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
  4. Vehicle Care and Maintenance
  5. The Beginner's Guide to Off-Roading
  6. How do I improve off-road performance?
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2. The Wrangler Buyer's Guide

2.1. How much can I expect to pay for a Jeep Wrangler?

Rather than answering this question in detail here, I'll refer you to Edmund's , a publisher of various car and truck pricing books. Their Web site is at http://www.edmunds.com . There's also Kelly Blue Book at http://www.kbb.com.  One additional point I'll make: Be ready to shop around various Jeep dealers in the area if you want the lowest price. On the other hand, finding a good dealer with a very reputable service department and really helpful salespeople may be worth the extra $100 or $200 in profit. (I was impressed when I went to Park Jeep-Eagle in Burnsville, MN and one of the salespeople offered to show me how to drive a manual transmission, even though I had never driven one before. I later found out that he wasn't a salesperson, he was one of the owners of the dealership. I ended up buying my Jeep from them.)

When buying any new or used vehicle, you should be aware of hidden extras in the purchase price. There are all sorts of sites and reference materials out there that tell you how to negotiate the absolute bottom dollar from the MSRP. However, there are other decisions to be made, such as whether you want a special low finance rate or whether the manufacturer's rebate is a better deal. Extended warranties can be a good deal if you don't want to pay for repair costs after the manufacturer's warranty runs out, but these could be a profit center for the dealer as well. Dealer-installed options also typically have a higher profit margin.

On the other hand, not every dealer is an intrinsically evil organization designed to fleece you. You'll recognize the high-pressure dealerships versus the low-pressure dealerships, and you'll recognize dealers that say, "What would it take for me to put you into this car today?" versus those who are Jeep enthusiasts and who are glad to share that with you. Shop around.

2.2. Should I buy a new or a used Wrangler?

This is another question that isn't specific to Wranglers. If you buy a new vehicle, you'll get the manufacturer's warranty and a relative assurance that you won't have problems -- or that the problems will be covered under warranty. (I say "relative" because once in a while, someone buys a Wrangler that has a number of problems, and I get e-mail about it.) On the other hand, new vehicles depreciate faster -- I've heard that just driving a car off the lot makes its value depreciate by about $2000.

Buying a used Wrangler can be cheaper, but it has a number of unknown factors. You might be buying a Wrangler that someone traded in because they had kids and needed a Grand Cherokee for the extra room. Or, you might be buying a Wrangler from an owner who got frustrated with having to make too many repairs. You should have a full mechanical inspection, or at least do your own inspection.

Note: What else can I add here that's specific to Wranglers? Snarf some results from forums and stuff for this.

2.3. What should I look out for if I'm buying a used Wrangler?

Moses Ludel's Jeep Owner's Bible suggests paying particular attention to the frame and chassis, driveline components and axles, the clutch, and body mountings.

I'm often asked what problems are common to used Wranglers. I'm unable to give a comprehensive or complete list because it depends on the individual history of the vehicle, how it was used, how it was maintained, and manufacturing defects or problems that occurred within a particular model year and vehicle style combination. For more information, see section 4 of this FAQ.

Note: Again, what else can I add here that's specific to Wranglers? Or are the results so variable that I just can't come up with a really good answer?

2.4. What are the basic decisions I need to make when buying a Wrangler?

Besides the decision of a new versus used vehicle, you should make the following decisions:

If you are looking for a new Wrangler, the Wrangler section of the Jeep.com site has an interactive section where you can build and price the Wrangler you are thinking about getting. It's a pretty neat tool, and you can use it without worrying about having to talk to a salesperson. The rest of this section discusses the pros and cons of particular options available on the Wrangler.

2.5. What's the difference between the different models such as the Wrangler SE, Wrangler X, Wrangler Sport, Sahara, Rubicon, and Unlimited?

2.6. What are the differences between different model years?

A few of the changes with each model year include:

Various options have changed throughout the model years. If you are looking for a particular option, you may need to inquire carefully to see if it was offered in the model year you're looking for.

The site Jeep TJ Model Changes by Year lists all sorts of details about the differences between model years. Check it out if you're looking for specific equipment or want to know what's available in a particular Wrangler you're considering.

2.7. Should I get a four cylinder (2.4 liter) engine, or a six cylinder (4.0 liter) engine?

(copied from old FAQ section 2.1)
The 2.4 liter engine, found on the Wrangler SE, costs substantially less than the 4.0L engine found on other models, and it also provides somewhat better gas mileage. However, you lose the ability to accelerate like a banshee or to pass other cars without downshifting. Jerry Bransford (jerber at pacbell.net) wrote:

I have about 5400 miles on my 4.0L 97 Wrangler and no problems so far. Regarding 4 vs 6 cyl, I'm *extremely* happy I got the 4.0L six. It has more than enough hp and the best part of all, the 4.0L six is known to be 'bulletproof', and one of the best engines to ever come out of Detroit. Mileage-wise, I seriously doubt that *most* people will get much better mileage with the four vs the six due to the fact most people will end up pushing on the four's accelerator pedal much more than they would with the six!

On the other hand, the four cylinder engine isn't completely underpowered, as some people allege. It has a lot of low-end torque, and it produces the most torque at around 3000 rpm. My previous Wrangler had the four cylinder engine with the manual transmission, and I've found that by shifting at the right times (e.g., waiting until it gets to 2500-3000 rpm before shifting), it compensates for any lack of power. When I bought a 2003 Wrangler X, though, I was very happy to have the additional power of the six-cylinder engine.

In the 2003 model year, the 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine was replaced with a 2.4 liter double overhead cam 16-valve engine. The redesigned engine provides 25% more horsepower and 18% more torque than the previous 2.5 liter engine. It's also more fuel-efficient, quieter, and engineered for longer life and maintenance.

If you are still trying to decide between a four cylinder engine and a six cylinder engine, your best bet is to test drive one of each and see what fits your driving style.

2.8. Should I get a manual or an automatic transmission?

(copied from old FAQ section 2.2)
This is also a matter of personal preference. Some people claim that a manual transmission gives you the ability to use the engine as a brake when going down steep hills, but automatic transmissions provide some assistance with this as well. With a four-cylinder engine, a manual transmission helps to preserve some of the engine's power. If you do a lot of city driving in stop and go traffic, an automatic is more convenient because you don't have to keep shifting with the traffic. That said, a lot of people seem to prefer manual transmissions. (It isn't really difficult to learn how to drive a stick. My dealer showed me how to do it when I first test-drove a Jeep. That's another reason to find a good dealer.)

2.9. Should I get a hard top or a soft top?

(copied from old FAQ section 2.3)
This is one area where you can have it both ways - but you have to pay a little more money. The soft top comes with either the half doors or the full-height doors with real glass windows. The hard top comes with the full-height doors. If you get a hard top, it can be installed while the soft top is installed and folded down. If you buy your Jeep with the soft top, you can get a hard top later on. This can be fairly expensive (at least $1500), but at least there's now a variety of companies other than Mopar producing hard tops. Aftermarket retailers such as Quadratec and Four Wheel Drive Hardware sell hard tops at prices varying from $1300 to over $1800, depending on features and quality.

Current pricing at the Jeep.com site shows the soft top as the base option, a hard top retailing as an option at about $800, and the dual-top option retailing slightly more than $1400. Of course, dealers can set their own prices, and everything is subject to negotiation, but this provides a ballpark estimate.

If you're thinking at all about getting both a hard top and a soft top, you will probably want to get the full-size doors when you buy your Jeep from the dealer. Some aftermarket catalogs also offer fiberglass upper half doors, window sliders, and other solutions. Basically, it doesn't make a lot of sense to have a hard top but have the half doors with a soft top upper section, since it defeats the point of having a full hard top. There's always the option of ordering full doors from a dealer or from an aftermarket catalog, but this is the most expensive option.

Some people say that a soft top is no real picnic in the winter, since it can be fairly cold and since it's difficult to clean ice and snow off the soft windows effectively. However, I've driven a Jeep with a soft top for several winters, and I haven't minded it too much. I haven't had too many problems with ice, and the heater does a very good job. (It also helps that I have a thick Columbia parka.) With a hard top, you either have to leave it on all the time or get a winch/pulley system (or a strong friend) to remove it for the sunny days.

Although I'm a fan of the soft top, it does have drawbacks. You'll hear more road noise with the soft top, especially since the wind catches it and makes it flap around. This isn't a major problem with new vehicles, but as the top gets older and stretches out, noise increases. Also, soft tops wear out after several seasons of wear.

2.10. 30 inch tire and wheel package

This option, available only on the Sport and Sahara models, gives you more ground clearance for off-road use. This option is not available on the SE or X models. Then again, you can always drive directly from the Jeep dealership to a tire store to pick up bigger tires, as discussed in section 4 of the FAQ. The Rubicon model comes with LT245/75R16 tires, which are roughly equivalent to 30.7 inches high but somewhat narrower than a 31x10.5R15 tire.

2.11. Dana 44 rear axle

(copied from old FAQ section 2.5)
The Dana 44 axle is a stronger axle designed for heavier off-road use. This option was previously only available with the Trac-Lok differential, which is a limited slip model. Mark Allen (allenm1 at worldnet.att.net) wrote:

There's been a lot of info exchanged concerning Dana 44, Trac-Lok, and axle ratios for the '97 Wrangler - not all of which has been accurate. Here's what you need to know:

- The axle ratio is determined by the ring & pinion gears. The Dana 35C axle has a 3.07 ratio, whereas the Dana 44 has a 3.55. (Editor's note: This isn't quite correct; the Dana 35C axle is optionally available with a 3.55 gear ratio.)

- The "Trac-Lok" is a limited-slip differential manufactured by Dana (Spicer) to replace the stock "open" differential. The existing ring & pinion gears are retained when the Trac-Lok is installed.

- The stock rear axle of the TJ is a Dana 35C. Prior to 7/7/96, this is the ONLY rear axle available, even with the Trac-Lok option. So if you ordered the Trac-Lok DSA option @ $278 MSRP, you have a Dana 35C axle with a ratio of 3.07, not the Dana 44.

- Starting 7/7/96, you could order the Dana 44 rear axle, code DRK @ $535 MSRP. This option includes DSA, the Trac-Lok, and has a 3.55 ratio. Note that this option is approximately double the cost of the Trac-Lok alone. Yes, you are paying more for the Dana 44 upgrade!

2.12. Trac-Lok Differential

This is a limited slip differential, which keeps all of the power from being transferred to a slipping wheel. This is a definite plus for serious off-road use. This became evident to me when I tried to pull a stuck Grand Cherokee out of the mud: my left front tire was stuck in a patch of wet grass, and my right rear tire was in some slippery mud. We had to have another Wrangler driver help with this towing task. If you don't get the Trac-Lok differential, though, don't worry about not being able to drive off-road: the new suspension helps with being able to keep all of your tires on the ground better than the leaf suspension.

Note that if you get a limited slip differential (Trac-Lok or any aftermarket limited slip differential), you need to have a full size spare tire. You cannot mix tires with different sizes if you have a limited slip differential, or control problems will be the result.

As of the 2005 model year, the Trac-Lok option is available as part of the "Brake and Traction Group", which includes a 3.73 axle ratio and four-wheel disc brakes as well. This may have been different in previous model years.

2.12. What options or option packages should I look for?

Note: Search through forums and other groups for answers to this question... if I can find any.

Besides the 30 inch tire and wheel package mentioned above, there are other options to consider: