Wrangler PCV. Maybe. Sealing up the leaking hoses dropped my idle about 300 rpm, and hopefully it’ll stop dumping oil mist on the air box, and PCV it into the fucking intake like it’s supposed to. The main problem with the very small hole the CCV system uses is that it just clogs instantly with crap and then the engine burps go through the only tube with vacuum, the front air tube to the filter box. The entire intake manifold of my jeep is slimed, as is the air box, the throttle body has a sort of oil varnish on it, and I can only hope that a few cans of carb cleaner will eventually erode that down into the motor to be consumed.
Did an oil change, pretty normal looking old ass pitch black dinosaur juice and an off size plain white filter that I was able to squeeze in like an old beer can. I switched over to some Mobil 1 5w30 and a Mobil 1 Gold filter. I’m gonna do about a thousand miles on this filter and do another change to a Wix. We’ll see how that, working PCV, and a good air cleaner affects the gas mileage. I was hesitant about switching to synthetic 5w30, but lots of people swear by it so I’m giving it a try. The hot oil pressure is definitely lower than with whatever goop was in there, but it never dips too low at idle even when driven/hot. I am still too afeared to see what it would be like with 0w30 in it, all I see in my mind is it leaking directly through the block like a filthy piston sieve.
Speaking of sealings and gaskets – I’m a huge believer in the gasket improvements the american auto industry made post 1996 ODBII or so, if there’s an updated gasket design for your motor, you should switch to it. I no longer dick around with cork valley end seals or any cork gasket, it’s sensor safe RTV over a paper gasket, regular old silicone for larger gaps, and anywhere I can just buy a fancy dry-install printed or steel core/mls gasket, that way all I need to do is make sure my mating surface is brake cleaner clean and it’s good to go. They’re reusable as long as you don’t dork them up, and cheap at twice the price vs errant boogers of RTV killing your car.
In that spirit, I switched to Lube Locker brand gaskets for my 8.25 (yes, I lucked out and got the good rear end again – that’s two for two) and it worked perfect. The gear oil was old, smelly, and had a little bit of water in it but it was otherwise as expected for old gear oil. The rear end had normal open gears, marked 3_5, which I assume is 3.55. Didn’t do the front end gear oil yet because the RTV looks recent and I’m trying to decide if I want to buy a whole front axle to clean up and swap in (see below). Seems like lockers for these go for a few hundred per axle, if I feel like I really need one (kinda going with no).
Also, due to some weirdness about how AMC/Jeep/Renault was doing when the Cherokee was being designed, it has a GM tilt steering column and the automatic is a Ford AW4. All the way to the end, GM tilt steering column. So they all take completely standard GM tilt steering column parts. But since Chrysler bought Jeep, they wanted to make a 4×4 that was all Chrysler, mating the 4.0 to the 46RH auto they had in their trucks (the ZJ Grand Cherokee), in the 93 model year, collapsing the line to just the ZJ in 96 (purely speculation but the sales numbers for the XJ spike in 97, which to me indicates that the 95 and 96 sales were supply strangled and not demand-maxed). Part of this desire was to get back to the standard Mopar parts-supply chain, so in 1994 they reclassified all their part numbers from the “standard” GM parts to Mopar parts numbers. For this reason, when you look up steering column parts or some other oddball soft lines for 94 and 95 XJ Cherokees, you get no part available, even though the store will clearly have a GM tilt column turn signal switch , just because the computer says that the 94 uses a thrice-restructured Mopar ultra obsolete part number 50503029243858182-D and lists no interchange. Annoying, but a good reminder that a smart person behind the parts counter or doing some research before you hit the counter will save you a lot of time.
I’ve still got a transmission flush, a transfer case drain and fill, and a bunch of universal joints and bearings to go through but they’re fairly cheap, just time consuming. Since it also needs ball joints (My philosophy on ball joints is if you didn’t do them and they’re not _clearly_ brand new? They could stand to come out.) and basically the whole steering, combined with a steady supply of <$100 D30 axles out on Craigslist it is tempting to just go buy one to clean up while I drive around on my old one. It’s not like it’s a boneshaker now, it’s just got a little lateral jostle when you hit something at speed. It’d also let me paint the axle and replace all bushings in it, even up to the steering pitman if I wanted – then just swap it in all freshly painted and clean looking. Other candidates for replacement? The rear leaf pack is totally flat, the front springs sag to the passenger side and all the shocks are cheap and/or shot. And if I’m doing springs shouldn’t I do a lift? It’s a bit dumpy in the butt now and I’d rather it had a bit of stance. Seems like two inches isn’t even really noticeable if you go up to 30 inch tires, but I’m forever afeared of vibrations and unhappy handling. Everything seems to indicate as long as you replace all your soft parts and steering ends, two inches doesn’t require anything other than longer bump stops and longer shocks, if you feel like it. I certainly don’t want a skyjakker look or anything.
The leaf pack is something I’m trying to figure out. I can get some name brand HD (HD in the truck world seems to mean 1.5” lift) replacements for ~$300 ($260 on the internet) or some cheese dick (stock height) replacements for $200 ($180 on the internet). I could go bust my hump in a junk yard pulling an S10 pack so I could make a bastard/rat/boost pack, figure if I want to just swap it in instead of pulling/fabbing/pulling, I am gonna spend a hundo in springs (four leaf springs @ $25) then $10 in center pins and $5 in cutoff wheels, $.15 worth of ibuprophen, $20 worth of bushings and clips, $72 to the swear jar, $10 in farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint, $10 in gas to get to a place that will sell me farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint. Even after we amortize back out the $72 and pay it forward into the reverse revenue cycle economy I operate on around here, you can understand why I am leaning toward having Amazon Prime me some fuckin’ Ranchos. Plus with the Ranchos I won’t have to wait around for one of my fingernails to grow back in after I smash it off with a hammer.
Oh and after watching the temp gauge top out around 150 and dip on some longer freeway stretches I bought a new thermostat because it clearly doesn’t have one in it now. And for some reason the low fuel light is always on. It’s actually not a bad thing because it reminds you every time you are driving to look at that gas gauge… suckin’ it down.