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Cheap thrills - Jeepers creepers

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WHY AN MM 540?

Because you want a jeep with doors and a tad more legroom. CJs are brilliant offroaders, but when it comes to creature comforts, they are found lacking. 540s have all of the rugged appeal of their older CJ brethren, but with doors and some sort of protection from the elements. You can take these 540s anywhere a CJ will go, and apart from the shelter they provide, you also benefit from that extra cog in the four-speed gearbox, which will make highway runs a tad less strenuous.

Jeeps are nothing like cars and if you think they are, you’ll be in for a horrible surprise. Get to know them better before you go ahead and buy one, since they require an owner with a certain bent of mind and lots of patience.

WHICH VERSION SHOULD I GO FOR?

Depends on what you’re looking for. Two-wheel drive MM 540s are easier to find and are much more suited for city driving than their 4WD siblings. However, if you intend to use your 540 like the manufacturer intended, a 4WD is more your sort of thing. It is indeed possible to convert a 2WD to a 4WD by sourcing a front differential, transfer case and prop shaft, but this is a tedious process and an expensive one. Besides, getting a competent mechanic to get this grafting done perfectly is another issue as well. Civilian registered 550s are rarer than hen’s teeth, but they are powered by the more powerful XDP engine, which also did duty on the older Boleros. Army-auctioned 550s can be had, but their paperwork could be dodgy since it is now a problem to get them registered in the Indian metros.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY FOR ONE?

Jeeps are cool again, all thanks to the Thar, and this has driven the prices past the stratosphere. However, if you look hard, a 2WD 540 in good mechanical condition should set you back by about Rs 60,000. Four-wheel drives are a tad more expensive, with one in similar condition setting you back by about Rs 1 lakh. Fully done up 540s could demand prices in excess of Rs 2-2.5 lakh, but then again, you need to be sure that the work carried out justifies the buying amount. The 550s cost significantly more and it’s safe to add in about 25 to 30 per cent over the price of a similar condition 540. 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

Modified 540s, especially the OTT ones. The work carried out could be suspect and even dangerous. These vehicles are notorious for attracting rust, but the good news is that second-hand, good condition bodies can be had for about 45 grand. Make sure the engine and gearbox are healthy, because these two are the most expensive to fix. Four-wheel drive buyers should make sure the transfer case works and the front differential gets its drive smoothly. In all probability, the 4WD 540 that you would encounter would have the 2-stick transfer case. This can be updated to a single stick shift with a retrofitting kit available in the market. Else, you could choose to upgrade with a new transfer case altogether. As is the norm with buying any second-hand vehicle, make sure that the paperwork is current and all in order.