Exasperated owners may say “it’s a Jeep thing,” but the truth is, every car or truck you can think of has its own unique quirks and issues and Jeeps are no exception. That being said, Jeepers are known to run into certain problems time and again. In fact, the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee have been singled out by Consumer Reports as the least reliable vehicles in their respective classes, and the Renegade made their top 10 Least Reliable Cars list.
Of course, I don’t want to discourage anyone from driving a Jeep. When you want a Jeep, there really is no substitute. But knowing what pitfalls might lie ahead can help you be ready to deal with problems as they arise. So, to help you out, here are some common issues that affect Jeeps and some tips on how to fix or even prevent them.
1. The Death Wobble
Death Wobble is probably the most infamous problem in the Jeep community. At high speeds, especially after hitting a bump, the steering wheel may start the shake and vibrate violently, to the point that some drivers report that the Jeep becomes hard to handle. Usually, if you slow down or stop, the wobble will go away. Despite the scary name, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reports that there have been no fatal accidents associated with the condition. You can see a close up example of what death wobble looks like, in this video:
What Causes the Jeep Death Wobble?
This condition occurs across Jeep models, and can also affect some heavy duty Rams, Ford, and GM pickups, or classic Ford Broncos, among others. The key element that connects all these vehicles is the use of a solid front axle. That means the left and right front wheels are connected by a solid steel tube. When one wheel wobbles, the motion gets transferred through the axle to the other wheel, and the wobble from that wheel feeds back to the first wheel, making a feedback loop that causes the vibration.
Can I prevent my Jeep from shaking at high speeds?
The key to preventing death wobble is to keep your steering and suspension from getting loose. That will stop bumps in the road from making the wheels wobble in the first place. The first thing you’ll want to check is that your tires are inflated to the correct pressure.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that your steering parts aren’t worn. In particular, check for play in the tie rods and wheel hubs. You can do this by raising the front wheels with a jack and trying to move them by hand. Also, look for torn boots on your ball joints or rust or wear on any suspension parts. Shiny spots, where the paint is worn off, can indicate rubbing, which is a sign of looseness.
The track bar or Panhard rod can also be a source of looseness. They usually wear around the bolt hole where the track bar meets the frame. You can check for looseness by trying to move the bar back and forth by hand. You may also find wear, usually in an oval pattern, around the bolt hole. Finally, be sure to check that the track bar bolt are tightened to the recommended torque specification. If you have any loose or worn steering parts, you’ll want to replace them.
If your tires and steering parts are all set, but your Jeep’s still wobbling, you’ll want to have your alignment checked.
Death Wobble can also affect lifted Jeeps more than stock ones. When you lift your Jeep, the angles of your steering parts change, so you’ll want to take these things into account when installing a lift kit, to make sure your steering will still be sound.
2. Exhaust Leaks
Certain Jeep engines had the habit of developing exhaust leaks. The 4.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine available in the Cherokee from 1987-2001, the Grand Cherokee from 1993-2004, and the Wrangler from 1991-2006 (among others), was particularly known for this issue. The 4.7-liter V8 used in the Grand Cherokee from 1999-2009 could also develop exhaust leaks.
The exhaust manifold could develop cracks after many cycles of heating up and cooling down, and start to leak. If your exhaust is leaking you may notice a ticking sound coming from the engine bay, reduced fuel mileage, or possibly even a small of exhaust in the engine bay. The problem is well known and replacement manifolds are often designed to better withstand cracking. Naturally, if your exhaust is leaking you’ll want to replace it.
3. Clogged Fuel Injectors
The 4.0 can also develop clogged fuel injectors. Deposits build up on the injectors and disrupt the flow of fuel. That can cause rough idling, misfires, or engine “stumbling.” Many Jeepers swear by various fuel additives that clean the injectors as you run the engine. If you try one of these and it doesn’t help, then you may need to replace the injectors. It’s not the easiest job in the world, but if you put in the time and effort, you can probably do it yourself.
4. Failing Throttle Position Sensor
Another problem that can affect your Jeep’s engine is a failing throttle position sensor. This tended to affect Cherokees from 1990 to 2002 and Wranglers from 1990 on. The throttle body can get clogged up with residue, which will keep the sensor from working correctly. That will affect your fuel air ratio, how the engine runs, and can lead to hard starting or stalling when stopped.
Luckily, this is problem is usually avoidable and easy to fix. If you’re already having problems, you’ll want to take off your throttle body and clean it with throttle body cleaner and a rag or paper towels. Just be sure not to spray throttle body cleaner directly on the sensor. Cleaning the throttle body periodically (say, when you replace your air filter) will help prevent the throttle body from getting clogged in the first place. If cleaning the throttle body doesn’t seem to help, then you might have to replace the throttle position sensor itself.
5. Water Leaks and Wind Noise
The Wrangler (and its predecessor, the CJ) and the Cherokee can sometimes suffer water leaking into the cabin, particularly around the doors and windows. Wind noise while you’re driving is, believe it or not, a related issue. Both can stem from problems with your door and window seals. The seals can wear out, loosen up or get out of place as time passes. Naturally, the solution to a leaky seal is to replace it. It’s a straightforward job, but it does take some care and attention to detail.
The Wrangler has its own complications with the removal top (which, let’s face it, is half the reason to buy a Wrangler). If you have the hard top, first be sure you have the panels line up exactly whenever you put them on. If you’re still getting leaks, then you’ll want to check the seals. It’s also possible for the fasteners to wear out, leaving small gaps for wind and rain to get in.
With a soft top, the key is maintenance. Be careful when you’re removing the soft top or putting it on, and look out for any wear on the Velcro or zippers, fraying at the seams, or, again, worn seals. It’s not unusual to have to replace a soft top after a few years.
6. Transfer Case Failures
The transfer case is what lets you shift your Jeep between 4WD and 2WD. The transfer case has a gear system and is full of grease to keep the gears working smoothly. Over time, the seals can break down and the grease can leak out. Eventually, that could wear down the gears. If your transfer case is starting to leak badly, you might want to consider replacing it to be proactive.
Sometimes the transfer case shifter rod gets out of adjustment, keeping you from engaging 4WD, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a Jeep. According to Fourwheeler magazine, you can adjust the rod alignment yourself, though. There’s a nut that connects the rod to the shift lever. Loosen it, and you can adjust the rod by hand.
7. Ignition Switch Recall
2006 and 2007 Grand Cherokees and Commanders could develop an ignition switch fault that could lead to the engine turning off while you’re driving. There is a recall on the parts, so, if you have one of these model years, you can have the ignition switch replaced with an improved version at your friendly local Chrysler or Jeep dealer.
8. Electronic Malfunctions
The TIPM is Chrysler’s Totally Integrated Power Module, used in newer Jeeps. It’s the relay center that sends power to the windows, door locks, horns, and many other electronic parts. If the TIPM malfunctions, it can cause the horn to honk at random, the windows to roll up and down, and the doors to seemingly lock and unlock themselves. Jeeps with TIPM problems say that it seems like their Jeep is haunted. Drivers have reported TIPM problems in Wranglers and Grand Cherokees form 2007 onward, as well as other recent Chrysler vehicles. If your Jeep seems to have a mind of its own, you’ll probably have to have the TIPM replaced by the dealer or a shop. There is a partial recall, but only applies to the 2011 Grand Cherokee.
9. Fuel Overflow
Recently, some Jeepers have been reporting problems with gas overflowing when they fill their tank. Instead of the pump turning off, it keeps pumping out gas until it spills out the filler neck. This problem has been reported on 2005 to 2012 Wranglers and 2005 to 2011 Liberties. It’s also been noted on some Dodge and Chrysler vehicles. In response to the problem Chrysler extended the warranty on the fuel tank for 2007 and 2008 Wranglers, but not the other years. The problem has been perplexing for a lot of Jeep owners. Some find that replacing the filler neck helps, others find it’s the gas tank that’s the culprit. Others choose to just live with the issue and try to carefully time the pump to avoid overfilling.
At Fourwheeler, they think the problem might come from clogs in the evap canister. They suggest that if you don’t try to fill the tank past full early on (you know, when the pump turn off and you try to get those last couple drops), that you might not develop this issue down the line.
On a side note, if you’re looking to buy a Jeep and you see it has faded paint under the fuel door, then you know it either has this problem or had it in the past.
10. Window Motor Failure
The Grand Cherokee and Liberty have both had problems reported with their window regulators and motors. Strangely, the two vehicles don’t share the same regulator, but both seem to have the problem. Liberty owners sometimes had their windows suddenly drop down into the door while they were driving. The problem doesn’t seem to be as drastic in the Grand Cherokee. The motor burns out and you can’t move the window up or down. Occasionally, this can result from a damaged or misaligned regulator, so if you’ve burned out more than one motor, you’ll want to look into replacing the regulator as well.
It seems Chrysler has extended the warranty for 2006 and 2007 Liberties, but many Liberty owners have said that the new regulators failed as well.
11. Tail Light Circuit Corrosion
Grand Cherokees sometimes suffer from corrosion of the tail light circuit boards. At first you might think you have a bulb out, but after you replace it, the light still doesn’t work. In some cases, you can replace the circuit board alone, but in others, you may have to replace the entire tail light. The corrosion tends to be caused by water seeping in, so make sure your tail light is lined up correctly and fits snugly into place, and that the gaskets are sealed properly. Many circuit board kits come with new gaskets.
Of course, no list of problems can be comprehensive. Every model, every year, and every individual vehicle can have its own quirks. A quick search for recalls or service bulletins might save you a lot of trouble down the line. Jeep owners are also lucky that there are large dedicated communities where people share tips and advice. Jeeps are great fun and there’s no reason a little problem has to ruin your Jeep experience. When you know what to look out for and you stay proactive about taking care of your Jeep, you do a lot to get the most of it.