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Jeep has been for sale to private customers since 1945; through the ensuing years it has had a number of owners but since 1987 Chrysler has been a stable overseer of the brand. Unfortunately, reliability has been a frequent topic of conversation for Jeep, but it is too vague to say all Jeeps break down a lot. Some models, like the Compass, have better reliability scores, while the Wrangler in some model years is one of the most unreliable cars sold.
It isn’t a simple answer and ultimately each vehicle, along with each model, has to be considered on its own merits. To label the brand unreliable as a whole is a little unfair. If you are reading this, you are probably interested in buying a new or used Jeep and want to be sure you’re not buying a lemon. There are a lot of factors that contribute to reliability, which we will go through, but we will also cover some statistics on various Jeep models that might influence your purchasing decision.
The Wrangler has been a stalwart of the Jeep lineup since 1987, and its off-road prowess has been praised ever since. Not so much the Wrangler’s reliability, and looking at the number of recalls and ownership experiences can give some idea of its expected reliability.
The Jeep Wrangler averages 5.7 safety recalls per model year between 2010 and 2019. In one of its worst years, 2012 with 10 recalls, seven of those were airbag-related. Obviously, this is very safety-relevant, and rectifying the issues (generally by airbag replacement) will lead to time without the vehicle, but generally once completed should not come up as an issue again.
The Jeep Compass is a relatively well-built vehicle with a maximum of six safety recalls in one model year (2018) but only an average of 2.4 safety recalls per model year between 2010 and 2019. The Grand Cherokee averages worse than the Wrangler in this regard, with 6.5 recalls per model year (thanks mainly to a very poor run of results in 2014, requiring 15 mostly electrical and vehicle control-related recalls).
Not all recalls will lead to a breakdown. While there is a safety element involved in all recalls, some of them are as simple as changing the floor mats (truly; the NHTSA issued a recall on some 4,800 2018 Grand Cherokee SRT and Trackhawk models for a floor mat that might possibly prevent the accelerator pedal from returning to the idle position).
When buying a used Jeep, these recalls should be already completed on the vehicle, and this can be checked by a dealer with the vehicle’s VIN before purchase.
Taking a look at various independent websites and a trend can be found highlighting how overall when repair costs are considered, the 2012 Wrangler is one of the most unreliable model years when taking repair costs into account. There are a few common issues that should be mentioned:
- Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) failure. Controlling almost every electrical component in late model Jeeps, when the TIPM fails issues like an engine that won’t start or an engine that stalls are commonplace. Additionally, power windows and central locking not working, windshield wipers turning on and off at will, ABS faults, airbag warnings, there is almost no end to the possible problems that result from a TIPM failure. Affected models are the Grand Cherokee (2007-2015), Wrangler (2007-2015), and Liberty (2007-2012). The average cost of repair is $1,200, but some recalls were made by Jeep to rectify the problems.
- Gearbox problems. The electronic shifting of some Jeeps, notably the 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokees and 2014 and 2015 Cherokees, results in rough shifts or long hesitations between gears. Repair costs range from $1,100 to over $7,500. If you avoid these model years, you’ll limit the risk of buying a car with gearbox issues.
- Engine problems. The 2012 Wrangler’s 3.6L V6 has had many reports of the heads needing replacement due to coolant leaks. The Grand Cherokee with the same 3.6L V6 is also affected by reports of Check Engine Light warnings. Excessive oil consumption has also been frequently reported for the 2008 3.8L V6 Wrangler.
There are a number of considerations to consider when discussing reliability after a car has left the lot, and while some are manufacturer-specific, most are down to the vehicle owners. Whether buying a car or maximizing its life, it is these points that need to be taken into account to ensure you own the best vehicle possible.
Servicing and maintenance
This is the single biggest factor that determines how likely any car is for breaking down, not just a Jeep:
- Servicing. If a car is inspected often and has fluids and filters replaced regularly, it will go a long way to keeping it on the road. Manufacturers are under pressure to stretch out servicing intervals, but an oil change every year or 6,000 miles will not break the bank. It is also an opportunity to check on other maintenance issues.
- Maintenance. Speaking of, when parts wear out, it is best to replace them before they fail entirely (like suspension bushes, worn-out clutches, and brakes). It also keeps the car safe and roadworthy in most cases. Preventative maintenance can also save you money in the long run; replacing an oil pump on a car that has done hundreds of thousands of miles is cheaper than replacing an engine.
Ultimately, a car that is loved and cared for will love you back by returning years of reliable running. You’d be pretty brave to buy a car that was never serviced.
Mechanical sympathy is an understanding of how a tool operates; not necessarily to a level of an engineer, but there are some small things owners can do that go a long way to looking after your Jeep:
- Let your car warm up a little before driving off. This will mean components are at correcting operating temperatures and there is adequate oil pressure for the engine.
- Good braking habits. Don’t ride your brakes downhill, or slam them on every time you come to a stop. Also, don’t rest your foot on the brake pedal while driving.
- Watch for curbs. Curbs can not only cause damage to wheels and tires but hitting them at speed can damage suspension components and ruin your alignments.
- Drive to impress Miss Daisy, not Lewis Hamilton. You don’t need to change gears at redline every time nor take every corner at maximum attack and brake at the last second. Sedate driving isn’t always necessary, but it is better for your car.
Again, a car that is looked after will give back to you in spades. If you’re buying a used Jeep, some things are easy to check for; if wheels and tires are scraped and damaged, and the exhaust blows smoke, it’s possibly had a hard life.
The environment a vehicle is subjected to has a big bearing on its overall condition, if it isn’t taken care of:
- Snow. This is the worst one because snowy climates normally imply salt on the roads, which means salt on your car. Salt will cause rust and is very abrasive on painted surfaces.
- Rain. If cars are parked outside in wet climates, they never get the chance to dry, leading to rust and other issues like moss and mold growth.
- Sun. UV light damages paint and dries out plastics and rubber seals thus making them brittle. Expect leaks if you have cracked rubber seals around your doors.
- Beach. Taking your Jeep off-road? Make sure you wash all that saltwater and sand off after you come back home.
Frequent washing of your car, both inside, outside (and under!), and using protective products like wax and rubber/plastic conditioner will keep your car fresh and limit aging.
Keeping your car in a garage or undercover protects it from the elements, but it also limits the opportunities for drainage channels becoming blocked with debris, like leaves, pollen, and other grimey things.
How a Jeep, or any vehicle, is used will be indicative of the type of life it’s had, and a few points below will give some idea of the extremes that can be encountered:
- Regular city use. Think school and grocery runs and daily work commutes. The worst that’s likely to occur is minor cosmetic damage like car park dings and scrapes. It’s true that frequent short journeys aren’t ideal for cars, but as long as the owner lets the car warm up most wear will be avoided.
- Touring. A high-miler that has just crisscrossed the country has probably had the easiest life imaginable unless it was towing…
- Towing. Towing a box trailer will be of little consequence to a Jeep, but a caravan or boat is another story. All that weight naturally puts a lot of stress on the engine, and especially the gearbox, while also working suspension and braking components even harder.
- Off-road. Jeeps are some of the best vehicles to use off-road, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to damage and failures. Rough forest tracks and rock crawling can cause untold issues if driven incorrectly.
Jeeps are designed to be used in extreme conditions, more so than most other vehicles. That said, take some precautions as an owner, and make some inquiries as a potential buyer to get a gauge on how the vehicle was used beforehand. Even if a car has been off-road more often than on-road if it has been maintained and looked after.
While there are many Jeeps worth buying, some model years are best avoided due to the rate of complaints:
2011 Grand Cherokee
2008 and 2012 Wrangler
2014 and 2015 Cherokee
The Totally Integrated Power Module is the electronic core of many Chrysler and Jeep models. When it fails, it can affect many of the car’s electronically-controlled functions, like central locking, power windows, fuel pump operation, headlights, windshield wipers, ABS, and airbag operation. Replacement of some relays or the entire TIPM itself resolves any issues. If buying a car with an original TIPM from the most troublesome model years outlined above, be aware it might fail in the future.
The “death wobble” some Jeep models experience is severe oscillating from the front wheels, felt through the steering wheel and causing the car to shake side to side, often violently and at speeds over 45mph. It is mainly a result of having a solid front axle (beneficial for off-road use) and worn suspension components like ball joints, but other factors like unbalanced wheels and poor wheel alignment contribute to the issue.
*All recall data and information provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).