Aim for hard going
Built to go anywhere, the Wrangler has a trade-off for toughness — there is an abiding query over reliability
When it comes to off-road vehicles there is no more iconic brand than Jeep. In WWII, the go-anywhere Jeep was the workhorse of the American army and its reputation for go anywhere toughness endured when civilian versions arrived.
Today’s Wrangler typifies this, with its rough, tough good looks dominated by the famous slatted grille. It also has had to move with the times, and the JK series that arrived in 2007 came with downhome comforts wartime soldiers could never have imagined.
It’s still a proper off-roader, able to tackle the roughest and toughest places you could imagine. It will climb seemingly impossible hills, clamber over rocks and boulders, and cross rivers with impressive ease.
The JK maintained the twodoor body style of predecessors but added a longer wheelbase four-door Unlimited variant.
Each came with either a softtop for a real open-air bush experience, or a hardtop that was more practical for everyday use. Specification started with the Sport, then came the Renegade and the rangetopping Rubicon.
Engine options were a 3.8litre V6 and a 2.8-litre fourcylinder turbo diesel. For transmissions, there were a manual six-speeder (available with both engines), a four-speed auto for the V6 and a five-speed auto for the diesel.
Naturally the Wrangler had four-wheel drive, with high and low-range, and a full-size spare. The Rubicon had diff locks to enhance off-road performance.
The JK Jeep had to be able to live in town as well as the bush, so it had many mod-cons. Safety, however, wasn’t the Wrangler’s top priority. It wasn’t rated by ANCAP before 2012, but it has two airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control, plus hill-start assist and hill descent control.
Some town folk bought into the Jeep image, thinking it fashionable, but the Wrangler is really at its best away from the bright lights.
Its off-road ability presents a challenge for anyone buying a used example. Of prime importance is thoroughly checking it for off-road use, or more particularly abuse.
The Wrangler will stand up to off-road use but it won’t cop the abuse that can come from an inexperienced or gung-ho driver.
Look for damage, especially to the underbody, and take note of bashed suspension, exhaust, brackets and fittings, and look for torn or ripped seals that could allow dust and water into critical drivetrain components.
Also look closely at the interior for rips and tears from an uncaring owner. Roof leaks were common and many owners complained of water damage to seats.
It’s best to walk away if you suspect a Wrangler has been knocked around and look for one that a town-bound owner has maintained.
It may not be such an issue for anyone buying second hand but many Wrangler owners we surveyed complained about the customer service from dealers and the company itself.
There were a number of recalls in 2016 relating to the deployment of the airbags in a crash, one relating to the left front brake caliper that could affect the braking.
In 2014 a recall related to the heated rear view mirrors and another in 2012 dealt with the possibility of debris collecting around the catalytic converter creating a fire hazard.
Check with the seller to see whether these have been done. If you’re unsure contact a Jeep dealer.
Also check for a service record to confirm proper servicing, it’s even more important on a car that’s possibly been used off-road.
Dennis Sandy We bought a new 2010 Wrangler diesel auto and loved it for the first three years until it tried to kill us when at 33,000km it developed the death wobbles on the highway — luckily there was little traffic around and we pulled over safely and nursed the car back to the dealership. The problem was worn ball joints and these were replaced under warranty. The day after the ball joints were replaced the rear speed sensor failed and so the vehicle was returned to the dealer where the sensor was replaced. That was it, we had lost all confidence in the car and we traded it for a Suzuki Grand Vitara, which is bulletproof.
Stan Allsop The 2011 Wrangler Sport we bought new practically fell apart. The roof started cracking for no reason, one of the rims cracked and we were informed that it could have given way at any time while driving, and the hood straps were also faulty. We could only get warranty help after fighting tooth and nail; the service we got from the dealer and Jeep was appalling. We sold it.
Shaun Billings Our 2009 Wrangler is an excellent 4WD and very good at towing our offroad camper trailer. I’ve replaced door seals because it
leaked; I’ve also replaced switches and other parts. It’s good fun but don’t expect it to be hassle-free.
Jim Mason We love our Wrangler despite having to replace four door and bonnet hinges due to rust and despite the poor customer service. Offroad the car is fabulous, while on-road it handles very well. The only downside is the fuel consumption.
Allan Jennings My experience with a Sport Unlimited is that you don’t buy just one, you need two to keep one going. I loved the look and driving it off-road but it wasn’t reliable. I had problems with the clutch, gearbox, dash lights, wiring harness and radiator.
Steven Wilson My Wrangler is an amazing car and I would happily buy another one. It’s a Jeep and does what Jeeps do.
It’s a real off-roader, best suited to off-road enthusiasts.