For Sale: 1989 Jeep Cherokee Pioneer

Posted by Arlo on Oct 9, 2008 under Life of Arlo

Pioneer logo

For Sale:
Jeep Cherokee Pioneer, 1989.  Automatic, 6-Cyl. 4-liter, 4×4, CD player, 135k miles.  Juneau body, but starts every time.  KBB at “fair” value $1200.  Asking $1000.  Comes with FULL DISCLOSURE.


So, yeah, I upgraded.  Jeep 2.0…04.  I don’t need to be paying insurance for two Jeeps when the old one is just sitting there, so I guess it’s time to sell it. 

Below you’ll find everything there is to know about my old Jeep.  Part disclosure, part memorial; this was written mostly for me.  This is how I’ll remember a car that treated me well for 10 years.

This isn’t a glamorous Jeep.  It’s a 20-year-old Jeep Cherokee Pioneer that didn’t have a ton of options to begin with.  I figure it’s in “poor” condition by Kelly Blue Book standards, but I’m not the kind of guy that’ll try to hide the problems to make some extra cash.  I think this Jeep is probably worth $1000.  If you agree, and you want to buy it for that, it’s yours.  Contact information is at the very end of this entry.

Minor Problems:

Possibly Major Problems:

Only a Problem if you feel the need to fix it:



On the Plus Side:

My grandfather bought it new, in 1988 or ’89.  He’s an avid fisherman, and it was often used as a beach buggy on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  It made many, many trips between their home and their summer cottage, 45 minutes away.  In fact, that’s probably where close to 100,000 of its miles came from.

He didn’t spend extra for many options.  No rear defrost, no intermittent wipers, no cruise control.  On the plus side, it’s got a roof rack!

I remember the first time I borrowed it at the beach.  I was only running to the grocery store, but I was 18 or 19 at the time and driving the new Jeep still felt like a privledge.  I carefully backed it down the long driveway, conscious of the rest of the family idly watching from the porch.  Traffic was thick and I had to wait awhile to find a gap between cars.  When my chance came, I quickly backed out into my lane, switched to drive, and accelerated up to speed.  Unfortunately, the Jeep had quite a bit more get-up-and-go than the Volkswagon Beetle I’d been driving back home – the tires squeeled on the dry pavement.  Shoulders hunched in an involuntary cringe, I drove away knowing I’d hear about it when I got back.

In 1997, the air conditioning went out and my grandfather was told it would cost about $2000 to repair.  He decided to buy a new Jeep and give this one to my mom.  The only catch was that she lived in Alaska.  Enter me and my college roommates!

Joe and I had done something similar in 1992 when my grandmother gave away her Chevy Cavalier.  My grandparents flew me down to NC (Joe had to pay his own way, but got a cool road trip out of the deal), gave us their gas card, filled the back seat with groceries, and sent us on our way.  6,000 miles (and many, many games of Street Fighter II) later, we drove off the ferry in Ketchikan.  This time, Joe could only spare a week, so we decided he was going to trade off driving duties to another college roommate, Mike, in Las Vegas, before flying home.

That first trip with the Cavalier was in November.  We drove the Jeep back in August.  Without AC.  Through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada.  As bad as you think that sounds… it was probably worse.

While we were passing through El Paso, the brakes went out completely.  And by completely, I mean straight-to-the-floor, might-as-well-have-shifted-into-neutral completely.  Fortunately, we discovered the problem while pulling out of a Wendy’s drive-thru (if we’d been on the freeway, we might not have stopped until New Mexico.)  As I eased the Jeep toward the street exit, I pushed the brake pedal in and felt it go right to the floor.  We were going slow enough that the front wheels simply rocked back and forth a couple times in the drain by the curb. If we’d been going any faster, we would have gone right out into traffic.  I used the emergency brake to get us back to the hotel.

We called up the nearest Midas and brought the Jeep in first thing in the morning (during a hellacious thunderstorm.)  After a half hour or so, we were given the estimate: $700.  Brakes needed replacing, master cylinder, the works.  I had to call my grandfather and tell him the bad news.  He’d had the Jeep checked out by his mechanic before we left and, supposedly, there was nothing wrong with the brakes then.  I couldn’t tell him if we were being ripped off or not, only that we really, truly didn’t have any stopping power.  He grudgingly gave us his credit card number; if he hadn’t we might still be there.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.  Joe switched off with Mike in Las Vegas, and we drove it the rest of the way up the country, into Canada, up the Cassier Highway, and down into the tiny border town of Stewart/Hyder.  From there it was only a short ferry trip along the Alaska Marine Highway.  We delivered the Jeep to my mom in Ketchikan, where she held on to it for just over a year.

Jeep parked at a lake in California

The Jeep came back to me as a birthday present in 1998; I’ve been driving it in Juneau ever since.

It was in decent shape when I got it, certainly the best car I’d ever owned up to that point.  I made a promise to myself to take care of it.  I began by trying to “fix” certain small problems.

Exposure to lots of salt air (during its life as a beach buggy) had two effects.  One was on the paint job, and seems to be endemic to seaside Jeeps.  Some sort of coating, a wax or enamel or something, began to peel off.  Like sunburned skin, I could use a fingernail to flake off little white bits.  The paint underneath didn’t seem any more susceptible to rust, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The other problem was more annoying.  The humidity and salt air got up under the upholstery on the ceiling, causing the fabric to detach and hang down like a thin flannel sheet.  Granddad battled the inevitable by rolling sections of it up and pinning them in place with binder clips, but it still sagged from the middle.  Being taller than him, it annoyed me more; it hung down just far enough to drape over the top of my head.  (Without the binder clips, it would have covered my head like a blanket draped over a basketball.)

One sunny day, I got the notion the Jeep would be better off without that thin sheet of upholstery.  Bad idea.  After tearing it out, I realized it had been attached to some ugly, spray-on insulation.  Brown and tan, like a roof full of coffee stains. I pulled that out, exposing the bare metal underside of the roof.  Other than the electrical wiring running to the dome lamp, it didn’t look too bad.  The next few summer months were fine; the problems began when the weather turned cold.

Bare jeep ceiling, please ignore the incidental Cody and camera

You see, insulation is important in a car!  The heat loss through the roof was annoying, but the real problem was condensation.  Every time the inside of the car gets warmer than the outside (which is just about every day from October to April in Alaska) condensation forms on that cold metal ceiling.  In the dead of winter, it’s hardly a problem – drops of water freeze in place and stay frozen.  In the spring and fall, however, a bump in the road can send cold drops of water down the back of your neck.

Wheres the Jeep?

I learned to minimize the condensation by swinging the door a few times when I got out.  Equalizing the temperature between the inside and outside before sealing off the environment helps quite a bit, but to this day it can still rain in that Jeep. 

Speaking of heating, that’s been a bit of a problem in the winter.  The temperature coming out of the vents is tepid on the best of days.  It’s enough to defrost the windshield, but on a very cold day, there’s no way it’s going to warm up that cavernous interior.  I purchased a small ceramic heater that plugs into the cigarette lighter.  That helps, but I can only use it at half power (150W).  At 300 watts, it blows a fuse.

Jeep in winter

When I first took ownership of the Jeep, one of my priorities was to upgrade the stock radio.  Within a couple weeks, I’d purchased a Sony CD player from Crutchfield.  From the pre-iPod era, it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but everything you’d expect is there.  AM/FM radio, presets, removable face plate.  Too bad the sound system is so terrible.

I think the speaker in the driver-side door shorted out when water once leaked down along the window.  The two in the rear hatchback are blown and sound horrible if you turn the bass up.  Speakers aren’t terribly expensive, but I never got around to replacing them.

Let’s talk about the Jeep’s body for a moment.  Is it a “Juneau body?”  That is to say, does it have its fair share of rust?  Well, yes.  Yes it does.
On the drive back from North Carolina, there were really only a couple, small rust spots on it.  A little piece on the gas cap cover, a tiny corner of the hood near the windshield.  I don’t have a garage, so it’s spent most of its parking life unsheltered and, as a result, more rust has developed (especially at the bottom of the doors.)  Interestingly, while my wife’s old Mazda went from spots-to-gaping holes in just a couple years, the Jeep has weathered the oxidation much better.  Quality metal, I suspect.  At any rate, nowhere has the rust come close to penetrating all the way through to the interior.

Rust on the gas cap

One of the rustiest spots happens to be on the passenger-side, rear quarter-panel.  See… one day, during rush hour I was heading inbound on Egan.  I turned onto Mendenhall Loop Road and, in the middle of traffic, slowed for the stoplight ahead.  Turns out a woman behind me, in a brand new pickup, used that moment to throw a quick, over-the-shoulder look so she could merge into the right lane.  She must have looked before my brake lights came on.  She almost made it, but her bumper clipped mine.  It bent everythhing upwards, demolished the whole taillight assembly, and wrinkled up the quarter panel quite a bit.

Just so you know, the Jeep isn't quite so dirty now

I remember being initially quite upset, but after dealing with her and the police, the whole situation turned around.  She was driving a company car and had it fully insured.  My responsibility, after talking with the insurance company, was to simply take the Jeep around to some local body shops and get quotes.  I think I got three, and discarded the bottom one.  I submitted a claim for $2800, the insurance company actually sent someone out to take photos of the damage, and then a week or so later I was feeling a lot less like a starving college student. 

When I found out that it would cost hundreds of dollars to get a new taillight installed locally, I searched around online until I found an online junkyard.  I sent them an e-mail, telling them what I was looking for, and a day later they sent back a quote.  $25.  They shipped it to me, I screwed it into place, and pocketed $2775.

Other than one other incident, I don’t believe the Jeep has been in any other wrecks.

That other incident happened around the dangerous curve by the Anderson Building in Auke Bay.  It was a wet night; I was driving toward town, bound for an evening game of ultimate.  There was a small compact car in front of me, maybe a Ford Focus or a Saturn Geo.  A construction site pickup truck (what you’d call a drop-side or tray-top truck, I guess, with a truly flat bed, without sides) came speeding around the curve from the opposite direction.  It was loaded with construction equipment and, I found out later, late for a ferry departure.  The driver was going too fast and the load, obviously not properly tied down, began to slide off the bed.  Centrifugal force tossed it right into our lane.

The construction truck

As I watched the accident unfold, my sense of time stretched out.  In slow motion, I watched a garbage can-sized container tip over and fall right in front of the Geo.  Their brake lights didn’t even come on until after the collision; they hit it at about 35mph.  Metal brackets the size of my fist exploded from the container, littering the road.  My foot was already on the brakes, and I was mentally calculating that, yes, I would be able to stop before hitting the Geo and, in all likelihood, be able to steer through all the brackets even though they were scattering into both lanes.

At this point, maybe 1 second had elapsed.  The pickup truck hadn’t even passed me yet.

I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when a second container, a large blue Rubbermaid tub, fell right in front of me.  I was still moving forward when it hit the road, literally a foot or two in front of my bumper.  Time was still slowed, but there was no time to turn.  I gripped the wheel harder, probably said, “Shh-!” and then ran over it.

Tub o Brackets

The Jeep practically vaulted over the container; it must have gone right under my left front tire.  When a car like that launches into the air, even if it’s only a foot or two up, it makes one hell of a noise when it lands.  I half expected to find that both axles were snapped in two and all four tires were flat.

Instead, a cosmetic support strut was bent a little.  All I had to do was bend it back.  Near as I could tell, the tires weren’t even knocked out of alignment.  I like Jeeps.

Damaged Strut

Damaged Strut, close up

I stopped the car, got out, and looked back in time to see the construction truck continue around the corner.  For a moment, I thought he was going to keep going, but he finally noticed his lost load.  Cars were piling up in both directions, so the first thing I did was jump out in the road and start gathering up metal brackets.  I worked my way up to the Geo and asked if they were okay.  Having such a low clearance meant that their car (a rental!) took more damage; the bumper was cracked and hanging low, and the grill was missing.  The police showed up not long after and took our statements.

Unfortunately, the second accident wasn’t easy to resolve, insurance-wise.  After a couple weeks, I gave up because the pickup truck driver, as I imagine is often the case, promised everything when the cops were around, only to drag his feet when I later contacted him.  I could have gone after him – the police report said he was at fault – but there was no real structural damage to my Jeep.  Didn’t seem worth the effort at the time, though I’d feel guilty now if I found out he got off scot-free.  I reassure myself by thinking that the rental car company must have gone after him.

Rental car damage

The only other significant problem with the Jeep’s bodywork is a small crease on the corner of the driver’s side door.  This happened, apparently, when the Jeep was in the shop, up on a lift.  I don’t know if it wasn’t centered properly, or what, but somehow that small strip of body work managed to get bent a little.  The door was a bit sticky for a few days after it happened, but I don’t even notice it now.  Compared to the other dents and rust, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

Let’s see.  What else is wrong with this Jeep?

There are some issues with the wipers.  The rear wiper is gone, though the assembly remains.  To be honest, it’s been gone so long that I don’t remember if I removed it because the wiper motor was shot, the wiring to the motor was shot, or if the wiper itself was bent or broken.  At any rate, I haven’t had a rear wiper for quite some time.

The front wipers are fine, except that the driver’s side wiper moves a little too far to the left.  It catches the trim on the edge of the windshield and makes an annoying “tick” sound each time.  It doesn’t appear to actually affect the rain-clearing performance; however it may ultimately be shortening the life of the blade.

The blinkers work intermittently, and by that I don’t mean they flash as they should.  I can’t quite figure them out, to be honest.  Sometimes they work correctly, both front, back, and side lights blinking correctly.  Sometimes one side or the other will signal with a solid “on” light – usually an indication that a bulb is out.  I’ve replaced the bulbs, had them work for a time, then go back to solid… and then start working again!  I suppose this indicates a wiring problem, maybe a short somewhere.  Perhaps it only happens when it’s raining, when things get wet?  Like I said, I can’t quite figure them out.

Speaking of the rain, I should mention something about the brakes.  They seem to work better in the rain – almost too good, to be honest.  I’ve noticed that when it’s wet out, the right-side rear brakes lock up pretty easily.  (Not that this Jeep has anti-lock brakes – if you smash down the brake pedal, they’re ALL going to lock up.)  Could be related to the mysterious master cylinder leak.  Mysterious, because I have no idea where the brake fluid is draining, but every 6 months or so, I need to pop it open and top off the reservoir.  I don’t consider this a hardship – I’ve been on the same bottle of brake fluid for the last 3 years.

You might think that the treads on the tires have suffered because of this.  Well, maybe they have.  When shopping around online for my new Jeep, I noticed quite a few people using selling points like “90% treads on tires!”  I don’t think I’ll be doing that.  Who’d get excited over “20% treads on most tires?”  At any rate, I haven’t had any trouble with them.  While the tread may be pretty thin, there are no steel belts poking through or anything.  And for the record, I’ve never had a flat in this Jeep, so you won’t have to worry about a bunch of fix-a-flat gunk clogging up the insides.

Closeup on the treads, passenger side front

If there ever is a flat tire, it shouldn’t be too big a deal.  The Jeep has a spare tucked away in the back.  Not only that, but it’s still got the original jack tucked down under the passenger seat.  How’s that for a plus?

Let’s get past a couple other minor problems before we end up with what may be the biggest worry.

There’s always been a small air leak somewhere around the passenger-side windows.  I figure it’s probably a crack in the weather-stripping somewhere, but I’ve never been able to locate it.  It’s no bother, really, just carries a bit more of the road noise into the interior.  Can’t even hear it with the CD player is on.

Also, some of the doors are getting a little sticky, especially the rear ones.  Perfectly understandable, as they’re opened and closed much less often than the front doors.  Nothing a bit a grease or WD-40 wouldn’t fix right up, I’d imagine.

That reminds me:  The lock on the driver’s side door is pretty sticky, too.  You can easily push the key in and pull it out, but turning it to unlock the door is tough enough to make you wonder if the key is going to snap off inside.  Never has for me, and I’ve never had to go around and unlock the passenger side instead, but this is full disclosure, right?  Thought you’d like to know.  (And hey, if you’re that worried about it, let me tell you: You’ll be getting THREE sets of keys if you buy this car!  What a deal!)

Speaking of locks, I wouldn’t lock the hatchback if I were you.  I did that once and had to jiggle it forever to get it open.  Also, the hatchback itself rattles around a little bit.  I wouldn’t fault you for thinking that came about after the first accident, but actually my grandfather pointed it out even before we drove it across the country.  His quite servicable solution was to place a bit of foam padding around where the latch slams down.  Does wonders.

Okay, let’s talk about the potential deal-breaker.  I think there’s an oil leak somewhere.

Last year, I noticed that after the Jeep had been driving for awhile, the oil pressure would drop.  This didn’t occur at all on short drives, and not even all the time on longer ones, but after awhile it was hard not to notice something was going on.  At a certain RPM, the Jeep would start to shudder – nothing that impacted how it handled on the road, but obviously something that couldn’t be ignored.

I took it in to get it worked on and the mechanic confirmed that low oil pressure could definitely cause a shudder.  They replaced a bunch of seals and o-rings and things seemed to be good for a time, but just before I bought my new Jeep, I noticed the pressure dropping again.

Now, it could be that a new quart of oil poured in every once in awhile is all it’d take to keep the Jeep running indefinitely, I don’t know.  Could also mean something more expensive is in order.  Like I said, this is the only thing that really worries me about the Jeep.  Most everything else could probably be fixed up by a weekend tinkerer with a few tools and a dry parking spot.

Let’s not end on a bad note, shall we?  Have I mentioned the four-wheel drive?  It works, and it works quite well.  I’ve used it every winter, without studded tires, and it hasn’t failed me yet.  On snow, ice, or slush, doesn’t matter.  The Jeep climbs hills, leaps forward from icy intersections, and pretty much handles anything to do with acceleration.  (Stopping, on the other hand, is not something 4WD will help you with.  Be advised.)

So, that’s it, that’s my Jeep for sale.  Admittedly, it’s not in the best condition, but it’s served me well.  It comes with problems, sure, but at least the buyer of this used car will know about every single one of them before they drop any money on it.  Full disclosure.  Should be worth something.

Oh, did I mention the bumper sticker?  You’ll be a proud supporter of Releasing Bluefish in North Carolina.  That should be worth something, too, right?

If you set them free and they return, you will know they love you

Yeah, I don’t know, either.

For what it’s worth, the following information was taken from the Kelly Blue Book website:

9/25/08 Kelly Blue Book value based on Private Party Sales

Kelley Blue Book does not attempt to report a value on a “poor” vehicle because the value of these vehicles varies greatly. A vehicle in poor condition may require an independent appraisal to determine its value.

Excellent Condition $1,815
Good Condition $1,530
Fair $1,200
  • Some mechanical or cosmetic defects and needs servicing but is still in reasonable running condition.
  • Clean title history, the paint, body and/or interior need work performed by a professional.
  • Tires may need to be replaced.
  • There may be some repairable rust damage.
Poor $ N/A
  • Severe mechanical and/or cosmetic defects and is in poor running condition.
  • May have problems that cannot be readily fixed such as a damaged frame or a rusted-through body.
  • Branded title (salvage, flood, etc.) or unsubstantiated mileage.

Interested?  Want to kick the tires or take it for a drive?  Give me a call at 321-4033 or send me an e-mail.