The Jeep Wrangler has come to symbolize the kind of feeling of freedom and adventure that no sports car or motorcycle can quite match. This vehicle is one of the most popular SUVs, well known for its reliability and low maintenance cost. However, while some Jeep Wranglers truly are amazing and unstoppable, some models have recorded significant problems over the years.
If you're in the market for a used Jeep Wrangler, there are a wide variety of options to choose from. The SUV has been in production since the dusk of the Second World War and continues to grace the market in 2022. Used Wranglers are known to be powerful, withstanding just about anything-the snow, the mud, sleet, rocks, rain, and sand. Some are also much easier to repair than others. Unlike newer models, there isn’t any annoying onslaught of electric components with the older models. They are much easier to work on and fix up yourself.
Of course, it's not all rosy buying Jeep Wranglers used. Some will only blight your pain points further. In order to shed some light on this dilemma, here are five Jeep Wranglers to buy used, and five to avoid.
10 Buy Used: 1954-1983 CJ-5
Wrangler lovers have a lot to go for in a CJ5—reliability, comfort, and efficiency. First introduced in 1954 and leaving the market in 1983, the CJ-5 is a fun, reliable vehicle that still operates competently. Its design was entrenched on the round fendered ‘51 M38AI. However, its more rugged, versatile, and comfortable compared to its predecessor.
The most likely engine you'll find in a '60s model is the Buick 3.7-liter V6 pushing out 155 hp. However, in 1970 when the company was sold to American Motors, the new owners replaced the engine with its unit. A variety of engines were released through the 1970s, including a 5.0-liter, 4.2-liter, and 3.8-liter V8. The CJ-5’s easy to come across parts and inexpensive repair costs are also selling points for the long-retired Jeep.
9 Stay Away From: 2012 Wrangler
For the 2012 model, the wrangler disappointed owners with a host of reported complaints. Most issues revolve around the drivetrain.
Some owners experienced stalling or random braking while driving, whereas others had their engines fail, cylinders misfire, and more. The 2012 Wrangler had 9 recalls; for fire risks, Takata airbags, and transmission fluid leaks, to mention a few. The biggest factor, though, is the huge cost to mend these issues. Swapping entire modules, radiators, or engine heads altogether meant hefty repair bills for owners.
8 Buy Used: 1976 CJ-7
The CJ-7 Wrangler is another pretty solid choice. Although the CJ-6 is regarded as a CJ-5 with a longer wheelbase, the CJ-7 comprised a number of new features and upgrades, making it a common choice on the used market.
The 1976 Jeep CJ-7 came with better stability and handling, now employing the quadra-trac-all-wheel-drive system, which transformed the Jeep CJ7 into an all-terrain monster. Its interior was revamped to offer an enhanced classy and luxurious ride. It also came with a tilting steering wheel, high back leather bucket seats, and attractive chrome packages. Prospective buyers may be overwhelmed with the engine varieties, a 2.5 liter Iron Duke 14, a 4.2 liter AMC 16, a 5.0 liter AMC V8, and many more. Plus, it has good reviews from previous owners.
7 Stay Away From: 2020 Wrangler
The newest Jeep Wrangler appeared on this list because it was awarded a 36 out of 100, and an overall rating of 28 when running through tests by Consumer Reports—not quite good for a ride with a high price tag. A used 2020 Jeep Wrangler is estimated to cost roughly about $45,900.
Another issue you may have to grapple with is the high maintenance and repair cost. A 2020 Jeep Wrangler will cost you about $11,661 for repair and maintenance during its first five years of service. There’s also a 30% chance the Wrangler will require major repair during that time.
6 Buy Used: 1987 YJ
The Jeep YJ replaced the CJ model, and while the inceptive reactions weren’t anything encouraging, owners appreciated most of its features.
While this model was particularly controversial for its square headlights and raised windshield, owners quickly learned to love it for its width, lower ground clearance, and more spacious interior. For the 1987 model, Jeep YJ owners enjoyed a 2.5-liter AMC 150 14 engine or the more optimal 4.2-liter AMC 258 straight-six engine. Besides, the Jeep is affordable, about $10,450 with inexpensive repair and maintenance costs compared to other models.
5 Stay Away From: 2007 Wrangler JK
While the third-generation Wrangler still remains Jeep’s iconic vehicle, it may be nearing the end of its lifecycle. Although the Wrangler JK is known for its outstanding off-road performance, it was plagued by issues on multiple fronts.
Besides multiple recalls that affected many Wranglers, this model year had problems ranging from fuel system to steering. Common issues reported revolved around drivetrain, handling, and safety. According to owners who suffered engine failure, repairs cost them approximately $4,400.
4 Buy Used: 1996 Wrangler TJ
The TJ model was manufactured between 1996 and 2006 as a replacement for the YJ Wrangler. Besides being a reliable option, similar used models can be found at fairly affordable prices.
Most still exhibit high-performance levels owing to their robust build quality. 1996 TJ’s featured upgrades such as the 4.0-liter AMC 242 inline-six engine capacity, better suspensions for smooth rides, roll bars for improved safety, and more.
These Wranglers were built for speed, power, and capabilities. Repair and maintenance cost is also affordable.
3 Stay Away From: 2015 Wrangler
Even though the used 2015 Jeep Wrangler has impressive off-road performance with a well-built cabin, it too had its fair share of problems. The driving experience was bumpy and the handling clumsy.
Also, the Wrangler wasn’t as fuel-efficient as car-based crossovers and has had two recalls. In 2016, Chrysler recalls a severed or separated seat belt buckle strap may break and separate from the seat frame, increasing the risk of an injury during a collision. Also, the model year’s clockspring assembly may be contaminated with dust, resulting in a possible failure of the air-bag circuit.
2 Buy Used: 2004 LJ
The Jeep LJ is one of the coolest Jeeps of all time. It’s a rare, stretched version of the regular 1997-2006 Wrangler. Jeep enthusiasts are often willing to pay a pretty penny for this model. An extended wheelbase, a Command-Trac 231 transfer casing, and a Dana 44 rear axle are some features you’ll find in this vehicle.
Its sharp handling qualities and efficient engine with an automatic four-speed transmission make this Jeep a catch. Given there were no recalls for this model, spending around $15,000 for a used one is worth it.
1 Stay Away From: 2018 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
While 2018 Wrangler Rubicon came fully redesigned with a more comfortable interior, it’s not without fault. According to an Edmunds review, the ride’s steering is slow and feels loose, it has less cargo space, and poor handling abilities as well as ride comfort.
The Jeep’s engine failure coupled with issues with electronic throttle and radiator fans attracted negative comments from owners. So, if you’re thinking about buying this model, think hard.