So you’ve found a Jeep CJ (CJ5, CJ7, or even a CJ8 Scrambler) that catches your attention and pulling the trigger can be really tough, especially if this is your first one and you’re not very familiar with what to look for. Mike (other owner of VH) and I have purchased hundreds of CJs site unseen over the years and it has been a steep (and sometimes expensive) learning curve! Unfortunately, people can be really creative when taking photos of a vehicle they’re selling. The angles, shades, etc. can hide a lot of issues and nobody wants a Jeep to show up at their house with bad surprises. So let us help you out a bit with what we’ve learned over the years after owning so many Jeeps!
Since the vast majority of Jeeps we both have purchased have been site unseen, we rely heavily on seller photos. One red flag is when a seller refuses to provide you with specific photos. Sure, if you’re asking for 200 photos they probably don’t want to go through the hassle and would rather wait for another less picky buyer. However, if you’re requesting a few specific photos (10-15 or so) it is not unreasonable to ask the seller to capture those photos for you knowing you’re not able to see the vehicle in person. With that being said, let’s get to the important photos you’ll need to see before making an offer!
The important photo categories are:
- Windshield frame
- Floorboards / Inside of tub
- Frame / Undercarriage
- Engine compartment
The windshield frame can tell you a lot about the Jeep, but you really need to know what to look for. Obvious rust generally forms around the perimeter windshield seal and behind the hinges. If the Jeep had a bikini or soft top at one point, know the windshield frame had channel screws on the top of the frame, making that area susceptible to rust. Inspect around the perimeter of the windshield gasket thoroughly. If you see minor paint bubbling, that usually means the windshield frame has more significant rust that’ll only be found if you were to remove the glass. Also, water has a tendancy to sneak inside the windshield frame through the wiper pivot mounts and also if the windshield seal is bad. This water settles at the bottom of the windshield frame and generally causes unnoticeable rust from the inside out. If you fold the windshield frame down against the hood, you can inspect under the cowl seal for rust. We’ve seen beautiful looking windshield frames completely rusted through on the bottom, with no obvious signs of rust anywhere else. Sometimes this rust transfers to the tub near the cowl area. Also inspect the area surrounding the hinges and around the wiper pivot arms.
FLOORBOARDS / INSIDE OF TUB
Whether you have a hard top or soft top (or no top), your Jeep absolutely WILL get wet inside should it be driven in rain or snow. The lowest part of the floorboards are the areas where the water will collect. Inspect for rust carefully on the floorboards under the driver/passenger foot area, behind the front seats, and behind the rear seat. Most CJs came with OEM carpet from the factory. The only problem is the carpet can absorb significant amounts of water and when that happens, the floors are exposed to continual moisture and eventually rot out. If a seller says the carpet is hard to remove from the floor for photos, that means it’s stuck because of some type of adhesive/velcro, or RUST! Demand photos of the floors because this is the most common area for rust to form. The front A-pillars are commonly found to be rusty also. The supports trap moisture between the support itself and the body. I’d say at least 50% of the Jeeps we’ve seen have some level of rust formed in this specific area (most visible from the exterior). Also, don’t forget to inspect around the front and rear of where the roll bar feet mount to the body. Often rust is not seen under the feet from the inside, but an undercarriage inspection will generally show that (read below). Also, lets touch real quick on bed liner products… bed liner is not always a bad thing. If properly applied to a rust-free tub, it can protect it against corrosion and also has that industrial look that some people like. BUT, a lot of people also use it to hide nasty floors. Just do your due diligence on inspecting before buying a Jeep that has gobs of bed liner applied to the floorboards. In this case, requesting a few more photos of the floors is a great idea!
FRAME / UNDERCARRIAGE
Many of these early CJs were used for off-roading, driven on salty roads in snowy conditions, or even used for plowing. As we all know, road salt is extremely harsh to metal and promotes rapid corrosion. The shackle hanger areas also have holes where mud can go inside, which is another area of concern. So if these areas look good, you can generally expect the rest of the frame to be in the same or better condition. Frames often rust from the inside out because of the holes along the sides. Try to view inside these frame holes as best you can during your in-person or photo inspection. Lastly, the areas under the roll bar mounting feet are especially susceptible to rust. Check these areas for bulging, crusty metal, or even metal patches from previous rust repairs.
The exterior is usually the easiest part to inspect, but you still need somewhat of a trained eye. Original paint Jeeps always have factory spot welds. Spot welds are welds that look like tiny dimples on the seams where the interior floor pan and fenders were welded to the exterior to the tub. They are usually found in lines following the contour of the floor pans and inner fenders. Repaints and areas that have had sheetmetal repairs are usually missing visible spot welds because of Bondo skimming prior to paint. If you see spot welds all over the place, that’s usually a good sign of original metal and no rust repair. The front fenders have areas where metal is overlapped, so check the fender creases for rust also. We did want to point out an area of the tub that is specifically prone to rust. A few inches off the driver and passenger side of your tailgate is a body mount location. These locations are boxed in from the inside. Anytime you have boxed in metal there is always a chance for mud/moisture to get stuck in there, resulting in rust. What may appear to be minor surface rust forming in these areas is often rust coming from the inside. Be cautious of these areas.
The engine compartment has a few noteworthy areas you should inspect for rust. Usually Jeep batteries are neglected and they tend to leak acid down the battery tray, landing on the firewall and sometimes the bottom of the passenger front fender. Get close up photos of these areas if you suspect rust. We’ve yet to see a Jeep with a perfect battery tray, so we wouldn’t worry about the rust on the tray itself unless it is significant. However, the fender is thin gauge steel and chunks of fender may tear right off if the rust is bad enough. Also inspect the driver side fender, but they’re rarely as bad since no battery lives above it.
Hope this tech article helps you with your search finding that special Jeep. The prices on these CJs are soaring, so if you’re going to make the investment, it’s important to make sure the Jeep has good bones. Anything mechanical can be replaced/repaired, but we believe solid metal is the most critical part of your purchase. Happy hunting!