By Chris Chase
Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada
The most common type of car nut is the one who get his or her kicks from cars that accelerate hard, carve corners and look sexy doing it. But there’s another kind of car geek: the one who is turned on by crawling along at glacial speeds while traversing piles of boulders, rivers of mud and fallen logs. For many who count themselves in the latter group, only one vehicle will do: a Jeep.

On the outside, the 1997 TJ wasn’t all that different from its predecessors, the YJ, CJ and original Willys that served in the military. The TJ got round headlights in place of the YJ’s square ones, and coil springs replaced the leaf springs that had held these little off-roaders off the ground for what seems like an eternity. In 2005, an extended-wheelbase version called the Unlimited joined the lineup. The TJ carried on largely unchanged for 2006, and for 2007, a redesigned version will arrive in Canada wearing the Wrangler nameplate that adorned U.S.-market YJs and TJs.

1997 Jeep Wrangler (US) Sport
US 1997 Jeep Wrangler Sport shown. Click image to enlarge

As in previous generations, the TJ’s power came from either a 2.5-litre four-cylinder or a 4.0-litre inline six. The bigger engine is the better choice for on-road performance, but neither one is terribly fuel-efficient. Depending on the year, consumption ranges from roughly 13 L/100 km city and 10 or 11 L/100 km highway for the four-cylinder, and more like 14 to 15 L/100 km city and about 11 L/100 km highway for six-cylinder models.

There aren’t any glaring mechanical flaws to look out for, but leaking radiators were common in early TJs, and exhaust manifolds on six-cylinder engines are prone to cracking. Also, many owners complain of pinging – also known as detonation, caused by fuel igniting before the spark plugs fire – in six cylinder engines.

2001 Jeep Wrangler (US) Sport
US 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sport shown. Click image to enlarge

The best TJ to buy used is one that hasn’t been used extensively off-road. Yes, Jeeps are designed for the trail, but hardcore off-roading is tougher on mechanical components than grocery store duty, so the one that’s seen more parking lots than ruts and rocks is the better used buy. If you are looking for off-road potential, be aware that the TJ was available with a few different final drive ratios, some of which are better for off-roading that others.

Crash safety is pretty good. The TJ scored four stars each for driver and front passenger protection in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) frontal impact test. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s frontal offset test, the TJ earned an “acceptable” rating and a “marginal” rating in that organization’s side impact test. The NHTSA didn’t test the TJ for side impact safety.

2001 Jeep Wrangler (US) Sahara
2001 US Jeep Wrangler Sahara shown. Click image to enlarge

Canadian Red Book values for the TJ range from $6,600 for a 1997 SE to $27,825 for a loaded 2005 TJ Rubicon. The TJ seems to hold onto its value better than other domestic trucks, even Jeep’s own Liberty, despite the TJ’s relative crudeness and simplicity. Or perhaps it’s because of those things. Either way, the cult status that’s been handed down from the TJ’s ancestors likely has something to do with it.
A 2003 model looks like a good bet, with Red Book values – and many real-world asking prices – coming in under $20,000.

Owners posting in online Jeep communities say the TJ is addictive and fun, despite not being terribly well-suited to the daily grind, particularly when fitted with the large tires and lifted suspension needed to take a TJ into – and out of – the back of beyond. Convenience and comfort features are few, and TJs are noisy on the road.

2003 Jeep Wranger (US) Rubicon
2003 US Jeep Wranger Rubicon shown. Click image to enlarge

If you’re looking for a vehicle that can deliver off-road performance as thrilling as any rip around a racetrack in the fastest sports car, it’s hard to beat a TJ. These little rock hoppers can be fun city runabouts too, if you’re willing to accept the noisy, bumpy ride and poor fuel economy. Honestly, though, if you don’t plan to take your SUV off-road, a TJ will be wasted on you. For commuter duty, a Liberty is a good alternative, as is Nissan’s Xterra. Either will offer a little more refinement than the TJ, and the Xterra has proven a little more reliable (though it will be a little pricier than either of the Jeeps).

But for purity of purpose, the TJ is one of the best choices out there for venturing off the beaten track; what it lacks in refinement and practicality it makes up for with capability and cachet.

Online resources – The TJ Technical Forum here is a great place to start for any new TJ owner. The forums in general are busy, and the TJ tech section has lots of useful info about these little trucks. – Here’s another good site to check out. The forums here are busy and full of great info, but click on the links in the blue box at the top left of the main page to read a number of useful technical how-to articles. – Here you’ll find a listing of Jeep-related links, from technical how-tos to Jeep clubs and associations in Canada, the U.S. and other countries. You can even find out where to find the best off-road trails in North America. – This site appears to be affiliated with a publication called Dirt Road Magazine. There’s a forum here, but you have to register even just to read it. – This site attracts off-roaders of all stripes, with sections dedicated to a variety of four-wheel-drive trucks. There are lots of general technical articles and product reviews, but the Jeep forums here are the place to turn for specific info. The forums aren’t split up according to different models, though. – This site bills itself as “Canada’s largest online Jeep community.” The forums are very active, but there are no model-specific sections.

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    Jeep Canada’s Web site



    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998054; Units affected: 60

    1997-1998: The driver’s side air bag “clock spring” wiring harness may break when turned to the “full lock” turn position while the suspension is articulated. When the “clock spring” breaks, the air bag is deactivated and the air bag warning light will illuminate. Horn and cruise functions are also lost. Correction: “clock spring” will be replaced with one that has more rotational capability.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997102; Units affected: 8,527

    1997: The circuit design in the air bag electronic control module may allow the potential for inadvertent air bag deployment upon vehicle ignition shut down. Correction: the air bag electronic control module will be replaced with a module that incorporates the latest production redesigned circuit to prevent this condition.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997064; Units affected: 10

    1997: The airbag electronic control module (aecm) software contains an error which may delay the airbag deployment in certain crash situations. Delayed deployment may result in increased injury to front seat occupants. Correction: airbag electronic control module will be replaced on affected vehicles.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998073; Units affected: 107

    1998: These vehicles do not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 210 – seat belt assembly anchorages. The front seat belt shoulder turning loop anchors may have been omitted from the heat-treating operation and may not be properly hardened. As a result the assembly does not meet the performance requirements of the standard. Correction: the turning loop will be replaced with a properly hardened part.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998036; Units affected: 602

    1998: The power brake booster vacuum reservoir diaphragm may split or tear. A ruptured diaphragm can cause an increase in engine idle speed and loss of power assist during brake application without prior warning. Correction: power brake booster will be replaced on affected vehicles.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998215; Units affected: 134

    1999: These vehicles may not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 1103 – exhaust emissions. The spark plugs on these vehicles may fail due to loose centre electrodes. Plug failure may result in exhaust emissions in excess of the regulations. Correction: spark plugs will be replaced on affected vehicles.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999112; Units affected: 62

    1999: On certain vehicles, the left side and right side instrument panel wiring ground attachment screws may loosen over time. If the left side screw loosens, the instrument panel gauges may not function when the headlamps are turned on. If the right side screw loosens, the defroster blower motor may not function. Correction: The ground screws will be removed, new pilot holes will be drilled adjacent to the original holes, and the ground screws will be reinstalled in the new holes.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002074; Units affected: 43,127

    2000-2002: Certain sport utility vehicles equipped with a 4.0-L engine only. The design of the intake and exhaust manifolds could allow debris to accumulate at the #3 cylinder location. This could result in a vehicle fire. Correction: Dealers will install a manifold shield to modify the air flow characteristics and to prevent the accumulation of debris in the area of the #3 cylinder.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000300; Units affected: 95

    2001: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 208 – Occupant Restraint Systems in Frontal Impact. In a flat frontal barrier impact, these vehicles may not satisfy the chest deflection criteria of the standard. Correction: The driver seat belt retractor assembly will be replaced with the new constant force retractor.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002051; Units affected: 6,059

    2001-2002: Certain Jeep TJ vehicles could develop a high resistive bridge within the ignition switch after sufficient exposure to water and impurities. This bridge would complete the circuit and possibly result in a vehicle fire. Correction: Dealers will install a re-designed switch.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005299; Units affected: 19,747

    2005: On certain vehicles, the cup plug which retains the park pawl anchor shaft in the 42RLE automatic transmission could be missing or not properly staked in its bore, potentially allowing the shaft to move out of position and preventing the transmission from being placed in the PARK position. If this occurs and the parking brake is not applied, the vehicle may roll away and cause an accident without warning. Correction: Dealers will install a bracket to ensure that the park pawl anchor shaft is retained in the proper position.

    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.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site,, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site,

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit

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