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Six things to check before buying a used Jeep

Jeeps are built tough. They’re designed to handle your daily drive to work, whether work is across the desert, over the river or just ‘round the mountain. When it comes to resale value, their ruggedness can be a gift and a curse, because unlike other used vehicles, you don’t know if a used Jeep spent its past life as a highway cruiser, a mountain goat or a mud hog.

compass offroad

If you’re looking to become a part of Jeep’s iconic brand culture but want to start with something that’s already been broken in, beside your usual “used car” lookover, make sure to check these six things.

1. The undercarriage, especially the skid plates

Of all the aftermarket Jeep parts out there, the skid plates are going to take the hardest beating on the trail, because that’s what they’re there for. “If the skid plates are all scarred up, it’s the first indication of hard off-roading … sometimes customers come in here and they don’t know their Jeep has been off-roaded, and it can break down on them in a very short time,” said Albert Contreras, owner of Jeep Thrillz in Compton, CA.

underneath movie

Crawl all the way under the vehicle and look for scratches, scrapes and dents as well as signs of fresh paint and recently replaced parts – all are indicators that you’re looking at a wild beast and not a house cat.

But maybe wild is just what you’re going for. A few bumps and bruises are just signs of experience if what you need is a machine to take off the beaten path yourself. Before you sign anything though, make sure to check for …

2. Leaks

As solid as a Jeep may seem, inside that tough exterior is an intricate system of moving parts, hoses, tubes and attachments. All of those moving parts need to be kept cool and lubricated, but it only takes one cracked seal or vindictive stone to make your Jeep bleed.

jeep cherokee adjustment

The most common leaks are oil and coolant, so be sure to thoroughly check for both. Look for stains left on the driveway beneath the vehicle, visible damage to any tanks or hoses and smoking from the hood when the engine is hot.

If the Jeep has been properly maintained, it should be revved and ready to go – without any leakage. But your dream machine isn’t ready to hit the road until you’ve inspected it for …

3. Rust spots

If you live in south Texas, rust might seem like a myth to you, but this monster is definitely real and it could be feasting on your potential Jeep’s floor panels. A little rust is to be expected when buying any used vehicle, especially in a snowy climate.

rusty floor

Unlike any used vehicle, a Jeep is likely to have forded rivers and had its underbelly caked with mud. Do a thorough inspection to make sure the previous owner took good care of their Jeep and kept the rust monster at bay, or you could be facing some expensive repairs very soon. [The floor, under the carpet, may also be a problem — ed.] While you’re up close and personal, also look for …

4. Modifications

One of the beauties of owning a Jeep is the availability of aftermarket parts to customize it for your style. Some of these are purely aesthetic, but many Jeep modifications change the way the vehicle will ride both on and off the road.

It is important to know whether any modifications were done by the owner or a mechanic. It is not necessarily bad if the owner did them on their own, but it will mean you cannot take it back to them later to ask for a fix on an improperly installed modification.

Make sure to check if the vehicle has been lifted or if some aspects of the suspension are newer than others. The suspension is a complicated aspect of a Jeep and improperly installed modifications could make for a rough ride and shorter life span for the vehicle.

Also check for any worn or broken suspension parts, such as bushings, control arms and ball joints. You can get a good idea of the suspension’s health by taking a close look at …

wheel and tire5. The tires

Replacing tires is a fact of life, so a little wear is nothing to worry about. The important thing to look for is whether the tires have worn evenly.

There are many types of tire wear, all of which can be indications of different issues in your Jeep. If the tires have not been regularly rotated, the front pair are likely to be worn down farther than the rear, as they hold the weight of the engine. If the tire treads are wearing unevenly, such as only on the edges or down the center, the Jeep could have a suspension problem.

If the tires aren’t wearing evenly, you could be in for a giant load of issues very quickly, but if they’re all equally perky or weary, your investigation is done. Almost.

6. The model’s recall history

Sometimes, things happen and recalls are one of the inevitabilities of the automobile industry. In the name of performance and safety, a company occasionally needs to make an adjustment to an aspect of a certain model produced between x and y dates at z production plant.

Before you show off your new used Jeep to all the world, check its recall history. The NHTSA has an online list of vehicles which have been recalled and you can ask the previous owner for a service history so you know the Jeep is up to date and totally safe.

If your inspection goes well and the vehicle passes all the tests, then prepare for a wild ride. Before you know it, your new Jeep will have a name and your closet will be full of Jeep clothing.

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