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Avinash Vora

Advice for buying a used Wrangler TJ

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Hello! I’m looking at buying a used Wrangler for off-roading, and wanted some advice on how to make the right selection. Since this is going to be a car mostly for the purpose of weekend drives, I don’t want to spend too much money on it, so 2005-2006 TJs seem to be the best bet for my price range. I’m looking at a 3-door, 4-litre automatic. I’ve never bought a used car before that’s as old as this, and definitely never a Jeep, so I wanted to get some advice from people who have either owned one, bought a used one, and people who drive in the desert.

  • Is this a good choice for the desert? From what I’ve seen, it’s probably one of the most common cars in the sand. They have a great power-to-weight ratio, and the clearance angles are great.
  • What’s the best way to scope out how good a condition the car is actually in? Most of the vehicles I am seeing are not available with full service history. Can I get a car checked at a mechanic? Who does this and how much does it cost?
  • Should I look at cars with desert modifications/upgrades? There are plenty that I can find with lifts, larger wheels and tires, and upgrades to the roll cage done. It will be cheaper than getting a car that’s stock (assuming, of course, the car is actually clean. I am not sure how to actually verify this).
  • How reliable are these cars? It’s hard to find anything in this model year range that doesn’t have at least 150,000 km on the odometer, if not 200,000 km.
  • If I do buy a stock car (assuming it is clean), what are the basic upgrades that I should consider, where should I get those done, and how much do I budget for it?
  • For a car this old, what mechanics/garages in Dubai are reliable and trustworthy for servicing the car?
  • Is there something in particular I should look for (either as something good or something to avoid) when I inspect and test drive the car?

Thanks in advance!

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First of all don't but if you must buy a sheep buy absolutely bone stock with the lowest mileage and best cared for possible. A bone stock TJ is more than capable for pretty rough terrain. 

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If you don’t suggest a Jeep at all, what would you recommend instead? I’m not particularly tied to the brand or model, I’d just like something capable and hopefully reliable.

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Wrangler TJ with a 4.0 litre engine is a very capable car in stock condition. Also, you are in the right season to buy an off-road car as the offroading season is over and you can get a good deal.

Few points from my side:

1. Buy a vehicle which is as stock as possible.

2. The 4.0 litre engine is bullet proof and you should not have issues with it. But regarding the automatic transmission, transfer case, etc. are things that need to be checked. 

3. Try to get a GCC spec car. Try to find out the accident history of the car. Some cars have been in rolls or flips. 

4. And you definitely will have to keep AED 5000 aside to get a full maintenance done and all fluid changes.

2 minutes ago, Avinash Vora said:

If you don’t suggest a Jeep at all, what would you recommend instead? I’m not particularly tied to the brand or model, I’d just like something capable and hopefully reliable.

This depends on your budget. If you can mention that you can get some good advice.

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Thanks for the useful reply!

I’m definitely only considering a GCC car.

Re: 1. So for beginner-level desert driving, lifts etc. aren’t required? That’s good news.

Re: 2. What’s the best place to check these out? I’m definitely not capable of checking that myself unless there are some immediate and severe symptoms that would be apparent in a test drive.

Re: 4. I figured something along this amount for a service. Is there a good mechanic that you could recommend?

In terms of my budget, I’m looking at AED ~25,000 for the car, excluding things like a service, safety items and other desert-required equipment. I have read the post about good buys in the <10,000 and <20,000 used car price points, and the TJ seems to be recommended highly on that, as well as widely available. What else would you recommend?

(edited to include things outside of the car budget clearly)

Edited by Avinash Vora
Include things outside of the car budget clearly
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Modifications are definitely not required when you start offroading. A stock and proper 4x4 should do just fine. You can do the mods after you understand thoroughly what the vehicle can and cannot do.

In the budget of 25,000 you can get a good condition Xterra which would be capable as well as reliable. Jeeps are fun to drive but they get abused a lot and reliability is not their main forte. I do drive a Cherokee XJ and though it has initially troubled me I love it completely as it's a simple car and I enjoy doing self work on it. But reliability is an issue.

Regarding getting the vehicle checked you can take it to any known mechanic who can do a thorough check. I am not aware of any mechanic in Dubai, maybe someone else on the forum would know.

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27 minutes ago, Srikumar said:

In the budget of 25,000 you can get a good condition Xterra which would be capable as well as reliable.

I see several good deals on stock Xterras, thanks for the heads up. It seems a bit easier to get one that’s clean. I am 100% behind you that Japanese reliability is great.

Thanks for the advice!

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I second on everything @Srikumar has mentioned and advice. If you don't have any special affinity for Jeeps or Wrangler then Xterra makes a better choice - hands down. 

In 25K you can get cleaner and more latest model than Wrangler. Stock Xterra is absolutely capable of all type of drives you ever wish. If you continue this hobby, simply get the bash plate on Xterra (500-1000 dhs) and you are sorted. They are an awesome climber and damn reliable for offroading in the UAE as far as you can develop an ignore mode for it's squeaking suspension - known issue (minor).

For any offroad ride, make sure that it not been previously used for dune bashing as it takes a huge toll on engine, gear, suspension, bushes. Pick the 4x4 that comes with skinny road tires and visually inspect the car interior for the presence of sand under the seats, mats and small crevices. If 4x4 has been regularly used for dune bashing it's very difficult to eliminate complete traces of sand.

Go for full-service history car as far as possible and with as low mileage so that you have some good usable life, remember dune bashing takes a lot of toll on the overall life of the car.

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Great tips on looking for traces of sand, I'll definitely check that out.

18 minutes ago, Gaurav said:

In 25K you can get cleaner and more latest model than Wrangler. Stock Xterra is absolutely capable of all type of drives you ever wish. If you continue this hobby, simply get the bash plate on Xterra (500-1000 dhs) and you are sorted. They are an awesome climber and damn reliable for offroading in the UAE as far as you can develop an ignore mode for it's squeaking suspension - known issue (minor).

While I'm definitely going to scope out some Xterras, what are your thoughts on a 3.8l 3-door Pajero, assuming of course service history and no modifications? 

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16 minutes ago, Avinash Vora said:

While I'm definitely going to scope out some Xterras, what are your thoughts on a 3.8l 3-door Pajero, assuming of course service history and no modifications? 

They are good too, but not better than Xterra in terms of offroad capabilities and approach and departure angles.

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