1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. So you're thinking about buying a Wrangler...
  2. The Wrangler Buyer's Guide
  3. Creature comforts
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  5. The Beginner's Guide to Off-Roading
  6. How do I improve off-road performance?
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1. So you're thinking about buying a Wrangler...

1.1. What's the difference between the 1997-2005 Wrangler and older model years?

A brief history of the Wrangler is in order here. Back in World War II, Willys-Overland designed the first military Jeeps. After the war ended, returning GI's thought of using Jeeps for civilian use, and Willys-Overland saw a market. Thus began the first CJ-2A, which stands for Civilian Jeep.

The CJ line progressed through the CJ-2B, CJ-3A, CJ-3B, CJ-5, CJ-6, CJ-7, and CJ-8 Scrambler. (Oh, and there was a CJ-4, but only one of these was ever made.) The CJ-5 was made through 1981, and the CJ-7 was made until the 1985 model year. The Jeep brand itself was owned by a succession of companies, starting with Willys-Overland, which was bought by Kaiser, and ended up being a part of AMC. Fortunately, the designers of the Gremlin and the Pacer never got their hands on the CJ.

Meanwhile, consumer magazines and TV shows were pointing attention at the CJ and similar vehicles for their high center of gravity and the tendency to roll over in accidents. Some of these charges were rather trumped-up, but AMC's response, shortly before it was absorbed by Chrysler, was to design the first Wrangler. This debuted in the 1987 model year and featured a wider track width, a lower center of gravity, anti-sway bars, improved setteing, and a number of interior improvements to make it a more consumer-friendly vehicle. It also had the infamous square headlights. This model, known as the YJ, was produced from 1987 through 1995. It sold well, but its off-road capabilities were more limited than the CJ.

Chrysler redesigned the Wrangler again for the 1997 model year. The new Wrangler, also known as the TJ model, was designed with a coil spring suspension, instead of the leaf springs on earlier models. This was designed to provide a smoother on-road ride, while providing more axle articulation for off-road ability. It also marked the return of round headlights. The interior also got a major upgrade, including airbags and a more friendly climate control system.  Despite the 1997 model year debut, it was actually available starting in the spring of 1996.

The differences between Jeep model years and their off-road capabilities are a subject of friendly debate in clubs, but also a source of flames on web sites and Usenet newsgroups.

(Oh, and so much for a brief answer to this question.)

1.2. What's a TJ? What's a YJ? What's a CJ?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.4)

Jack Elias (a former Jeep salesperson) posted the following explanation:

In article <4v8ivo$c21@newsbf02.news.aol.com>, kvvick at aol.com (Kvvick) wrote:

> Jeep "new guy" here. Would someone please help me out with the acronyms.
> Go ahead, shake your head in disgust, groan, roll your eyes, and then
> help out this pathetic newbie, will 'ya? :-)

SJ...Wagoneers, Old (Big) Cherokees
XJ..."Small" Cherokees
YJ...Wrangler '87-'95
CJ...C'mon...you know what these are
DJ...those cute little postal Jeeps
TJ...The '97 Wrangler
ZJ...The Grand Cherokees

Did you know
FJ...The Eagle Talon

What do they mean? CJ meant "Civilian Jeep". The rest don't mean
anything...they're just body model codes...for instance:
TJJL77...A Wrangler 4x4
XJJL74...a Cherokee 4x4
XJJL72...a Cherokee 4x2

I'd like to think that "TJ" means "Todd's Jeep", but that really applies to me only.

1.3. Does the new Wrangler really handle and ride a lot better than older Wranglers or CJ's?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.3)

Most people seem to think so, and I'd agree. The ride is smooth on the freeway, yet it still has the off-road capability of before. I had a friend who owned a Wrangler several years ago, and he told me that I shouldn't think about buying one because it would rattle my kidneys all over the place. Well, after 5000 miles in my new TJ, my internal organs are still attached.

As far as off-road capabilities go, I've found that it can handle most of the territory I've thrown at it, except for a few places where I'm too sensible to risk body or component damage. (It IS a new vehicle, after all.) Bill Doty (bdotyjr at hiwaay.net) posted the following comparison:

Please note: My friend and I are beginners to 4-wheeling (as I think most of the people in this newsgroup asking about the new TJ are), so this article is aimed at all the beginners out there.

My friend and I finally got a wild hair and took our Jeeps deeper into the woods than we ever had before. In North Alabama, its hard to find a good place to go, so neither of us has a lot of experience off-road. The trails we found were a combination of both wet and dry river beds, limestone rock step-ups, and sloppy Alabama red clay mud holes.

I have a stock '95 Wrangler Sport 4.0L, with P225/75-R15 tires, off-highway suspension package, and the Trac-Lok differential. My friend has a stock '97 Wrangler Sport 4.0L, with the 30x9.5x15 tires, off-highway suspension, and Trac-Lok differential. Since we both paid the same for our almost equally equipped Jeeps, I thought this was as even a test as one could have between the YJ and TJ.

I'm sorry to say that his TJ outperformed my YJ in every category. The extra 2 inches of clearance helped him over obstacles that I bottomed out over. The Wrangler GSA tires on the '97 also provided a much better bite in the mud and on the rocks. And finally, the extra 7 inches of suspension articulation from the new quadra-coil suspension kept his wheels more firmly placed on the uneven ground. He even had to pull me out of a mud hole when my transfer case skid plate got stuck on a half-submerged rock. (Thank goodness for recovery straps and tow-hooks!) We both survived with only minor rim scratches, and are ready to get even deeper into the woods next time.

TJ - 1, YJ - 0

YJ owners take heart, because I'm just about ready to put on a 2 inch lift, some quick disconnects, and 30" tires! I think that will even the score!

On the other hand, it isn't perfect - one person pointed out that there was a Jeep Jamboree where TJ's and YJ's got stuck at exactly the same point on the trail.

1.4. Is it safe? Or will I roll it over right away?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.9)

Many prospective Jeep owners wonder if they're likely to roll over their Jeep, or if it's as safe as a car.  This concern is amplified by news reports about CJ's rolling over, or other SUV's (the Isuzu Trooper comes to mind).  The short answer is: You are unlikely to roll your Jeep over as long as you drive it safely and don't take corners excessively fast.  That said, the Jeep Wrangler is no more likely to roll over than any other SUV, as far as I've noticed or read.

Here are a few web sites that can help you out:

I've read a few random reports and Usenet news articles about people who have been in crashes involving a Jeep Wrangler and who have survived with only minor injuries and damage.  Still, it's possible to get killed in an accident with any car.  Drive safely and defensively, whether you're in a Jeep or not.

1.5. Is it a good buy?

This is a matter of debate among car magazines and reviewers.  Then again, they get paid to debate this sort of thing.  Here are excerpts from some reviews:

1.6. What are some common problems with the Wrangler? What do I need to be aware of before I buy one?

Generally speaking, the Wrangler has been a success as a vehicle model. However, it isn't for everyone. If you are concerned about any of the following, you may want to consider a different vehicle.
These aren't necessarily "defects" to many Wrangler buyers. If you're the kind of person who likes to take the top down in the summer, explore the farthest reaches of the outdoors, or play around in the snow, you will probably enjoy the Wrangler despite these issues. On the other hand, if you want rich Corinthian leather and seat warmers, or you have four kids to transport, or you carefully scrutinize Consumer Reports for all of your purchases, these might be a few reasons to consider something other than the Wrangler.

1.7. What kind of mileage does it get?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.2)

When I had a 4-cylinder Wrangler, I got about 18 MPG driving my 4-cylinder Wrangler in mixed city/highway driving; some people report getting up to 20 MPG. I now own a 6-cylinder Wrangler and I seem to get somewhere around 16 or 17 MPG. Some people with the 6 cylinder Wrangler say they get between 15 and 18 miles per gallon. As they say, "your mileage may vary."

1.8. Does it handle well in winter conditions and lots of snow?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.5)

Being in Minnesota, I'm well-qualified to answer that question. :-) We've gotten a lot of snow in mid-November, which is kind of early. I'm happy to report that the TJ handles really well in the snow, as long as you watch what you're doing. I haven't had any problems losing forward traction when using four-wheel drive. However, like any other car, it CAN slip sideways or fishtail in slippery conditions. This behavior might depend on what kind of tires you have, but be aware that you need to reduce your speed and drive sensibly in bad weather.

Some people ask, "Isn't it cold with a soft top?" Surprisingly, it isn't that bad. It can be pretty cold after being parked outside for several hours, but a hard top would also get cold after being parked outside for a while. (It's just that the soft top loses heat faster.) The heater is well-designed, though, and it starts heating up and getting things nice and warm within a few minutes of starting. I've heard that you can buy heated seat covers and possibly even a heated headliner, but I'm not sure who sells them.

1.9. What's this I hear about the Jeep Wave?

(copied from old FAQ section 1.10)

Jeep owners have a custom of waving to each other upon passing on the streets or on the trail. It began with CJ owners, who recognized that they were driving different vehicles than everyone else and started waving to say "hi" to each other. I'd like to see the tradition continue. I always wave to other CJ, YJ, and TJ owners, just to show that I'm a heck of a nice guy and that I can carry on traditions -- even if I can't tell the difference between a Spicer T-18 and a Spicer T-20 transmission.

(The Jeep Waving Rules page explains this in detail, but spends way too much time segmenting owners based on vehicle usage and modifications done to their vehicle. <RANT> I'd rather not see Jeeping turned into a hierarchical thing where new TJ owners have to pay homage to CJ owners with big lift kits. I think all Jeep owners should stick together, regardless of what they've done to their vehicles. </RANT>)