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© Jeep And I'm sorry.How do you buy a 20-year-old SUV? Head to Craigslist or the used car lot on the dusty side of town, plop down the better part of 2000, and hope your new old sled holds together 'til spring.
Unless you're shopping for a Jeep Cherokee made before 2001. Find yourself a really good one-low miles, clean interior, untouched by rust or run-ins-and you're liable to drop upwards of 10,000. That's crazy money for a family 4x4 designed during the Reagan years, once as common as soccer balls in America's suburbs.
And I'm afraid I'm to blame.
© Jeep I'm the Reason Why Old Cherokees Are Expensive NowThe XJ-generation Cherokee was introduced in 1984. It was universal, the original SUV. Cherokees were everywhere throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, so common you barely noticed them. In the northeast where I grew up, "Jeep" became a generic term for any brand of automobile that bore a squinting resemblance to a Cherokee, the Kleenex of high-riding family vehicles.
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That doesn't explain the Cherokee's hero status today. Ubiquity is the opposite of collectability. And, c'mon, we're talking about mom-and-dad cars here-SUVs, the stuff that gets sneers and eye-rolls from environmentalists and enthusiasts alike. The Cherokee wasn't even the most popular SUV out there: the Ford Explorer outsold it every year from its 1990 debut. The XJ was discontinued in 2001; it seemed doomed to an unremarkable afterlife, neither beloved nor reviled, just dead.
But then, somewhere in the mid-2000s, I did something that inadvertently shifted the course of Cherokee history. I wrote a joke post on a car forum.
© Jeep I'm the Reason Why Old Cherokees Are Expensive NowThink back to what online life was like in the early 2000s. Facebook was for college students. Reddit was barely coming together. Twitter hadn't been invented. What we had were forums.
My forum of choice was The Car Lounge. I showed up via VWVortex, around 2005, when I briefly thought about buying an old VW Rabbit. I stuck around, became a power-user. I posted so frequently, replied so obsessively, I once asked a girlfriend to change my Car Lounge password for the weekend so I could study.
Today, my biochemistry degree gathers dust as I get paid to stare at the internet and type about cars. Funny how things work out.
© Ex-Girlfriend I'm the Reason Why Old Cherokees Are Expensive NowThe forums taught me a lot about writing. How to craft a compelling headline, communicate economically, avoid the dreaded TL;DR. Also, admittedly, how to dig in my heels, troll, and get far too heated over a nothing conversation with a stranger. I'm not proud. Some of your favorite writers working today got their start duking it out on forums, though most won’t admit it.
For a teenager or twenty-something with obsessive knowledge of a niche hobby, the forums were a godsend. Here, you could find hundreds, thousands of fellow super-nerds fervently pursuing inane, useless information. You could flex your memorization of spec sheets, technical drawings or historical anecdotes in ways you never could IRL. It was comforting knowing you weren't alone out there, poring over spy photos, road test data pages, the depths of an owner's manual.
There was, of course, a lot of arguing. It wasn’t always confined to cars, though plenty of discussions about, like, tires or headlight bulbs or windshield wiper blades devolved into name-calling, ad hominem. But there were genuine moments when you felt welcomed by a community that seemed to understand you better than your own parents.
I remember one in particular. On a Jeep forum I frequented, a user who'd been around forever suggested that, at an appointed time on a Saturday night, we all take a shot or a sip of something to honor the members who'd passed on, or simply logged off for the final time. When the evening came, watching the thread grow long as hundreds of members sounded off their participation and the handle they were remembering sent tingles down my scalp.
© Jeep I'm the Reason Why Old Cherokees Are Expensive NowI don't know exactly when I wrote the post that changed the world of old Jeep Cherokees. There's no way for me to find out. The internet was brittle back then. A server crash ate the original.
It was a reply to a straightforward question. A poster was thinking of buying an XJ. He asked if the 4.0-liter engine powering it was reliable. Sometime in the past-my best guess puts it around late 2007, my senior year of college-I wrote:
Posted By: Wellington P Funk
Join Date: 09-12-2005
I've said it before, but the Jeep 4.0L engine is the toughest, least maintenance-demanding engine I have ever had personal experience with. Folks on the internet know that the Jeep 4.0L is durable, but they know little of its history.
The original Jeep 4.0L inline-six was hewn from a solid block of granite by lightning bolts. Its cylinders were bored by the Imperial Winds and its rotating assembly was balanced by the Scales of Justice. The Ancient Egyptians used Jeep 4.0L engines to move the blocks which built the Pyramids, only switching to slave labor when it was found to be cheaper than the olive oil used to fuel the engines. Scientists have ranked the Jeep 4.0L engine as one of the strongest forces of nature, racking right up there with tectonic plate shifts for its low-end torque, and being surpassed by hurricanes only for its comparatively low redline. Mechanics have found imprints of fossilized dinosaur bones in block castings, and serial numbers in Roman numerals are a common sight. The design of the 4.0L's fuel injection system has been traced to the archives of Leonardo DaVinci, and early manuscripts of Shakespeare plays have been used as head gaskets for this engine (which, incidentally, explains the gaps in Shakespeare's collected works as well as the 4.0L's tendancy [sic] to leak oil). The engine's ancient roots also explain its ability to run on some very non-conventional fuels (original translations of the Rosetta Stone include evidence of Jeep 4.0L engines running on ox blood) as well as lubrications (during the Middle Ages, Jeep 4.0L crankcases were often filled with barley, with no detrimental effect on power output). Historians maintain that the fall of the Roman Empire hinged on their inability to design a superior engine, and had the Titanic been powered by a 4.0L Jeep engine, 1912 might have been a much happier year. Yes, had early-20th-century naval engineers had a touch more foresight, the Jeep 4.0L may have saved mankind from ever having to endure Leonardo DiCaprio and Celene [sic] Dion in the same sitting.
The only weakness in this otherwise unstoppable force of nature? Emissions. Yes, the engine's design may have come from the hand of Zeus, and its exhaust note at full throttle may have reverberated along the rock formations of Arizona to forge the Grand Canyon, but by the year 2007 its crude emissions control (originally consisting of papyrus strips soaked in the tears of the young Tutankhaman [sic]) had become outmoded, and the legendary, nay Biblical force of the Jeep 4.0L was put to rest.