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BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/9/19 10:24 a.m.

I'm tasked with looking for a backup vehicle for my wife in case something goes wrong with her P38 Range Rover. It has been good to us so far, but we live in the sticks and now that she's working, she needs a second vehicle to get to work as it's too far to walk and apparently bicycling wasn't my best suggestion .

The original brief was to find her "something cool", but apparently I didn't understand that that mostly meant Jeep Wranglers. Most of the stuff I thought she'd find cool and interesting was noped.

I narrowed it down to either a 4.0 TJ or a 2012-on JK Unlimited, although the latter would likely end up as her primary vehicle. Honestly I would prefer to stick with a decent TJ as a backup vehicle as the longer term plan is to get her a JL Unlimited as the primary vehicle anyway. Most of the JKs that aren't thrashed to hell and have salvage titles are really in the "primary vehicle" price range.

So far I've figured out the following for TJs:

  • They rust. What a surprise to someone who's owned a CJ7 in the past
  • We want a 2002+ to get the four speed slushbox, and obviously we want the 4.0.
  • I'd prefer a mostly stock one with a hardtop (ideally an Unlimited), so I might as well try to find a herd of unicorns instead

And the JK:

  • Haven't seen much rust on those, is that because they hold up better or because they're better at hiding it?
  • We want a 2012+ with the 3.6
  • Unmolested ones are also in the rocking horse dropping category, but easier to find than TJs

I would want to keep the budget below $15k although given the splendid resale value of Wranglers in general I think I can justify spending a bit more, but then it would have to be a potential primary driver for a while if the RR gives up the ghost.

Box of rocks levels of complexity would be appreciated, plus one of the big advantages is that I shouldn't have a problem finding a mechanic around here to work on it if I don't want to.

What else do I need to know about Jeeps? And yes, I know they don't make the best daily drivers unless your daily drive is across Moab.

Somebeach Reader
12/9/19 7:41 p.m.

All I can add is when I was looking at TJ's is check the frame where it turns up and goes over the rear axle.  I looked at a few that had no rust until I checked there, and there were rust holes. 

Steve_Jones Reader
12/9/19 8:18 p.m.

Since a TJ is a 2 dr, why not look at JK 2 drs? They can usually be thousands cheaper as the demand is not there compared to the 4 dr. If the ultimate goal is a JL 4 dr, having a 2 dr JK could make sense. 

bigdaddylee82 UltraDork
12/9/19 8:44 p.m.

If you get an LJ it'll come with a D44 rear, if you get a Sahara it'll come with a D44 rear, if you get a TJ with a factory tow package it'll come with a D44 rear.  The rest of them will have a D35 rear.  You don't want a D35 rear, especially if larger tires are planned.

There's probably no other vehicle with a greater aftermarket parts catalog than a Jeep Wrangler.

31" tires are about max without a lift on a TJ, 32" with higher backspace wheels, 33" if you don't mind a little rubbing, you can comfortably fit 35" with a 4" lift.

Friends don't let friends buy Rough Country products.  Sadly RC's garbage is wide spread and common thanks to the mass produced cheapness, steer clear, or replace.  Only slight bias and opinion.  If you have RC products, and think they're great, well, sorry 'bout ya. wink

Death wobble is fun.  The newest TJ/LJ is now ~14 years old, if it's stock, it's probably still got the original cleveite bushings on all the control arms and track bar.  You'll want to replace them, or go with a lift kit aftermarket control arms.

If you decide to go a little older, you can run into the 0331 casting, head cracking issue, but at this point, if it was going to be a problem it would, or it's already been replaced.  I've got an '01 XJ with an 0331 head with 230K miles on it.  YMMV.

Manifold gasket leaks suck, exhaust and intake manifold are on the same side of the 4.0l, and share bolts/studs.  Stud breaking is an issue.

Exhaust manifold cracking is another problem.  Banks makes a nice aftermarket unit.

I've had a 2.5l TJ for 20 years this December, and been around a lot of TJs, CJs, YJs, & XJs too (handful of MJs and SJs even) happy to answer any questions.

I don't know a lot about JKs though.



Cooter UltraDork
12/9/19 8:51 p.m.

I've owned a bunch of CJ6s, CJ7s, Scramblers, and TJs.   

Get a 2 door JK.   For what it sounds like you are going to use it for, you will be much better off.   It will be cheaper than the TJL, and a better, more comfortable vehicle on the road without losing capability to get where you need to go.

Frame rust is a huge issue on any TJ that has been in the rust belt at this point.  Rear control arms rust off, as does the transfer case crossmember.   


If you were going to build something with a specific purpose in mind, my answer might be different.  But maybe not.

pimpm3 UltraDork
12/9/19 9:00 p.m.

Is there a reason you are avoiding the early Jk's? Granted the 3.8 liter engine is less than powerful but, it's a wrangler.  I learned to embrace the lack of power.

I will say having owned both that the JK drives much better than the TJ.  There is a reason you see so many more JK'S driven by soccer moms.  

I miss my JK and am kicking around the idea of picking up a gladiator at some point once they have been out for a bit.

Vigo MegaDork
12/9/19 9:11 p.m.

I'm guessing automatic is the actual biggest requirement? I don't mind either 2.5 or 2.4/manual TJs as long as the tires aren't much heavier than stock. 

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/9/19 9:15 p.m.

Oddly enough it seems to be easier to find a 4 door JK with a hardtop and slushbox in my preferred price range than a two door.

I guess I'll keep an eye out for earlier 2 door JKs because they do seem to be a bit more wallet friendly.

Are these as rust prone as the TJs or are JKs somewhat more corrosion resistant?

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/9/19 9:16 p.m.

In reply to Vigo :

Yep, wife doesn't want to drive a manual. Has to be automatic.

Steve_Jones Reader
12/9/19 9:44 p.m.

JKs do not have the rust issues, and don’t pass on a soft top one, the tops themselves are pretty easy to find after the fact. 

stanger_missle UltraDork
12/9/19 11:16 p.m.

The earlier (2007-2011) JKs with the 3.8L are saddled with the antiquated 4 speed auto. 202hp with only a 4 speed auto is pretty sluggish.

In 2012, when they got the 3.6L Pentastar, they also got a new 5 speed auto. The 2012+ have 285hp.

I think the sweet spot is the 2012-2014 Wrangler. The 4 door JKU outsells the 2 door JK like 5 to 1. The 4 door can tow up to 3500lbs with the tow package though. The 2 door is capped at 2k lbs.

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
12/10/19 3:49 a.m.

I have an old CJ and a ‘13 JKU Rubicon.  But for me, my dream Jeep is an LJ Rubicon.  Those are hard to find but they’re out there.  It’s basically an Unlimited TJ —long but with just 2 doors.  4.0 engine too.  I think the 4.0 is the pinnacle of a Jeep engine.  True, the 3.6 Pentastar like in my ‘13 is up almost 100 hp on a 4.0 but it’s all power that comes way up in the range.  Like 5 to 6000.  It’s nothing you can really even feel if driving normally.  Gas mileage in my personal experience is only slightly better if at all with the 3.6.  I’m saddled with the 6 speed stick though.  I thought that’s what I wanted.  I’ve read that the autos feel a whole lot friskier.

Shadeux Reader
12/10/19 5:39 a.m.

In reply to pimpm3 :

I'm biased because my wife's JK has the 3.6 and I find it plenty powerful. But, it's the 6 speed, and not the auto. I expect the auto drives like a dumpster fire.

So, if automatic is needed, I would get the 3.8 also.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/10/19 7:51 a.m.

My main reason for discounting the 3.8L JKs was that I figured we wanted the five speed 'box. For those who have driven both, is it really the upgrade that the various forums make it out to be, or is the four speed adequate?

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
12/10/19 7:56 a.m.

Can’t answer that BHT, but I can say I wish I’d paid the $1500 for the auto instead of being a Stone Age hardhead.



gearheadmb SuperDork
12/10/19 8:16 a.m.

I kind of hate the tj. Mostly because of the interior. They ditched the spartan interior of the previous jeeps that I personally found really endearing and and replaced it with an interior that has too much plastic and padding and has all the quality you would expect from a late 90s Chrysler. Everything you touch feels sloppy and cheap. Everything that isn't already broken feels like it's about to break.

The 3.8 in the jk should be avoided imo. The minty late model one I worked on years ago at independent shop was slower than my 90 yj with a 258. It had disappearing oil. When I contacted a chrysler tech to find out what the common issue was and see if it was covered under warranty they told me one quart per 1000 miles was considered acceptable oil consumption. 

For me the high water mark for wranglers was the late yj. The multiport 4.0 was reliable and had really good low and mid range torque, it had the good 5 speed, stripped down basic interior that didn't fall apart before the first oil change, and the whole thing just felt like what you want a jeep to feel like. If it were me shopping I would find the mintiest rust free yj with wheels and stance you like. It would probably only be half your budget.

Shadeux Reader
12/10/19 8:42 a.m.

In reply to BoxheadTim :

If memory serves the 3.6 has around 85 more horsepower and it's a 5-speed. I think there is a world of difference between the 3.6 and the 3.8.

Steve_Jones Reader
12/10/19 8:49 a.m.

The automatics in the early JKs are horrible, the later ones are worth every penny.  That being said the automatics in the JL make the late JK feel as bad as the early JK. The JLs drive 100% different than any other Wrangler.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/10/19 10:39 a.m.

Some more thoughts - towing really isn't an issue here, although I could just about tow my race car + trailer with a 4 door JK. But I have a beater truck for that and likely will keep having beater trucks for that and typical DIY work.

One of the appeals of going a bit older is that a nice TJ/LJ or maybe JK is mostly deprecated out, so I have a chance of getting my money back when it's JL time. OTOH getting newer JK would push back the purchase of a JL by quite some time, which may or may not be a good thing.

If we were still in the Southwest, I may entertain a YJ but out here I'd prefer to get something I can't sweep up and carry home in a couple of plastic bags. Not to mention that the few YJs I found out here were rough in a major fashion.

akylekoz SuperDork
12/10/19 11:18 a.m.

This is all great, but how did we glaze over that the intended purpose of said Jeep is as a backup vehicle for a Rover.

Maybe just sell the rover and get a Lexus GX/LX or Infiniti QX/QX truck, a nice copy of a legend only reliable.

Feel free to shoot now and ask questions later.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/10/19 11:35 a.m.

In reply to akylekoz :

Lexus or Infinity won't fly. Jeep or potentially another Landrover. Don't ask me how I found out.

BTW, the Range Rover has been reliable for the last 7 years, including cross-country trips. Yes, we did have to get the head gaskets sorted out initially but it's been pretty good so far.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/12/19 11:07 a.m.

There's a dealer not far from here that seems to specialise in "interesting" vehicles - they have a few TJs, LJs and a couple of JKs (not to mention an SRT Grand Cherokee and what looks like a nice Grand National). I may pay them a visit on Saturday to check out if the TJ/LJs are even in the running or if I bite the bullet and turn the backup daily into the new proper daily.

mr2s2000elise Dork
12/12/19 11:53 a.m.

So Sat might bring an early X mas present??? devil

Apexcarver UltimaDork
12/12/19 12:16 p.m.

Do a search on "Death Wobble" and understand it. incremental wear issue of multiple components nearest I have been able to tell, but something to understand. 


Has she driven one? Can be a different and vague feeling; I would establish its tolerable to her before buying based on image alone.  ditto weather protection. 


Check condition of the hood holddowns.  They are rubber and they age and can break (same reason you use braided bunji cords, and not the solid rubber ones in a trailer).  Nice aftermarket solid ones out there. 


Go over any aftermarket electronic add ons or alterations, I see a lot of them burn up from electrical fires.



BoxheadTim MegaDork
12/12/19 12:17 p.m.

In reply to mr2s2000elise :

Well, I'm purposely leaving the trailer at home.

But based on what I find there I may have to go back the following weekend with the trailer.

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