Why Did Two Dealers Go Bananas For This 24-Year-Old Rusty Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is a fixture in the American car market. Although many automakers have tried, none have yet to replace the Wrangler as one of the most prolific off-road vehicles from sea to shining sea. This statement has never felt more true than after watching two dealers fight it out over a rusty 24-year-old Jeep Wrangler TJ Sahara at a Carmax dealer auction. 

a green 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ
1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara | CarMax

New car shortage has dealers acting wild at auctions

By now, anyone who is interested in cars or has tried to buy one in the last year knows that pickin’s are pretty slim. We can see that by driving past empty lots and seeing skyrocketing used car prices. Or, like Motor1, you can pay attention to the dealer auctions and see the crazy prices they are paying for something like a two-decade-old Jeep Wrangler TJ with rust. 

Carmax is in the process of shedding 13,000 trade-ins over this week. However, some were less desirable than others, like a 30-year-old Chrysler minivan that had seen much better days that sold for a meager $500. However, some really cool items were for sale, like a low-mileage custom Toyota Tundra and this 1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara. 

Is a Jeep Wrangler Sahara TJ really worth all the fuss? 

a green 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ
1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara | CarMax

The second-generation Wranglers came out in 1997 and ran until 2006. Many Jeep fans believe this to be the best year for the Wrangler. This Jeep Wrangler, in particular, also happens to be a low-mileage (49,000) example of the coolest spec, the Sahara 4.0-liter 4×4 with a five-speed manual transmission

These features and low mileage make this Wrangler a highly contested mark on the auction block. However, with dealerships, a rusty frame is usually enough to turn off even the hungriest of dealers. With this lingering car shortage (SUVs in particular), this Wrangler, rust and all, pitted two dealers against one another in a serious battle. 

How much is a 1997 Jeep Wrangler worth? 

Rusty under carriage of a Jeep Wrangler
1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara | CarMax

A clean low mileage example of this Jeep would typically sell for something around $12k-$18k. However, in a feverous bidding war, the dealers drove the price to the winning bid of $9,400. Keep in mind, this one wasn’t clear and showed plenty of northeast grown rust. 

For context, I bought a very similar Wrangler with the same spec and similar mileage about 10 years ago from a dealer for $10,000. Granted, a lot has changed since then, but I sold that same Wrangler last year due to extensive frame rust for $4k. Rust is usually a real killer, especially for Wranglers. 

Is condition important for buying a used car?

Rusty under carriage of a Jeep Wrangler
1997 Jeep Wrangler Sahara | CarMax

The market these days has driven nearly everything through the roof. Something as cool as an old Sahara has apparently been driven twice through the roof. Like every other market, car values are driven by things like coolness, rarity, and demand, but the condition is still the ultimate factor that trumps all else. 

The condition of this Jeep Wrangler is what makes this purchase so strange. We’ve seen far worse rust on a Wrangler than this one, but still, for a dealer to buy such a rough truck is a serious sign of the times. 

The market is still in the dealer’s favor, and they will still likely clear $12,000 for the dusty old Wrangler.

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