Buyer’s Guide: How To Buy The Perfect TJ Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is one the best off-road trucks ever made, but they are kind of expensive. Many people don’t want a YJ Wrangler because of its leaf spring suspension, and many people don’t want a JK Wrangler because it’s so expensive. The only option left is the TJ Wrangler and although they can be fairly expensive, if you know what you’re looking for then you can get a good deal. In this short guide, we’re going to show you what you need to look for when buying a TJ Wrangler.

Which Model TJ Wrangler Do You Want?

Everyone wants a Rubicon model; it has big tires, big axles, good suspension, and locking differentials. Unfortunately, the Rubicon is fairly expensive so most of will settle with a lower model TJ. Some models use the 2.5-liter engine and some use the 4.0-liter engine. The 2.5-liter is a good little engine, but it doesn’t compare to the legendary 4.0-liter.

The SE model was available for 1997 – 2006 and used the 2.5-liter as the standard engine with the 2.4-liter being the standard later on. The 4.0-liter engine was optional in the final years of this model but most of them used the smaller engine. Unfortunately, the Dana 44 rear axle wasn’t even an option on this model.

Notice the slightly wider fender flares on the Sahara model on the right.

The X model was available for 2002 – 2006 and used the 4.0-liter as standard, but was still stuck with the Dana 35 rear axle. The Sport and Sahara models, however, had the option of upgrading to the Dana 44 rear axle. The D44 on the Sport model also had the option for a Trac-Lok limited slip differential.

Common Problems

Many of the problems the TJ Wrangler suffers from are the same problems that affect the XJ Cherokee. Most of these problems are fairly easy to fix, but some of them are worse than others. Don’t be afraid of small issues, you should try to use them to your advantage during the negotiation process.

Some TJs were used by the government for services such as mail and park management

The 4.0-liter engine is prone to oil leaks at the rear main seal, oil pan gasket, valve cover gasket, and the oil filter adapter gasket. Most of these leaks are fairly easy to fix. The rear main seal may require removal of the front axle in order to take the oil pan off to gain access to the two-piece rear main. The valve cover gasket is pretty easy, but there are a ton of bolts holding it on, so that can take longer than expected.

The factory radiator on the TJ Wrangler is known for leaking where the plastic tank camps meet the radiator core. Unfortunately, there isn’t a real way to fix this issue other than upgrading to an all aluminum radiator. You may have to upgrade to a better radiator anyway because the 4.0-liter engine generates quite a lot of heat and the factory radiator might not be able to adequately cool the engine.

If the Jeep you’re looking at is lifted, crawl under it and look at the rear track bar bracket on the axle. The bracket on the axle is known for breaking off, especially on lifted TJs. If there isn’t any sort of reinforcement on the bracket then it will need to be added before something bad happens.

Lifted TJs are more prone to having suspension and driveline issues

Death wobble is a really obnoxious issue that can affect any solid axle vehicle. This issue can be caused by multiple problems, but the main cause is the lower track bar bolt. This bolt can become loose over time and allow for a small amount of movement which can result in death wobble. The factory steering linkage is pretty easy to bend which will mess up the alignment and can cause death wobble. When test driving the Jeep, be sure to get it up to 30-50mph for a while to see if death wobble occurs.

Early TJ Wranglers are known for their leaky windshield cowl vent. This can allow water inside the cab of your Wrangler during or after a rainstorm. That water can cause rust on the floor pan, as well as mold on the carpet. Jeep fixed this issue on later model TJ Wranglers with a slightly different design.

Summary

Buying a TJ Wrangler is much like buying any other vehicle. Check for obvious things like the condition of the fluids. Don’t be afraid of anything you find wrong with the Jeep because you can use it to your advantage during the bargaining process. Other than the things we mentioned, the TJ Wrangler is a pretty tough and reliable vehicle.

About the author

Bryce Cleveland

Bryce has been in the automotive industry for most of his life. He’s done everything from fixing cars, flipping cars, writing about cars, and everything in-between. He has owned a total of 18 vehicles, most of which he owned before the age of 20. He currently drives his 2015 Ford Fiesta ST every single day and has plans to buy his third Jeep XJ Cherokee very soon.
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