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Best Buys In Used 4x4s

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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Best Buys In Used 4x4s

’91-’01 Cherokee
It’s the precursor to the four-door JK Wrangler, only the Cherokee is a lot less expensive. Almost any ’91-up Cherokee is a good buy unless it’s been poorly maintained or beat to death by a pack of freshly licensed teenage kids. But even then these Jeeps still insist on not dying. The cream of the crop is the later ’97-’01 Cherokees with swoopier styling and a more reinforced Unitbody. The 4.0L inline-six is commonly mated to the AW4 four-speed automatic. When maintained it’s a 250,000-mile-plus drivetrain combo. Manual-trannied versions exist but they are few and far between. Aftermarket support for the Cherokee is unmatched. Most ’91-up Cherokees have a Chrysler 8.25 rearend which is good for tires up to 33-35 inches. Up front you’ll find the high-pinion non-disconnect Dana 30 which is also a decent axle. As high-pinion axle supplies dwindled, some of the last Cherokees received a low-pinion TJ Wrangler Dana 30 front axle. All of these Cherokees came with the durable NV231 T-case, however not all Cherokees are 4x4s. In the later years many were two-wheel-drive. The good news is that the 2WD Cherokees can be converted to 4WD with bolt-on junkyard parts.

Pros:

  • Extremely durable engine and tranny
  • Low price

Cons:

  • Common HVAC problems
  • Abused Cherokees may have door problems

Be on the lookout for:
The ’97-’01 4x4

’92-’96 Ford Bronco
It’s perhaps one of the most versatile modern 4x4s ever built. You can take the top off (although not very easily without the help of a few buddies), haul a trailer, wallop over some relatively difficult trails, and sleep inside of its cavernous interior. The ’87-’91 fourth-generation Broncos featured similar drivetrain components but slightly less-appealing body lines. The fifth-generation and final years of the Bronco were offered with three different engines. These included the 300 inline-six (’92 only), the 302 V-8, and the 351 V-8. All are relatively reliable but the 302 and the 351 should be top on your list. They should be easy to find since the inline-six was not all that common. The E4OD automatic had long since replaced the venerable C6 auto in fullsize Fords and unfortunately the new four-speed auto tranny is not as durable as its older three-speed counterpart. The E4OD is also difficult and expensive to rebuild reliably (lots of people can screw it up). Be sure to work a rebuild into your budget if the tranny is slipping or not shifting properly. Under this final generation of the Bronco you’ll find a leaf-sprung 31-spline Ford 8.8 C-clip rear axle. Up front is the Dana 44 Twin-Traction beam axle and suspension. The ’92-’96 Bronco enjoys lots of aftermarket support. It’s a great all-around vehicle for many different kinds of off-roading but it really shines in the high-speed stuff while still being really comfortable on long road trips.

Pros:

  • Great all-around 4x4/daily driver
  • Solid ½-ton truck drivetrain

Cons:

  • Expensive, complex auto transmission
  • Electric windows, switches, and gauges can be problematic with age

Be on the lookout for:
The 351 V-8

’73-’87 GM K-series
These are quintessential 4x4s. The V-8 engines found in these trucks enjoy a warehouse full of aftermarket power adders. Since all of these trucks have solid axles front and rear the available lift kits are numerous, inexpensive, and easy to install. Pretty much every part on these trucks has been repopped in one form or another. Rebuilding, modifying, and repairing couldn’t be any easier. Most of these trucks came with the small-block Chevy V-8. Some came with a big-block V-8. Later years came with a problematic electronic carburetor that can be swapped out for an aftermarket TBI kit. They came in ½- and ¾-ton versions. The solid-axle 1-ton didn’t show up until 1977 and remained in production through 1991.

The 10- and 12-bolt ½-ton rear axles are less than ideal, especially when coupled with the factory Gov-Loc locking differential and larger-than-stock tires. This combo often proves fatal to these light-duty C-clip rearends. Fortunately, swapping axles between the ½-, ¾, and 1-ton models is a bolt-on deal. Look for the revered 14-bolt (10.5-inch) rear axle found in ¾- and 1-tons and the Dana 60 front axle found only in the 1-tons. It’s not at all uncommon to find the 1-ton axles in a ½-ton truck because it is such an easy swap. Most of the early versions of these trucks and nearly all of the 1-tons enjoyed the bombproof NP205 transfer case. The full-time NP203 is less desirable but is great to have if you plan on adding a doubler (dual transfer cases). The NP208 can be found in the ’81-’87 ½- and ¾-ton GM trucks.

The TH350 and TH400 three-speed automatics found in these trucks are still the backbone of the off-road world today. The TH700-R4 (’82-’87) isn’t quite as durable as the TH350 or TH400 but it did come with an Overdrive gear. Keep the fluid cool and it should survive fine in all but the most abusive applications. The SM465 four-speed manual can also be found in these trucks and is very desirable, although well-worn versions will tend to pop out of gear. The solid-front-axle 1-ton truck production ran three years longer than the solid-axle ½- and ¾-ton trucks.

Pros:

  • You can almost build an entire truck with aftermarket parts
  • Incredible parts interchangeability for all years

Cons:

  • Weak steering box mount on all years and models
  • 10- and 12-bolt rear axles are marginal with larger tires

Be on the lookout for:
’90-’91 1-ton truck with a Dana 60 front axle, fuel-injected 454, TH400 or SM465 transmission, and an NP205 transfer case

’74-’91 Jeep FSJ
The Fullsize Jeep (FSJ) had been built since 1963. But it wasn’t until 1974 that it really got some better drivetrain components and disc brakes among other things. The ’74-’91 FSJs came in several different flavors including a four-door Wagoneer SUV, a two-door Cherokee SUV, and a J-series standard cab pickup that can be had with a long or a short bed. None of the FSJs are really as big as a real fullsize, but that’s part of their advantage. They are more maneuverable, you can see better, and they fit on more trails. What you get in an FSJ is fullsized drivetrain in a midsized package. The AMC 360 V-8 is very common in all ’74-’91 FSJs but some ’74-’78 Wagoneers can be found with the highly desirable big-cube AMC 401. However, all of these AMC V-8s have a pathetic ignition system that needs help or a complete replacement ignition system.

The automatic transmissions backing these V-8s were essentially bombproof 1-ton trannies for the most part. The ’74-’79 FSJs with Quadra-Trac came with a GM TH400 while the ’80-up FSJs generally got the TorqueFlite 727. The T-18 manual transmission is also a good option and can be identified by its really low First gear. The T-18 is most commonly found in the trucks but sometimes you’ll see them in FSJ Cherokees.

Several different transfer cases were used over the years. The ’74-’79 FSJs with manual transmissions got the cast iron gear-driven Dana 20. Later trucks got the more-modern chain-driven NP208. Both are good T-cases. The real problem-child is the full-time Borg Warner 1339 Quadra-Trac transfer case found in ’71-’79 FSJs. The Borg Warner 1339 can last a long time if maintained properly using the correct fluid. However, most Quadra-Tracs have had the wrong fluid in them sometime during their lives. This causes increased wear and internal damage.

The ’74-’79 FSJs generally came with admirable Dana 44 axles front and rear. In 1980 the big-tubed flanged AMC 20 rearend became the FSJ mainstay while the Dana 44 remained up front. The J-20 trucks received eight-lug hubs and a Dana 60 rear axle. Almost none of the FSJ axles are problematic (’80s disconnect front axles excluded) and they are great for tires up 35-37 inches.

Pros:

  • Relatively heavy-duty drivetrain components
  • Smaller than a regular fullsize

Cons:

  • Body rust is common, even in the southwest
  • Quadra-Trac T-case will almost always need a rebuild

Be on the lookout for:
Just about any rust-free FSJ with a V-8 is a good buy

’99-’04 Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ
When the Grand Cherokee WJ was introduced it had a similar look and the same wheelbase as its predecessor, the Grand Cherokee ZJ, but it was an all-new vehicle. Increases in it’s overall length and width translated to more interior and cargo room, but even with its larger size the WJ was still incredibly capable right out of the box in stock form. As a matter of fact, it easily won our 1999 and 2002 Four Wheeler of the Year competitions.

The WJ was available through ’01 with two engine choices. One was the familiar 4.0L I-6 and the other was a new overhead-cam 4.7L V-8. WJs equipped with the I-6 were saddled with the weak Dana 35 rear axle while the V-8 WJs got a better Dana 44 rear axle though it used an aluminum centersection. A Dana 30 solid front axle was used on all WJs. Some models, of the ’02-and-up WJ were available with a high-output version of the 4.7L engine that bumped output by 25hp and 35 lb-ft of torque to 260hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. This power was routed through a 45RFE five-speed automatic transmission and a lever-shift NV247 (Quadra-Trac II and Quadra-Drive) or NV242 (Selec-Trac) transfer case.

You may want to consider a six-cylinder WJ if you’re planning to hack it up. They’re less expensive than their V-8 counterparts and you’ll probably be ditching the rear Dana 35 axle anyway. However, if you plan on driving it stock look for an ’02 model with the high-output V-8 and Up Country suspension (it added skidplates, high-pressure gas shocks, tow hoods and special springs). Why an ’02? Well, for one thing, Jeep began de-contenting the Grand in ’02 and the list of standard features got smaller each year until WJ production ceased.

Pros:

  • Widely available
  • Great ride and handling
  • Outstanding approach and departure angles in stock form

Cons:

  • Only two rows of seating
  • A lot of tech on Quadra-Drive-equipped models

Be on the lookout for:
Any V-8 is good, but keep an eye out for an ’02 model with the high-output 4.7L V-8 and Up Country suspension

’94-’02 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500
On ’93-and-earlier Rams it’s often said that that the truck falls apart around a perfectly functioning drivetrain. That all changed in 1994. Along with a much-needed redesign, the ’94-’02 Ram ¾- and 1-ton trucks retained a respected lineup of powertrain options. The Rams feature everything that people generally want to swap into their 4x4s including V-8s, diesels, V-10s, and massive Dana 60, 70, and 80 axles.

These Rams typically came with a healthy fuel-injected 5.9L Magnum V-8 gas engine. But for even more grunt you could get the popular 5.9L Cummins 12-valve (’94-’98), the more-refined Cummins 24-valve (’98-’02), or the massive 8.0L V-10 (’94-’02) which is based on a cast-iron version of the Dodge Viper engine. Behind these engines you’ll find several different transmissions used over the years. Look for the NV4500 five-speed manual. It’s a great transmission. However the gland nut on the Fifth gear can come loose when towing heavy loads with a modified Cummins engine. Later on the NV5600 more than cured that problem. You may want to avoid the light-duty 2500 trucks; some came with the somewhat-smallish (for a ¾-ton truck) NV3500. None of the Ram auto trannies of this era are what we would consider bulletproof, but if maintained properly they will hold up just fine. Make sure you have plenty of cooling. Rebuilds are not cheap and neither is upgrading the internals to stronger billet parts to keep up with overly modified engines (mostly behind the Cummins).

With huge Dana 60, 70, and 80 axles as standard issue what else could you ask for? The only real bummer is the added complexity of the center axle disconnect in the Dana 60 front axles. This was phased out starting in ’02.

These trucks often develop steering issues. Inspect the steering box, tie rods, wheel bearings, ball joints, and track bar for excessive wear and slop.

Pros:

  • Great engine options
  • Heavy-duty drivetrain parts

Cons:

  • Long wheelbases
  • Steering component issues are common

Be on the lookout for:
A V-10 or Cummins truck with an NV4500 manual

’94-’01 Dodge Ram 1500
When Dodge rolled out the second-generation Ram as a ’94 model, even Chrysler probably didn’t realize what a profound effect it would have on sales. Its styling was a far cry from anything else on the market and it was a shot of adrenalin for the Dodge light truck brand. If we were in the market for a Ram of this vintage for everyday driving and light wheeling, we’d look for a ’98-’01 Quad Cab model because they had swing-open “suicide” doors to the backseat area and the pre-’98 extended cab models did not, which made ingress and egress a bit inconvenient. We also like that the 5.9L V-8 in the ’98 models saw an increase of 15 horsepower and 10 lb-ft of torque for a total of 245hp and 335 lb-ft of torque. This engine was backed by a 46RE four-speed automatic or an NV3500 five-speed manual transmission. We’d look for a truck equipped with the lever-actuated NV231 HD transfer case. With this truck you get a Dana 44 solid front axle (with center axle disconnect, sorry), Chrysler 9.25 rear axle, front coil spring suspension, and rear leaf spring suspension.

Pros:

  • Solid front axle
  • Good overall ride
  • Strong aftermarket support

Cons:

  • The long-side axletube on the front axle can bend when running larger tires
  • Prone to track bar failures at the frame-end
  • Problematic 46RE transmission

Be on the lookout for:
’98-and-up 5.9L V-8-equipped models

’71-’80 International Scout II
The Scout II was produced from 1971 through 1980. There were several versions of the Scout II including a Terra pickup as well as the longer, 118-inch-wheelbase Traveler that offered optional third-row seating and a removable fiberglass top. We like the basic 100-inch-wheelbase Scout II because it’s nimble and the entire steel top is removable. It was available with a variety of powerplants over the years, including four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines. It was even available with a diesel engine for a time, though they’re very rare. Scouts had a simple leaf spring setup and a pair of solid axles. If we were looking for a Scout II we’d hone in on a pre-emissions-choked ’74-’78 model. We’d hunt for one with a bulletproof, IH-built 345ci V-8 engine mated to a Chrysler TorqueFlite 727 three-speed automatic transmission and a compact and tough Dana 20 transfer case. A Scout made during that five-year span would’ve come standard with a pair of Dana 44 axles with disc brakes up front. There are still numerous sources for Scout parts in the aftermarket, including complete body tubs to help combat the corrosion that is the Scout’s biggest enemy.

Pros:

  • Nimble
  • Great approach angle
  • Still many sources for parts

Cons:

  • Rust

Be on the lookout for:
’74-’78 models with the IH 345ci V-8 engine

’99-’02 Ford Super Duty F-250
It may be rudimentary by today’s Super Duty standards, but the ’99-’02 Ford Super Duty F-250 is a great buy. Apparently many people feel the same way as they’re still in high demand with very strong resale values. Why do we like the ’99-’02 models? Let’s start with our favorite feature, the 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel. Once again, it’s not as refined as the newer Power Stroke turbodiesels, but it’s reliable, powerful, and it returns good fuel mileage. Also available were two gasoline engines, the Triton 5.4L V-8 and the 6.8L V-10, both of which were very high-tech for the time. The Power Stroke was mated to a 4R100 four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission prior to ’02 when it was replaced by a six-speed manual transmission. An NV271 transfer case sent power to the axles. The rear axle was the tried ’n true Ford 10½-inch axle, while the front was a Dana 50. Another bonus was that the front axle could be had with manual locking hubs. Between the axles and frame was a simple leaf spring suspension. Any Super Duty in this four-year span is a good choice for a daily driver/workhorse, but we’d go for the newest one we could afford to get all the latest Ford tweaks.

Pros:

  • Available with manual hubs
  • Very strong aftermarket support

Cons:

  • Unitized wheel bearings can wear prematurely when the vehicle is fitted with larger tires

Be on the lookout for:
A 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel-equipped truck

’73-’91 Chevy K5 Blazer/GMC Jimmy
Pre four-door SUV mania, the two-door Blazer and Jimmy were the envy of those wanting a fullsize rig in a more compact, easy-to-maneuver package. These SUVs oozed simplicity with a solid front axle and a simple leaf spring suspension. Over the years they were available with a wide variety of engines ranging from a six-cylinder to a V-8 diesel. There are good things about each year of these vehicles, but if we had to choose our favorite it would be a ’89-’91 model, which came standard with the TBI 5.7L V-8. This engine produced 210 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, which made it one of the most powerful engines available in the Blazer or Jimmy. The engine was mated to a 700-R4 four-speed automatic (4L60E in ’91) or a SM465 four-speed manual transmission. A chain-driven NP241 transfer case routed power to a pair of GM 10-bolt axles with 30-spline axleshafts. Body-wise, these had a removable fiberglass half-top, which was introduced in ’76 and used through ’91. Prior to ’76, the Blazer and Jimmy had a fully removable top. Common problems of the Blazer and Jimmy included frame cracks in the steering box mounting area, cracks in the engine crossmember, and weak steering that can’t hold up to trail use. Fortunately there is strong aftermarket support to fix these problems.

Pros:

  • Simple suspension
  • Parts are easy to acquire

Cons:

  • Poor steering design created bumpsteer when a suspension lift was installed
  • The 10-bolt axles can fail when fitted with larger tires

Be on the lookout for:
’89-’91 models with the 5.7L TBI engine

’93-’07 Ford Ranger
It may very well be the vehicle that holds the record for the most factory front fenders replaced by white ones, but the Ford Ranger is a bonafide off-highway machine. Much of the Ranger’s pedigree comes from its wide acceptance and success in desert racing. This, in turn, has led to vast aftermarket support for both the robust I-beam swing axle of the 2WD models and the stout Twin-Traction Beam of the 4WD trucks.

Ford redesigned the Ranger for the ’93 model year with a more rounded and aerodynamic look. This body, with minor changes in later years, would prove to be the last major body style change for the smallest Ford. The ’93 Ranger soldiered on with the venerable coil-sprung TTB front suspension and the available 4.0L V-6, which made 160hp (145hp on manual models) and 225 lb-ft of torque. When equipped with the 4.0L, the Ranger used a 27-spline Dana 35 front differential with reverse-cut gears and Dana 44-sized U-joints. Out back was the proven 28-spline Ford 8.8 solid axle located by leaves. Other engines available, but less desirable, were the 2.3L four-cylinder and 3.0L V-6.

In 1995, the newer Explorer-style dash was introduced to house the driver’s air bag and optional passenger airbag (not available until 1996). Other changes included an update of the four-speed A4LD transmission (itself an update of the C3) behind the 4.0L called the 4R55E. The sole manual trans option was the Mazda-sourced five-speed M5OD-R1. In 1997, the 4R55E was dropped in favor of the five-speed 5R55E.

Pros:

  • Stout TTB frontend
  • Cheap and plentiful
  • Aftermarket support

Cons:

  • Weak manual transmissions with bad slave cylinder design
  • Sensitive to lift and alignment
  • C-clip rear axle
  • Factory limited slips wear out prematurely

Be on the lookout for:
Any ’97 4.0L truck. These were the cream of the crop and featured Dana 35 TTB, Explorer interiors, more powerful brakes, torquey 4.0L and five-speed auto

’78-’79 Ford F-150/ Bronco
The ’78-’79 Ford F-150 arguably wore the best styling of the sixth-generation F-Series trucks and came from a time that where the Big Three were duking it out for truck supremacy and adding creature comforts common in today’s trucks. It was also the generation that took the sales crown in 1976, a title that the F-series still holds today. It is no wonder why the F-150 was so popular, with solid axles (Dana 44 front and Ford 9-inch rear), coil springs in the front, and your choice of a full-time NP203 or part-time NP205 transfer case. Engines ranged from the bulletproof 300ci I-6 to the highly criticized 351M and 400M V-8, but the V-8s could be had with the Ford’s three-speed C6 automatic transmission, a major selling point at the time. From the driveline, right down to the heavy-duty frame, these trucks were overbuilt for their weight ratings.

In 1978, a shortened F-100 chassis was also the foundation for the newly redesigned and upsized Ford Bronco. Featuring a larger size, a new top design and a tailgate that held the retractable backlight, the Bronco finally had features that put it more in line with Chevy’s Blazer. The Bronco was only offered with the 351M or 400M. These trucks were the last of the solid-axled ½-tons from the Ford factory.

Pros:

  • Ford built a ton of them
  • Solid axles and front coil springs
  • Over-built chassis and drivetrain

Cons:

  • Rust
  • Engines choked by smog equipment
  • Mediocre low-range gearing
  • Little aftermarket support for M-series engines

Be on the lookout for:
The stronger gear-driven, part-time NP205 transfer case

’86-’95 Suzuki Samurai
The Samurai, which was known by various other names throughout the world, made its U.S. debut in 1985 as an ’86 model. The solid-axled Samurai, with its super-short wheelbase and compact dimensions made for an extremely maneuverable 4x4 on the trail, with some even comparing it to the similarly-sized and much-beloved Jeep flatfender. It was also extremely forgiving to drive, making it an excellent beginner’s 4x4. The Samurai offered a real two-speed transfer case with automatic or manual locking hubs.

Both a soft top and hard top were initially offered on this pint-sized ute, however, the hardtop was dropped in 1989 due to poor sales. Other changes for the ’89 model year, technically on the ’88.5 model, included those meant to better meet the needs of the North American market, including a new dash, bigger sway bar, softer springs and more comfortable seats. A lower Fifth gear was also added to make the most of the little 1.3L four-cylinder’s 63 horsepower. In 1991, a new 1.3L four-cylinder with a throttle-body fuel injection system was added, bringing the horsepower up to a barn smoldering 66. Fortunately the 2,000-pound curb weight of the Samurai made the 1.3L a better match in real life than it sounds on paper. If 1.3 liters is not enough fury for the tinkerer in you, engine conversions are popular and plenty. Kits exist to swap in a number of larger Suzuki four-cylinders, as well as 4.3L Vortec V-6s, and even Chevy small-blocks. For those who love oil-burners, a VW four-cylinder diesel is another popular swap.

Stock Samurai suspension is a spring-under leaf design, front and rear, and allows for 27-inch tires. This setup is easily modified with a spring-over kit that will allow for 32-inch tires. With bigger tires, weak areas include front Birfield joints. An uninspired 2.269:1 low range lends itself well to aftermarket support.

The last year of the Samurai was 1995. Low sales and stricter federal regulation all but ended the Samurai’s run in America.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to work on

Cons:

  • Limited space
  • Wiring
  • Hardtop models are top-heavy
  • Low fuel capacity

Be on the lookout for:
’90 and later fuel-injected models

’84-’85 Toyota Pickup/4runner
If there is one vehicle out there that is nearly as prevalent on the trail as Jeeps are, it has to be the ubiquitous Toyota pickup. These trucks, known for their rugged dependability and economical engines have earned a huge following and benefit from strong aftermarket support.

Toyota’s 4x4 pickups, born out of the fuel crisis and introduced in 1979, were the first solid-axled mini trucks. They enjoyed impressive ground clearance and approach angles, as well as strong axles that left plenty of room for increased tire size, which made them and instant darling to those who were looking to modify.

In 1984, the second generation of these trucks was introduced with a few notable upgrades, including the Xtra Cab option that paired a nearly 10-inch-longer cab and shortbed on the standard cab, longbed’s 112-inch wheelbase. The standard cab shortbed’s 103-inch wheelbase was still available and was the basis for the new removable-top 4Runner SUV.

A carbureted 22R backed by a stronger G-series manual transmission was standard fare in the ’84, while ’85 brought fuel injection to the legendary 22R, making it the 22RE, which increased power from 100hp and 130 lb-ft of torque to 116hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. It was backed by the tough W56 five-speed manual or A340F four-speed automatic transmission. Manuals came with 4.10 gears, while autos were equipped with 4.30s. Even with small tires and low gearing, the 22R-equipped models, and even to some extent, the 22RE models were underpowered. Fortunately, they were also miserly with fuel use, earning fuel economy ratings of over 20 mpg. In 1984 a 2.2L diesel engine was an option on 4x4 longbeds, while this engine added a turbo in 1985. The diesels are a rare find today.

Pros:

  • Reliability
  • Strong frames
  • Available gear driven T-case
  • Aftermarket support

Cons:

  • Push-pull steering limits articulation
  • Underpowered
  • Timing chain uses plastic guides
  • Factory Birfields axles are weak

Be on the lookout for:
’85 Xtra Cab or 4Runner SR5 manual to get more space, locking hubs, solid axles, leaves rear, gear-driven case and fuel injection. This is Holy Grail of Toyota pickups

’97-’06 Jeep Wrangler TJ
The TJ was revolutionary when it was introduced in 1996 as ’97 model. Out were the hard-riding and reluctant-to-articulate leaf springs of the YJ Wrangler, in were links and coils at all four corners, similar to the Jeep Grand Cherokee of the day. This new suspension instantly transformed the Wrangler into a more comfortable, more capable vehicle with much wider appeal. Jeep purists also welcomed the return to Jeep’s signature round headlights. Because of the improvements in capability and comfort, the TJ proved to be an instant success. It was embraced in the aftermarket like no vehicle before it, and even spun off a long wheelbase variant, officially named the Unlimited, and unofficially and incorrectly referred to as the LJ.

The TJ could be optioned with either an anemic AMC-derived 2.5L four-cylinder (and later a 2.4L DOHC four-cylinder) or the more powerful and highly desirable 4.0L. Many transmission options were offered during the TJ’s run. From ’97-’02, the four-cylinder was mated to the three-speed TF999 automatic. In ’03, the four-speed 42RLE automatic was used behind both the four-cylinder and I-6.

Manual transmission options included the five-speed AX-5 from ’97-’02 behind the four-cylinder, the five-speed AX-15 from ’97-’99 behind the I-6, the five-speed NV3550 from ’00-’04 behind the I-6, the five-speed NV1500 from ’03-’04 behind the four-cylinder, and finally the six-speed NSG370 behind both engines in ’05 and ’06.

The biggest milestone of the TJ’s 10 years on the market was the introduction of the Rubicon model in 2003. This model is still considered one of the best factory-built 4x4s ever produced. Out of the box, it included such mechanical upgrades as front and rear Dana 44 axles, pneumatic locking differentials with 4.10 gears, and an NV241OR transfer case that featured a 4.0:1 low range gearset. Other improvements included 245/75R16 Goodyear MT/R tires, 16-inch aluminum wheels, diamond-plate rocker protection, and other cosmetic changes. All non-Rubicon models used the proven NV231 transfer case with a 2.72:1 low range gearset.

TJs, while amazingly capable from the showroom floor, do have issues with axletubes that are subject to bending when anything bigger than a 35 is fitted and they tend to keep their value, meaning they are expensive in the used car market.

Pros:

  • Arguably the best 4x4 platform in the world
  • Enormous aftermarket support
  • Civilized
  • Plentiful

Cons:

  • Hard to find unmolested examples
  • Bendable front axle tubes
  • Leaky exhaust manifolds
  • Driveline vibrations
  • Expensive

Be on the lookout for:
Any ’03-’06 Rubicon model, especially Unlimiteds

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