Buying a Used Jeep Wrangler JK

Are you considering buying a Jeep Wrangler JK? Well buying a used one can be a budget friendly option, but there are some things that you need to watch out for, and I’ll discuss what those things are in the course of this article.

There are some really important things that you’ll want to pay attention to when you’re doing that very first inspection of a used JK. I’ve been a JK owner for over 6 years now, and I’ve worked on plenty of other folks’ JKs as well, both of which have helped me become very familiar with a lot of the common things that are issues with this model.

Model Options

The Jeep Wrangler JK was produced from 2007 to 2018, and they pushed a lot of these out of the factory. Some of the most common models that you will find out there, while there are some special edition models, the ones you’ll typically find are the sport (your base model), a sport S (has some extra package stuff, like power windows), you have the Sahara (which is the nicer sport model, with painted fender and roof options, as well as leather seats), and finally the Rubicon model, which comes with a nice suspension system, Dana 44 axles, front and rear lockers, and sway bar disconnect.

While the Rubicon is definitely the readiest to hit the trail straight of the lot, the sport, sport S, and Sahara are all super capable, and you can do some amazing trails with these.

Now let’s talk about the two variations. You have the two-door and the four-door options, and I think there are pros and cons to both. The most common one you’ll see on the streets will be the four-door versions because Jeep made a lot of the JK Unlimiteds.

The advantages of the four-door are you have a longer wheelbase which is going to give you a smoother ride. The two-door version’s ride is a little bumpier – my wife has a two-door, so I can speak from personal experience.

You’re also going to get extra storage in the rear with the four-door, while in the two-door space is limited. Obviously, you’ll also have extra doors and seating, something you’ll want to think about if you’ll be carrying passengers or having your pet come along with you.

For the two-door version, you’ll find that it is going to be cheaper if when you’re searching for a used JK. The turning radius on two-door versions is really nice, especially when you’re out on the trail it makes a big difference.

What to Look for

Full disclaimer here, there are hundreds of things you should look for when buying a used car, and you should definitely go consult a mechanic if you’re going to buy a used car and let them take a look at it. I’m just offering some insight on things that are specific to the Jeep Wrangler.

1. Bumper

Most Jeep Wranglers come with a plastic bumper, but some later ones (i.e., the Hardrock edition) came with metal bumpers. A lot of the times you’ll see the factory bumper has been swapped out for some aftermarket ones, perhaps with a winch installed.

One thing about the plastic factory bumpers is that they do fade quite a bit over time. However, you can restore these using the off-the-shelf plastic restoration products, which are pretty nice and do help.

In total there is quite a bit of plastic on the Jeep wrangler, not just on the bumpers but on the fenders, side mirrors, and door handles, all of which are prone to fade. So, don’t be surprised if the plastic looks greyed-out on a used model, this is easily fixed.

2. Lights

The JK also comes with factory halogen lights, which aren’t extremely bright and are commonly replaced with LED lights, so you might notice this among some of the used options. For doing trails at night, having the LED lights is a huge upgrade.

3. Hood

You’ll notice on the hood are some plastic straps for keeping your hood secured, but on a typically window day you may notice some hood flutter while you’re driving. So, oftentimes you’ll see some upgraded latches to combat this (I’ve upgraded mine due to this).

4. Engine Bay

Don’t be worried if you look under the hood and see a lot of dirt – many Jeeps are taken off-road and gather a lot of grit and grime underneath, but it’s not a big concern.

Since a lot of people mount accessories (winches, lights), you are really going to want to pay attention to how well any of these modifications were wired. I’ve seen good wiring and bad wiring, with the latter usually being wires all over the place. If you notice this, proceed with some caution.

If there has been a supercharger installed, I highly recommend that you take it to a mechanic and have them expect it first – I’ve seen people have problems with superchargers, as it’s a common upgrade folks like to do. Just make sure the used JK you’re looking at is running right before you walk away with the keys.

5. Engine

There are two engine options (three if you’re international). From 2007 to 2011 the Wrangler came with the 3.8-liter engine, and then in 2012 Jeep came out with the 3.6-liter. For my international audience, you had an option for a 2.8-liter turbo diesel, which we don’t have here in the states, so I won’t be further discussing it here.

What I can tell you about the 3.8-liter motor is that it is practically bulletproof. It’s a great motor, but you’ll want to be aware that after they register about 100k miles, they are pretty prone to consuming oil a little bit, something to be aware of.

A common issue with 3.8-liters is a manifold crack, which is tough to visually inspect but you can hear. I always recommend that you test drive the vehicle, but you should also start the vehicle with the hood open and listen for a ticking sound to identify this.

The 3.6-liter is a nice upgrade from the 3.8, coming with 83 more horsepower and an aluminum block, making it lighter than the 3.8.

The oil cooler on the 3.6-liter is prone to leaking, and me and several friends have all experienced this issue and got it serviced. Take a look underneath the vehicle to inspect for any leaking oil.The radiators are also prone to leaking on the 3.6-liter, even under 100k miles, which is pretty early for a radiator to go bad. Again, I myself have experienced this as well as some of my buddies.

Coolant boxes are also prone to crack, you’ll want to inspect those and make sure it’s filled and that it’s not breaking anywhere. The water pump can also provide problems but isn’t as prevalent as these other issues.

All in all, both the 3.8-liter and the 3.6-liter are great dependable motors as long as you try to maintain them, and you keep them mostly stock.

6. Tires

What do most folks do when they first buy a Jeep Wrangler? They lift them, put on bigger tires, and equip them with some cool wheels. That’s a very common thing you should expect to see when shopping for a used one.

Some may have a budget boost lift kit installed, which basically means they put a spacer in between the stock spring and then added a little bit of a longer shock. It’s a nice little upgrade and isn’t very expensive, while still giving you a smooth ride with added clearance.

When you’re inspecting a vehicle with a budget boost, you’ll need to look for a couple things, because while many people install these well, some do not. You’ll first want to check and see if the tires are rubbing anywhere against the vehicle. This happens when the tire is too big for the lift and wheel well or if the offset isn’t right.

Common places to see rubbing are on the inside of the bumper, on the sway bar or control arm, or up underneath the fenders. Look for paint and tire marks to see if it has been rubbing.

If the Jeep has been lifted by more than 2.5”, for the JK model you’re going to start to have some problems down the road with the driveshaft. This is because the angle is wrong, and this can significantly shorten the life of the driveshaft. Adding an aftermarket driveshaft can solve this problem, so check to see if that’s been done.

7. Underneath

You’ll want to get down and take a look at often had it previously been off-road, and you can tell if you notice things underneath are bent, scraped, or scratched. You’ll also want to see if they had painted it and taken care of it.

You should also see if they added skid plates underneath. If you see an aftermarket skid plate that’s all scratched up, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because this means the previous owner was wise enough to protect the undercarriage from getting to beat up.

Take a look as the transfer case and the differentials and ask the seller when the last time was the fluids were changed because these both need routine maintenance.

8. Exterior

Sometimes the little sections in front of the mirrors can get dented. This usually happens is someone removes the doors and doesn’t strap them back, as opening the door too hard can lead to the mirror denting this section. This isn’t a big deal but can help you talk down the dealer a little bit.

You may notice some pinstripe scratches on the side of the vehicle that happen when trees and bushes scrap it up. It can be buffed out, but again this is something that may help you negotiate the price down.

If you live in an area with a lot of snow where they salt the road, you’ll also want to check underneath for rust and paint bubbling, as well as around the hinges and bolts all over the vehicle.

9. Hard-Shell or Soft-Top

The soft-top option is going to be lighter but will also be noisier when you’re driving down the road. The great thing about the soft-top is that you can just pull that thing right off there all by yourself if you want.

When inspecting a used soft-top JK you’ll want to check for any rips in the fabric and observe if the plastic windows are still in good condition or not.

The hard-shell options do have a tendency to leak, so check the seals all around the corners and look for any evidence of cracking or water damage. You can still remove the hard-shell options, but it’s going to be more difficult and you’ll need a place to store it as well.

10. Rock Slider

Only the Rubicon edition comes with a rock slider installed stock, and this is a beefy piece of gear that really helps protect the JK from getting too banged up. On the sport, sport S, and Sahara editions it’s common to find aftermarket ones installed.

11. Rear

In the back of a Wrangler there’s not a whole lot to worry about, but there is one thing that’s very important, and that is if the previous owner upgraded to some larger wheels and tires, did they also upgrade the tire carrier and hinge on the tailgate?

If they did not, these are very prone to fail, so you’ll want to do a thorough inspection and see if there are any cracks anywhere or dimpling at the edges of the tailgate.

The previous owner may have also upgraded the rear bumper as well, so check this and give it a good inspection, especially since some aftermarket bumpers don’t come with a trailer hitch, so you might lose your towing capability.

12. Interior

I think the interior of Wranglers are generally pretty comfortable and sleek looking, and I’ve enjoyed countless hours long drives in them.

If the vehicle has been lifted and has larger tires, look at the edges of the drivers and passenger seat. Have they been smashed down? This happens sometimes when people have to slide in and out of a taller vehicle.

You’ll want to check for rips and stains as well, especially on soft-top editions as they are more likely to be exposed to the elements.

As for the floors, try to go rubber if you plan on getting it dirty, or buy aftermarket ones if you can. You may notice the used JK you’re looking at has aftermarket rubber floor mats. It makes clean up after a trail run much easier.

There are a couple different stereo options, with the more expensive options coming along with navigation features, but I do not think having this is necessary, since you can use your phone or tablet for navigation.

Test Drive It!

You want to see how the used JK accelerates and how it brakes, especially if they added bigger tires, as this can mess with the brakes if the previous owner didn’t upgrade the brakes as well.

You’ll also need to check the steering, as this is another common issue that can arise when someone lifts their Wrangler and installs bigger tires. If you find something is off with the steering, ask the owner or seller why it is doing that, because this could be costly for you down the road. The steering should be nice and firm and not pull in one direction or another.

You could also take it to a parking lot and test out the 4WD by putting it in 4-high or 4-low, activate the lockers to test those, and test the sway bar disconnect as well. Better to find out before than out on the trail.

Finally, bring a flashlight, as this really helps when looking over the vehicle for breaks and various issues, especially if they are underneath the vehicle.

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