The Jeep Grand Cherokee's 4.0-liter straight six engine, originally created by American Motors and improved by Chrysler, is a classic, one of Jeep's best.
RICHARD TRUETT

How I accidentally bought a Jeep, and liked it

Richard Truett covers engineering for Automotive News.
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I accidentally bought a mint condition 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo a few weeks ago on the Internet.

I wasn’t looking for a different vehicle and, if I was, a Jeep wouldn’t have topped my list. But between projects one day, my colleague Larry P. Vellequette was surfing the Internet looking at classic Jeep Cherokees -- the old, boxy XJ version that Chrysler built until 2001. Those things are becoming quite collectible. And Larry wants to own one again.

Finding vehicles for other people is a hobby of mine. It’s more fun helping others spend their hard-earned money than it is to part with my own. And after some lunch-hour online trolling, I found a one-owner, minty fresh Grand Cherokee Laredo with just 62,665 miles in Virginia.

Then the light flicked on.

Detroit is suffering through its worst winter in a century. The roads, with potholes big enough to swallow a Fiat 500, are crumbling, and the snow is piled high. It’s the perfect environment for a Jeep.

The Grand Cherokee didn’t sell on eBay. But I made a low-ball offer ($8,000) for it offline, not expecting it to be accepted. But it was. And that’s how I “accidentally” ended up with the Jeep.

When you buy a car online, there are always surprises. Luckily, the Jeep arrived here needing only a few minor fixes, such as new struts for the hood and tailgate, new floor mats, and a new remote for the door locks. I’ll probably install new shocks this year, but otherwise, the car is tip-top.

Here are some early observations on owning my first Jeep:

• Jeep is America’s brand of off-road and all-terrain vehicles, much like Land Rover is to Great Britain. Too bad Jeep has been sullied somewhat by vehicles such as the Compass and Patriot that have no business wearing the brand’s badge. Let’s hope that under Fiat rule, the Jeep name is protected and used only on appropriate vehicles -- those that live up to the brand’s go-anywhere spirit. I hope the new Renegade is a real Jeep.

• The Grand Cherokee’s 4.0-liter straight six engine, originally created by American Motors and improved by Chrysler, is a classic, one of Jeep’s best. Smooth, powerful and with a reputation for lasting 200,000-plus miles with good maintenance, the 4.0-liter is a gem. Too bad more automakers don’t use the straight six layout.

• Chrysler’s parts support for a 14-year-old vehicle is impressive. I visited a Detroit dealer’s parts department and the store had the key fob for the remote-controlled door locks in stock. The dealership service manager told me that the classic Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee of my era have rabid fan bases and that nearly everything needed to repair them is still available from Mopar, Fiat Chrysler’s parts operation. That’s a pleasant surprise, given that most companies stop supporting vehicles after 10 years.

• That same service manager drives a vintage Grand Cherokee himself, and his kids drive them. He told me of a technician at his store who has six vintage Cherokees and Grand Cherokees in his family. When the people you trust to repair your car -- the people who know just about every weak area of a vehicle -- put their trust and their families in the same model you own, it makes you feel great.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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