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Although nobody is quite certain how the name ‘Jeep’ came about, it’s definitely linked to the origins of the TJ. Most likely it’s a distortion of the US army’s ‘GP’ (general purpose) designation given to the TJ’s ancestor the Willys MB during WW2.
A take-over of American Motors (AMC) in 1988 brought the Jeep brand, the real prize of that acquisition, into the Lee Iacocca led Chrysler Corporation. The little Willys was then known as the Jeep YJ, in Canada and Wrangler in the US. It came in base, Sport, Decor and Laredo equipment packages with either a soft or a hard top. Other than packaging and package names, the basics of the vehicle didn’t change a great deal over the years until 1997. A return to round military style headlights, reminiscent of the original Willys, was the most noticeable styling change on an all-new Jeep TJ. Some not-so-obvious upgrades also made the little king of the unpaved road into a not-too-shabby road vehicle.
The TJ’s frame was stiffened and reworked to accommodate a more compliant coil-spring rear suspension that allows an additional seven inches of wheel travel. The front stabilizer bar was been moved up to allow extra ground clearance and there’s room for larger tires under the fenders.
A 2.5 litre 4-cylinder was standard in the SE version and an in-line 4.0 litre 6-cylinder came in the Sport and Sahara versions. Highway fuel consumption is roughly the same with either engine 10.8L/100km, however, around town the four gets 12.7 L/100 km vs 14.4 l/100 km for the six. A Command-Trac part-time four-wheel-drive system allows a shift-on-the-move transfer from 2-wheel to 4-high. The 4-low range can be engaged when the vehicle is stopped or just creeping slowly.
Improvements also included a new dual air bag dash and instrument panel, a rear seat that’s a little wider and a tip-and-slide front passenger seat allows better access to the rear. Although the trunk is pretty meagre, the rear seat folds forward and can be easily removed, if you need extra cargo space. The soft-top was also improved to seal better and make it easier to put up and take down. An ignition immobilizer security system was added in 98, also height adjustable seat belts and de-powered air bags. And an air bag de-activation switch added in ’99, to allow use of a child seat up front.
Three air bag safety recalls on the ’97 include a faulty electronic control module may allow it to deploy inadvertently (also the ’98), a defective driver’s side air bag and an electronic control module problem may delay airbag deployment in certain crash situations. The ’98 TJ’s may have faulty upper loop anchors on the front seat belts and the power brake booster diaphragm can split and cause a loss of power assist and an increase in engine idle speed.
If wiring ground attachment screws loosen in the ’99 TJ the instrument panel gauges may not function, when the headlamps are turned on, and the defroster blower motor may not work. Faulty spark plugs may also result in exhaust emissions readings. An easy to fix clogged PCV system on either the 4 or 6-cylinder engines can also cause blow-by and oil burning problems.
The Jeep TJ is certainly not the right transportation choice for everyone, but if you want to, or have to, trek the unpaved highway there isn’t a more capable vehicle. In general the Jeep TJ retains its value quite well and used prices can vary considerably as many Jeep owners take extra pride in their vehicles and customise them with all kinds of add-on goodies.
Used Prices ( July 2000)
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.