By on October 29, 2012

TTAC commentator photogo2 writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I need someone to tell me I am an idiot.

I am considering buying a ZJ (1993-1998) Jeep Grand Cherokee for a daily driver. I am most interested in a 1993-1995 V8 model, specifically for the combination of the bulletproof 318 ci/5.2 L engine and the 46RH transmission (a transmission I suppose will be slightly less likely to destroy itself than the later 44RE models…). I am a semi-decent hack mechanic who supports a BMW 2002tii (which is my daily driver in nice weather) and an E46 330i nearing its 12th birthday, so the prospect of mechanical repairs isn’t frightening. I’ve found some with reasonable miles for good prices and can live with the gas mileage, especially considering it will average about 5,000 miles per year.

I really like the cargo capacity and the ability to take it slightly off-road. Plus, it would/should be a good support vehicle is the cars ever need a tow. My main concern is just how stupid of a move am I making? Is a Jeep ZJ a terrible choice? Should I be considering something else?


PS- the wife won’t be willing to drive a Panther when her E46 is out of service. She is okay with the smaller Jeep.

Sajeev Answers:

What’s the deal with the B&B’s significant others’ non-love of Panthers? Like my photo album filled with brown Grand Marquis coupes and Cartier Town Cars doesn’t attract ALL the ladies!  There’s nothing wrong with my strategy, obviously.

And while you spent the time reading the above drivel, I used it to Google this helpful thread. And this one.  None of it looks especially horrifying. And once again, Google is your friend when it comes to common problems on damn near anything. Except when I tried to figure out which year the Jeep’s 4.0L mill went from phenolic timing gears to metal, a big concern for me.  I think all 4.0’s had metal teeth by the 1990s, but this is one for the B&B to verify.

And with all this information, it’s time for perspective. The Jeep is fine provided you’re ready to replace all worn rubber bits (belts, hoses, vac lines, O-rings, bushings) and any signs of obvious neglect that naturally occurs on old machines. I’d rather do extensive basic upkeep on a ZJ than damn near any electrical glitch on an E46.

The ZJ is not a terrible choice for an addition to your rather cool family.  But a similar vintage Ford Explorer, Chevy Blazer or Toyota 4Runner is also fine.  The Chevy/Ford might be the best considering they do all the same things, but usually sell for less than the (artificial?) premium I see on Toyotas and Jeeps in the used car market.

Then again, if I wanted a daily driver, the ZJ is probably my favorite of the bunch.

Long story short: go ahead and get a fully-depreciated SUV for your family.  Care less about the brand, more about the options/condition/service history. Since you were kind enough to consider a Panther, I’d recommend you also consider the truly epic, 1993-only, ZJ Jeep Wagoneer.

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45 Comments on “Piston Slap: Hey Mister ZJ…...”

  • avatar

    A V8 is only good if the price of Gasoline doesn’t head way up in the weeks ahead imho!

  • avatar

    photogo2; I have a buddy who calls me an idiot all the time and I don’t have to write a car blog for that honor!

    I don’t recommend buying anything over 10 years old for a daily driver unless you have a short commute and a third vehicle in case one dies. We did that for years, but last summer we got rid of two vehicles, bought one new one and my wife drives her 10-year-old vehicle. It’s in good shape, so it should last a long time to come. Me? I commute 100 miles a day, although my previous car was in great shape, but I can’t go back and re-do, so I live with my decision…and monthly payment.

    Jeep Grand Cherokees, I understand, are pretty durable, even for a Chrysler, having friends – one a doctor – who drove them for many years and they never missed a beat.

    By the way, I understand your wife’s aversion to panthers – women generally hate big boats even though, according to Sajeev, the handling was much improved in the ten years since I have driven one. Most women do love big SUVs, though…go figure!

    Enjoy your Jeep!

    • 0 avatar

      There’s nothing wrong with using a car that’s older than 10 years old as a daily commuter. Although I think the secret to that is, you need to buy it new and take good care of it. I drove my 2001 Malibu as my daily driver until last summer. I gave it to my son, who now uses it as his daily driver. It has 110,000 miles on it and my mechanic says that it still has plenty of life in it.

      • 0 avatar

        You don’t even need to buy it new. It just needs to be well maintained. If someone isn’t mechanically inclined, they need to find someone who is that they trust to tell them when things are wearing out and what is leaking.

        I’ve always had 10+ year old cars in my rotation and drove them daily with minimal hassle. Just pay attention to the things your car is telling you.

        To me, a 2001 is a fairly new car. There are TONs of really great 2001 MY vehicles out there that make great daily drivers with minimal hassle.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 Danio

        A MY2001 car is a modern vehicle with modern conveniences. If you have one that hasn’t been beat to hell, and isn’t something of Sebring-quality-etc you won’t have an issue. I have one car (til I find a suitable 95-97 TC Cartier in the Cincy area) and it’s a 2001. Never had any issues in the 2 years I’ve owned it.

  • avatar

    Nothing wrong with your choice. As 90’s SUVs go, those are about the best you can get. A Magnum 5.2L is pretty easy/cheap to service as is just about everything else on that beast.

    Personally, I think the leather seats installed in those JGCs were some of the nicest ever made. If you can find one in nice shape, I say go for it.

    Don’t listen to all the fuel price nay sayers. You won’t have a payment on this baby as opposed to a modern “fuel saving” (but bank account draining) new model.

    That being said, if you’re going to dive in, do it would both feet and go straight for the 5.9 Limited of 1998 only IIRC.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second the seats being some of the best ever installed in a vehicle.. My good friend drove a ’95 JGC Limited during our college years (’00-’04) and I still remember those seats. Even when that truck was 7-8 years old (2002-2003) and generally neglected the interior still smelled like fresh leather and the seats were still as soft and comfortable as brand new.

  • avatar

    “What’s the deal with the B&B’s significant others’ non-love of Panthers?”

    Simple: They suck. And brown is ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfashionable. Suck isn’t a word I’d use for such good practical machinery.

      • 0 avatar

        “practical machinery” in a singularly useless form factor. How can something so ridiculously large have so little usable space inside? And nothing like a ride which manages to shudder over small bumps and wallow over large ones, plus steering with all the feel of a Frisby held up in the air in front of you. Delightful. And a big V8 which manages to be slow and gas sucking. But you can bash it into curbs, which is certainly what I look for in a car! The Fisher-Price quality interior is charming too. And these are the brand-new ones that Hertz foists on me as an “upgrade”, I am sure 150K specimens are just DEVINE.

      • 0 avatar

        What’s so practical about a boat that sinks when you put it in the lake?

        Just kidding! ;)

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        @krhodes I’d like to rent one of those mysterious 2012 Towncars or Grand Marquis/LTD Hertz reveals to the select few. My trip back to the family farm goes from airport to 4 lane interstate to 4 lane state highway, to 2 lane state highway, to 2 lane county road, to 1 1/2 lane gravel road. I prefer BOF for the trip; since I can’t get a Towncar, I get an F-150.

      • 0 avatar

        @krhodes1. Can’t help but smile at your snark my friend; however, the customer who goes looking for Panther-love is exactly the type that will overlook such small issues. For work recently, I had to drive from my comfy confines in Iowa to Killeen, TX; a lovely, long highway drive of 800 miles. My choices of rental were the new Focus SEL 5 door, ’12 Chevy Aveo, ’12 Altima base, four ever-present Caravan SEs, and one lonely, beautiful shy lady, a last model Mercury Grand Marquis GS. If this were a trip through the Rockies or Appalachians, the Focus would win hands down, but the buttery leather seats of the Marquis called me. Wallow? Yeah nah, that’s CUSH son! V8 slowly hummin’ at 2200 rpm doin’ 82 mph; Kansas, OK, and then Texas just blurred away. The Panther is the ultimate highway cruiser for out here in the sticks.

      • 0 avatar

        @el scotto

        I suppose that if you are the type to like driving Full Size pickups, a Panther probably feels like a sportscar.


        The problem with the #$#$# things for me is that A., I find the seats to be completely unsupportive and painfully uncomfortable, and B. they require FAR too much attention to keep in a lane on a straight flat highway due to the complete lack of steering feel and seemingly centering action. If I have to cover ridiculous distances in the fly-over states (and I used to do it all the time for work) my rental upgrade weapon of choice is whatever the big FWD Buick du jour is. Simply in another league from a Panther in every possible way from comfort to quiet to fuel efficiency.

    • 0 avatar

      They suck and aren’t ‘practical’ if you’re a prissy consumer that doesn’t like getting your fingernails bashed in while wrenching on your daily driver because you’re too smart / have enough time to keep your own ride going along.

      They’re awesome if you like a bullet proof, safe ride that has all the required nostalgia/feel from cars that are now extinct due to the new-found sally-amex-lease-tech consumerist

  • avatar
    Silent Ricochet

    My friend owned a 1995 Grand Cherokee with the same drivetrain combo and it was literally one of the biggest pieces of crap I’ve ever had the displeasure of working on. The transmission, in true Chrysler fashion, had to be rebuilt twice, and even then, it slammed into all 4 of it’s gears. The suspension was awkward feeling and didn’t really give me the impression that we were planted on the road. The gas mileage was absolutely awful, but that was expected. Its only saving grace was it’s bulletproof engine. All-in-all, my friend got it from his parents as a high school graduation gift – they spent about $4500. It was in great shape inside and out, but the drivetrain is where it really suffered and in the end, my friend wound up putting more money than it was worth into it.

    He sold it for $1200 in a day, thanks to craigslist, turned around and spent every penny he had on a Chevy Malibu with the 3.1 V6 and never looked back.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve only kept two vehicles longer than 5 years, one was my ’88 S10 Blazer, and the other was my ’93 Grand Cherokee. Was the GC perfect? No, but there were only two real problems with it. The major one was the A/C condensor would crack about every 18 months, in exactly the same place. And always just before I was going on a trip. Chrysler fixed it for free, so all I was out was the time involved taking it in and picking it up. They gave me a loaner, usually something I hated, but hey, it was free. The other problem was the steering stabilizer failed at about 50k, causing a truly scary “death shake” when you hit frost heaves at more than 40MPH. It seemed ok, the dealer(s) insisted it was, but I had them replace it and it was cured. Other than the above, and a couple of brand new model issues the first couple of weeks I had it, it was rock solid and I really liked it. Absolutely nothing out of pocket except for two batteries over the 7 years I had it, and a water pump at 50K, not because it was bad, but I hit a box of nails (Just sitting on the road over the top of a hill) and it punched out the radiator, fan, and PS hoses, so while they had it apart to fix that, I had the pump changed too. I did plugs and wires a couple of times myself. I decided to trade it in at 77K for a ’99 Grand Cherokee. I hated it, and it was gone as soon as I could get it gone, replaced by a 2000 Sierra 1500.

  • avatar

    “By the way, I understand your wife’s aversion to panthers – women generally hate big boats even though, according to Sajeev, the handling was much improved in the ten years since I have driven one. Most women do love big SUVs, though…go figure!”

    Really? My wife DROOLED over Grand Marquis for years and started crying when I bought her one. Go figure I guess!


    • 0 avatar

      Our women are in the minority. Altho most, then shown the light will come around.

      My wife has driven a large variety of large and boatish vehicles I have brought home over the years and has loved them all from Grand Marquises to Caprices to the latest, a 2013 Charger R/T.

      I’m thankful for that, because I have buddies who have woment who refuse to drive anything but a cute ute.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Go with a 4Runner or Pathfinder. Total cost of ownership will be lower. I’ve had family, friends and co-workers own Jeep GC’s of that vintage which is why I would never spend money on one.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree 4Runners of the period are a great buy if you can find them, but I have to disagree on Pathfinder, I saw no less than three of them (a ’93, ’94, and ’95) who all had extreme issues of frame damage and/or frame rot, and one of them was literally welded back together (very illegally might I add). Be wary if an early or mid 90s Pathfinder is offered to you.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree, because the cost of entry is SOOO much higher for those. If this were going to be the OP’s only car I would agree, maybe, but the calculus is a bit different on a 2nd car that will see limited use. Also parts for the Jeep are STUPID cheap, which is not the case for the Japanese trucks to anything like the same extent. Yes, they probably won’t need as many.

      I bought a WJ, which is the successor to the ZJ, last spring. Very similar use case to the OP, it’s my winter beater/ tow beast / Home Depot / dump run hack. I also figure I’ll do 5-6K a year. 2002 basic Laredo, 150K nicely kept, a couple repaired fender benders, but completely presentable. $3500. It came from a state with no inspection, cost me ~$600 to get it legal in Maine. Tie rod ends, leaking steering box, axle and pinion seals. I DIY’d the steering box and tie rods, paid to have the axle seals done.It has required nearly NO upkeep at all since. Nothing has broken or fallen off. It drives like a the big, fat, 4×4 truck that it is, no surprise there. Mine is a 4.0L six, I would not buy a V8 just because there is so much less room to work, parts are more expensive, and the gas mileage is that much worse. The I6 tows my buddy’s 5500lb boat just fine, you slow down on hills, oh well. I’m sure it would hold speed if I was willing to cane it, but what’s the rush when you are towing 5500LBs?

      The gas mileage has not been as bad as I expected, I get 20mpg around town (suburban noodling, not commute stop and go), 24 on the highway. 15 towing the boat.

      I would have bought a ZJ if I had found the right one, I don’t think there is really much in it. The WJ is a little more refined, but the XZJ is probably a tad more robust.

      I figure I will keep this one until it blows up, then find another one just like it.

  • avatar

    I would not touch any Grand Cherokee with a 10-foot pole.

    That being said, They have some pretty serious offroading suspension under them, and the V8 in a smaller package like that is compelling. You’d think it just HAS to be cool.

    And, if you’re looking at these earlier ZJ’s, I’d say maybe. Just maybe. If you simply couldn’t find anything else to do with your money.

    But, I’ve had two friends with the later WJ’s and 4.7’s, and they were both self-destructing piles of complete dog crap. My one friend loved his to death, even though it coughed up it’s transmission at 130K, and was otherwise a powerful, fast but temperamental SOB. At 130K, my Pathfinder felt barely broken in. In fact, I told him any vehicle that just pukes its tranny at 130K ought to be in the junkyard, not the highway.

    My other friend picked a WJ up–against all advice to the contrary–and it’s now a $6,000 paper weight, holding down a swatch of cardboard on his garage floor. The engine grenaded without so much as a twitch from the check engine light. Just kinda ground itself into oblivion. It’s been sitting for half a year because it’s a real toss-up whether or not it’s even worth the cost of putting in a replacement long block.

    Just an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions. But IMO, these Chrysler/Jeep products are crap. I could be wrong about the ZJ. And I know the fanboys love ’em. But I think you’d be better off with ANY domestic 4-door full-size truck with a shell on it. Or even a smaller 4-door in a Frontier or Tacoma.

    You know what JEEP stands for. . . “Just Empty Every Pocket.”

    • 0 avatar

      I have generally seen the same things from late 90s on Jeep products, especially V8s… but evidently the early ZJ was offered with the 318 which is actually a pretty good engine. Whether its good in a Jeep I can’t say.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s a transmission shop near where I work and I like to keep a mental tally of the cars and trucks that I see frequently in the parking lot…the “repeat offenders”. I see lots of GCs and Rams.

    • 0 avatar

      “At 130K, my Pathfinder felt barely broken in.”

      My 99.5 Pathfinder (mechanically identical to the 96-99’s) was the same way at 140k when I traded it in due to boredom. That was probably a mistake.

      Can’t say that I’ve known anyone who was happy with their JGC, but they aren’t very common around here, so maybe it’s due to a limited sample size.

  • avatar

    The weird horizontal shimmy these JGC suspension’s exhibit makes me sick to my stomach. The body feels like it is attached to the sub-frame with bags of jelly. One ride in a friends old JGC was enough to remind me why much more comfortable CUVs have replaced these dinosaurs on the market.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what happens when the suspension and steering joints get loose and sloppy on these. Worst case, you get the death wobble. As long as it’s maintained, they aren’t bad.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed 100%. Mine had severe shaking under braking until I fixed the worn front-end bits. Once fixed, it’s OK for what it is. I think it handles better than a GMC Jimmy or Ford Explorer of the same era, both of which feel very narrow and tippy to me. Stays flat, the steering is very direct and actually has a little road feel. It has live axles at both ends so the ride can be a little abrupt – mine has gas shocks on it which probably help the handling and hurt the ride. Really good brakes.

        Also to note – being unibody the Jeep has noticably more room inside than the BOF competition.

  • avatar

    The only reason to buy a ZJ is if you can’t find a SJ.

  • avatar

    Beerfest-‘a ZJ for $50…whats a ZJ? Buddy, if you have to ask…you cant afford it…’

  • avatar

    I like the body style, but I wouldn’t recommend a Grand Cherokee of that era for a daily driver unless wrenching on the weekends is just part of your normal routine.

    The engines ARE bulletproof, but I wouldn’t say that about the transmission. And these cars are semi-disposable, they were falling apart in the late 90’s, but 15-20 years later? Maybe its purely the owners, but these cars all seem pretty clapped out to me. I can’t remember the last time I saw a really nice one on the road.

    I agree with the recommendation that you’d be happier with a similar era 4Runner, even though the Grand Cherokee is more exciting.

  • avatar

    I see the 1st gen ZJs on the road all of the time, in fact a surprising number considering their age. The ’93-’95 ZJs have more issues with the electronics than the ’96-’98 due to a refresh in the computer system. Why the 5.2 V8? Unless you need it for towing, the 4.0 inline 6 is legendary for durability and gets OK mileage. The loose feeling in the steering is typical—replace all of the tie rod ends (there are 4) and it will feel surprisingly tight.

  • avatar

    I love the Grand Wagoneer. I’d definitely have one.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Magnum 5.2: indestructible. Keep an eye on a Dodge truck forum to figure out any issues it has (plenum gasket and plate along with the new replacements, CPS etc). Chrysler 46RH/E transmission: unless it was just replaced or just had a quality rebuild job, run as fast as you can and don’t look back. There’s a reason manually shifted Dakotas and Rams fetch so much more than their self-shifting counterparts, even with the weak-kneed AX-15 and NV3500 gearboxes.

    I’d steer clear of the inline-6s for the same reason, if I’m not mistaken they used the 42RH/Es. Also look out for electronics issues on the more heavily loaded models.

  • avatar

    My Father has a 1997 Ram 5.2/auto– original engine and transmission with 280,000+

    It pulls a 24′ boat fine. Shifts fine. Runs fine. Air works fine.

    These doomsday stories are greatly exaggerated. It’s needed a handful of parts over these years– a radiator, a window lift. Shocks.

    • 0 avatar


      Must have had the 2wd, my dad bought one with a 360 (thats 5.9l for my metric friends) back in late 1998 and it provided good service to ny family over the 2000s. We gave it to a family friend back in mid 2011.

      Bonus: whilst working at a Twin Cities Dodge dealer circa 2002, the guy working next to me replaced head gaskets on Neons (if a Viper wasn’t in the shop) ALL DAY LONG. The others, rebuilt transmissions on, yes, 4wd Rams…..

  • avatar

    I would go with a GM for this one. A 1992-1999 Chevy/GMC Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban.

    They are solid truck with the perfected 5.7L.

  • avatar

    Absolutely buy the ZJ. I have one- it was my first car. Drove the absolute crap out of it in college and it survives to this day as a fair weather off-road toy. A few notes:
    -don’t get a 93. The grand wagoneer may be cool but the rear drum breaks are most definitely not (mine is a 93- the brakes are the worst part of the vehicle by far).
    -Have someone else do the ball joints… just trust me
    -Do the control arms yourself
    -Get one with the up country suspension, tow package and skid plates. Mine has these. The skid plates are amazing- they take a somewhat capable vehicle and make it super awesome on the trails. The upcountry suspension has a mild lift and the stance is just so much better- you get a bit of a lift (and some room for bigger tires) without the worry of questionable reliability of aftermarket lifts.
    -CV joint replacement is super easy
    -The ZJ is such an amazing vehicle! Get a 5.2- they sound soooooo good with a mild exhaust (also do not attempt yourself unless you can really weld- the exhaust goes up over the wheels).


  • avatar

    Great buy fully depreciated, these things were everywhere when they came out here in the rock salt /snow belt. And they still are, unlike their Japanese counterparts, which have pretty much oxidized into oblivion.

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