Reader Question: Jeep Wrangler Thoughts?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Peter asks: I am thinking of buying a Jeep Wrangler YJ. I looked through your site and could not find any comments on it. Please can you let me know if you have any thoughts / past experiences with it.

My reply: Wranglers and Jeeps generally have a very large and loyal following; they are living legends, in a way – being among the very few new vehicles that don’t look like every other vehicle. They also don’t drive like every other vehicle. They are known – deservedly – for being dogged off-roaders and can be made even more so with the panoply of aftermarket parts available.

But if you’ve never owned a Wrangler before, I recommend an extended test drive before buying one as the very qualities that make them endearing also make them polarizing – depending on your likes and dislikes. They still ride, drive and handle like the serious off-roaders they are – which isn’t to say poorly. It is to say differently. These are not “crossovers” let alone cars. You will probably either love this – or not. A drive is the only way to know – and be sure to drive the way you usually do, on the roads you usually do at the speeds you usually do.

Gas mileage, of course, will not be great – but you probably aren’t especially worried about that if you’re considering a Wrangler. The V6 is strong and it’s still available paired with a manual transmission. I would avoid the turbo four – because it’s a turbo four. These little engines with turbos bolted to them are being marketed as the way to get big-engined power with small-engined fuel economy but it’s largely a con because if you use the power (via the boost) you will not get the advertised mileage. You’ll get about the same mileage as you would have with the V6, but with a turbo which may have to be replaced at huge cost post-warranty.

There is also the turbo-diesel to consider. But I would skip it – unless you plan to use the Jeep to tow regularly, in which case the buy-in cost is worth it. Otherwise,it’s arguably not relative to the not-huge difference in fuel savings and factoring in the modern diesel maintenance/upkeep issues (e.g., DEF, particulate traps) and the much higher cost of diesel fuel.

Hope this helps!

. . .

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Peter,

    I see you asked specifically about the YJ.

    Eric’s comments about the handling are certainly applicable.

    The YJ came with the inline 6 which is largely a bulletproof engine. The 4 cylinder, not so much.

    The auto in the YJ is generally maligned; stick is preferable.

    You’ll want to upgrade axles if you’re doing any real off roading, but they’re fine for the street.

    The square headlights are generally hated by Jeep purists, but that’s a personal choice.

    With solid axles front and rear and a short wheelbase, it can be a bit skittish at speed, and you won’t get great mpg with either engine.

    If you’ve got some spare cash, a semi popular engine swap is either a vw tdi or Kubota diesel out of a reefer.

    As with any Wrangler, especially older models, the possibility of leaks from the top are not uncommon. Can you live with it?

  2. I’d get an older one- one with the old 4.0 I-6 engine and manual tranny, which are bulletproof. The new (and newer) ones are much more delicate and crammed with electronics, and don’t hold-up as well. Considering the crappy mileage they get, and their very limited capacity for cargo and towing, etc., personally, I’d much rather stick with a full-sized pick-up or SUV built on a truck frame. If you’re gonna get 13MPG anyway, why not have a larger, safer, more comfortable vehicle which can be a lot more useful/practical?

  3. If you’re already spending a lot of time on dirt and want to go a little further into the back country, consider a Wrangler. But if you’re not, take look at a Cherokee or Grand Cherokee Trailhawk editions. I’ve been in enough Jeeps on the highway to know I wasn’t interested in something with such a short wheelbase and stiff suspension, but didn’t want to be stranded the 10 times a year I go off road either. My Cherokee goes where I want but still “cleans up nice” when back in society. But I’m not trying to keep up with the gang at Moab either.

    A Wrangler has a truck-like suspension, solid axles, and Yaris wheelbase (Rubicon is longer but not much). You’ll bounce around every pothole on the highway (the number of times I’ve banged my head on the roof of Jeeps… Thank goodness for ragtops). Anyway, to get it to the point where it will “go anywhere” you’ll need to screw with the final drive ratio, install a lot of undercarriage shielding and be ready to live with all the scars. Jeep “gets it” and keeps the vehicle pretty easy to mod, but out of the box it won’t do much more than my Cherokee even though it looks like it should. And the late model years have all the downsides of modern engine management, although they still use throttle body injection (at least my 2016 Cherokee, with same V6 engine, is still TB).

    But if that sounds like what you’re looking for, then go for it. In their native environment they’re tons of fun. If you have the skills (and space) to wrench it can become a pretty fun hobby. But as a daily driver without a backup, maybe not so much. And if you’re looking at one for “when all else fails” you can do much better with a 4WD pickup or older SUV.

    • Are you sure they are throttle-body injection and not port fuel injection?

      Throttle-body injection: One or two fuel injectors spraying directly into the throttle body. Throttle plate is wet with fuel. This pretty much went the way of 8-track tapes in the late 80s/early 90s. As far as I can determine it was a cheap way to fuel-inject a previously carbureted engine without redesigning the intake manifold.

      Port fuel injection: One fuel injector per cylinder spraying into the intake valves (most common since the early 90s).

      Direct injection: One fuel injector per cylinder, spraying directly into the combustion chamber. Becoming more common since about 2010. Has the disadvantage that the fuel spray does not clean the intake valves, so intake valve deposits can become a problem on these engines.

      While I’m on this subject, I’ll cover the difference between SEFI and batch fire:

      Batch-fire: Multiple injectors are electrically connected in parallel and actuated at the same time. Typically half of the injectors will be one one circuit, the other half will be on the other circuit. This allows using the same PCM hardware that was used with throttle-body injection, to be used with port fuel injection. A cost savings measure. Unlikely to be seen on a vehicle much newer than the early 90s.

      SEFI, Sequential Electronic Fuel Injection: Each injector is on it’s own circuit and can be actuated independently of any other. Costs more because the PCM has to have drivers for each injector, and the CPU has to be capable of controlling them individually, which requires an output for each one. This allows actuating the injector at the optimal time for the cylinder, when the intake valve is open. Most common since the early 90s.

    • “Rubicon” is the off road package (lockers, etc) available on either short 2dr or long 4dr “unlimited” configuration. Trouble is that you get a lot of extra electronic crap along with it.

      Sometimes I think about a Sport Unlimited as a replacement for our 32 year old Cherokee.

      • Hi Anon,

        I know it’s a balky, underpowered gas pig but I love the ’70s CJ with the 304 V8. I miss quirky – and thus, interesting vehicles…

        • Well sure, but I don’t need a worn out 50 year old vehicle to replace a problematic 30 year old vehicle. My friend used to have ~1970 Cj5 with the little V6 in it that seemed to run good. Before that he had an old four banger flat fender. We had a lot of fun in those rigs, but we lived right up in the mountains so we were exploring just a few miles from home.

          I love the old stuff but I just don’t want to spend my last years working on junk. My back hurts and my bifocals are never just right so I can hardly see what I need to work on anyway. And then it’s really hard to find a shop that you can trust and that will get something done before the next ice age.

          That’s why I finally just broke down and bought a 2016 pickup, but we need some sort of all weather smaller vehicle that’s reliable enough to make 100++ mile round trips to town. I’m planning to talk to a guy about putting our XJ in his shop for a week or two to work out some bugs before winter. Nothing much on the late model market that would even work for us: maybe a Wrangler or GC (too fancy) or 4runner (also mostly too fancy and too damn expensive used).

          • Hi Anon,

            It depends, of course!

            The old stuff can be very reliable in that is serviceable. I drove a ’74 Beetle as my daily commuter – into DC – for years, back in the ’90s. It occasionally broke down but almost anytime a Beetle breaks down, it can be returned to service with basic hand tools and a little effort. Generally, it was quite reliable.

            It was also $700 – a set of tires for a Jeep.

            I’m not slamming new. I’m saying I’m cheap!

            • Ditto, Eric!

              The $700 you paid for that Bug would not even be enough to fix one thing that breaks on a newer vehicle- which even if one wants to fix themself, can’t, because it’s gotten to the point where virtually every little thing requires that the computer be programmed to interact properly with the new part- and or requires massive deconstruction to physically access- like removing the entire cab of a pick-up in order to replace the turbo or do any head work. Having a mere starter replaced on some newer vehicles can easily cost $1500- and that’s NOT at a stealership. These newer vehicles are essentially disposable- you drive them until something goes wrong, then trade them in, or live with the recurring costs of having spend thousands every time something breaks…and break they do….especially after the warranty ends.

              A friend bought a new ’19 Ram 2500 diesel. Nothing but problems from day one. Traded it within months for another new one….which has also had problems already, and is a ticking timebomb (And it’s NEW…imagine when it’s 7 years old?)- So he’s now $80K in debt (Stupid!)….for a lousy pick-up, and is missing his 20 year-old Ford……

              I think of these things any time I may have little hiccups with my 20 year-old vehicles. I love my old vehicles…and future ones will be even older, ’cause the simpler they are, the less to go wrong, and the easier and CHEAPER they are to fix when something does go wrong; and because of their simplicity, and lack of electronics, they are easy to keep maintaine3d and reliable.

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