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What to Look For When Buying a Post-76 CJ?
 
1) Body Style Differences
  First, you have to figure out what type of Jeep you want. There are body styling differences between the Jeeps and you will need to know what style you would like before you start examining the vehicle itself. The most common vehicles you are going to find are CJ-5's and CJ-7's. You might also be able to find some CJ-8's also called a Scrambler.

CJ-5's ended production in 1983, they are characterized by their S-shaped door openings. CJ-7's showed up in 1976 and can be characterized by their longer wheel base as compared to the CJ-5 and have a U-shaped door opening. Finally, for the longest wheel base, we have the CJ-8 which looks like the CJ-7 in door opening, but has an extended rear trunk area.

If you can get a VIN, you might be able to run a carfax report to see if this vehicle has ever been wrecked or even worse... STOLEN.
2) Rust - Frame/Body
  RUST, RUST and more RUST. Rust is going to be on any vehicle that is more then 20+ years old, it is just a fact. The big thing is to figure out where it is and how extensive it is. People try to hide it; you need to find out where it is. This is a big deal when trying to find a Jeep.

The rear frame rails are where to look at specifically. Especially the rear cross member. Take a screwdriver and try poking around.

The body will usually have rot in the driver side floor, but the roll bar supports and perhaps in some of the body panels. You have to be honest with yourself and your skills. Some things are too hard to repair depending on your skill set. If they have put diamond plate corners on the Jeep, it might look good from the outside, but it might be hiding rot.
3) Axles
  Front - Dana 30
Rear - AMC20, Dana 44 (some 1986 Model).
4) Narrow vs. Wide Track Axles
  Pre-1982 you have Narrow Track, Post-1982 you have wide track.
5) 5-bolt vs. 6-bolt hubs
  Pre-1981 you have stronger 6-bolt, Post-1981 you have weaker 5-bolt.
6) Transmissions
  Standard - T-18(4-speed), T-150(3-speed), T176(4-speed), SR-4(4-speed), T-4(4-speed), T-5(5-speed)
Automatic - TH400, 999, 904, 909
7) Transfer Case
  Dana 20, Dana 300.
8) Engines
  Stock engine sizes were 4, 6 and 8 cylinder models. The 4 cylinder was a 151, the 6 cylinder came in a 232 and 258 variety and the 8 cylinder was the 304. Contrary to some popular belief, the AMC 360 and 401 were not offered stock in the Jeep CJ.
9) Gear Ratios
  Common ratios are 2.73, 3.31, 3.54, 3.73, 4.10.

Tire size and gear ratio will affect how the power is handled coming from the engine. You may find with larger tires, it looks good, but on the highway you can't get any power in the higher gears. You have to look out for the "cool look" factor vs. practicality. Stock tires on CJ's were smaller the 30" and the gears were setup to handle that. If you are running larger the 30" tires and the gears haven't been swapped out, then you might experience some problems with power.
10) Fuel Tank
  A 15-Gallon was the most common, a 20-gallon tank was available in some CJ-7's.
11) Aftermarket Modifications
  Check to see what has been added and what hasn't. Check under everything. The list of aftermarket modifications that you want would be things like power steering, disc brake, or power brake conversions. Also, 1 piece rear axles, after market bumpers, seats, gauges, wiring harness, steering upgrades, fuel injection, recovery apparatus are all nice to have's as well.

Everything I mentioned above adds value to the Jeep. Things to be wary of are body lifts of 3" or more, super long extended shackles, a homebrewed steering setup for a SOA setup and finally and home welded or bent steering components that replace what is supposed to be there in stock form. If you don't know how it is supposed to look, ask for pictures on a forum or get a picture of a stock Jeep. This way you can really see what you are getting.
12) Price
  To quote someone I read, I have seen CJ's sell from $1k to $20k. For the most part, you get what you pay for. Sometimes the easiest way into a good reliable Jeep is to let someone else fix all the problems and then get it for a song when they sell it. You just have to make sure it was done correctly.

Honestly, Jeeps sell for whatever someone is willing to give you for it. This depends on the climate, availability, and time of year, weather, and sometimes modifications. If you live in the cold, you might want a hard top and doors, if you live down south, you might not care for that stuff. Average prices are going up on eBay and CraigsList from what we have been seeing lately. They will continue to go up, it is simple supply vs. demand.

Be wary of buying a Jeep that doesn't have a title. Do a little legwork to find out why it doesn't have one. You don't want to be stuck with a lein on your title or perhaps something worse. If the state you are in doesn't issue titles to vehicles over a certain age, make sure that the bill of sale will be good enough to register. Familiarize yourself with your DMV regulations prior to buying the Jeep.

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