Should you buy a used JK Wrangler? It’s the most modified 4WD in the world for a reason folks

By Dex Fulton 11 Min Read

Jeeps are synonymous with off-roading. The brand name is to wheeling what “Kleenex” is to tissues or “having kids” is to never sleeping in on a Saturday again. For the longest time the mighty TJ Wrangler held the crown as most modified 4wd on the planet, and no other vehicle really ever came close.


Then, in 2007, Jeep went ahead and brought out the JK, and in no time it was sitting in the number one position. Why? Well, it was everything people loved about the Wrangler – solid axles, short wheelbase, coils – yet was improved in just about every way.

It still had a torquey six-cylinder petrol engine, but it also had modern looks, an updated interior, both a hard top for winter and a soft-top for summer cruising, and most importantly it was embraced by the aftermarket and was immediately able to be transformed into whatever your imagination and wallet could handle. 

Wranglers have always been the ultimate in blank canvases. Want a fun little off-roader that can still fit in an underground carpark? A balls-out hardcore weapon that can still be driven on-road without an issue? Or a neat and tidy two-person tourer for the longer trips? Whatever your preference, the Wrangler could tick the box. 

Of course, they’re not the best at everything. And second-hand models can come with a few traps for young players. So, if you’re looking at getting a new-to-you Wrangler but don’t know where to start and don’t feel like asking the Chads at the gym who drive them for advice. Then you’ve come to the right place. 


JK Wrangler models

The JK Wrangler was available in Australia with three different models. The Sport (Unlimited models were the 4-doors) was the entry level. These came with 16in rims and the standard interior appointments like AC, power front windows, auxiliary lugs and the usual gear you’d expect to find in a 15yo vehicle. The Renegade pack was basically the same. But with a better sound system, tubular side-steps (not to be confused with rock sliders) and some darker tints on the windows. 

If you were chasing a “real” off-road weapon though, you wanted the Rubicon. Significantly more expensive, it was arguably the most capable out-of-the-box 4X4 since the Unimog. Beefy Dana 44 differentials front and rear (Sport models had a front Dana 30, and early ones had a Dana 35 rear, but most came with a rear D44), that were fitted with selectable lockers and were factory ready to handle 35in rubber (or bigger) without the need for upgrades. 

The Rubicons also had larger 17-inch rims, a premium sound system and seats that Jeep marketed as “stain and odour proof”. Nice to have if you enjoy tucking into a good Rogan Josh while behind the wheel. 

2012 Onwards

The JK had a ten-year-long model run. But only one real update which happened in 2012. The big news was that they were junking the 3.8L mini-van motor (so called as the same donks were found in Chrysler mini-vans at the time). The replacement was the bulletproof Pentastar 3.6L V6. This offered much better fuel economy, more power and more torque lower in the rev range. 

The Pentastars are still the pick of the engines. Given the VM Motori 2.8L common rail turbodiesel did not come in the Rubicons and seems to be either an engine capable of clocking up half a million kays without a drama or have issues with the turbos, boost hoses, intercoolers and AC systems with depressing regularity. Still, many owners swear by their Jeep diesels so they’re by no means a bad engine. 


Fun fact: the Jeep diesel was later developed by GM (who owned a piece of VM Motori) into the 2.8L Duramax found in the Colorados.

JK Wrangler common problems

As mentioned, the diesels have had issues with the ancillaries like the turbos and intercoolers. Especially if the vehicle has been driven in mud on the reg. Also, the boost hoses between the turbo, intercooler and intake have a habit of going pop. So look for a full silicon replacement upgrade or use it as a bargaining point if not already fitted. Oh, and as with all late model CRD engines, keeping fresh oil and filters up to them is paramount, so a solid service schedule is a must.

The 3.8L V6, put simply, is a dinosaur. They make their power and torque quite high in the rev range, they chew a lot of juice, they are known for burning oil and are generally just not a great engine for a 4X4. Problems with both manifolds, spark plug wires, engine bay wiring, loose throttle chips and thermostat housing gaskets rate among the most common dramas. To be fair, however, there do seem to be a lot of owners who swear by their 3.8s, and even with problems, it’s a Jeep, so there’s an aftermarket fix for it. 

The 3.6L, on the other hand, is one of the best petrol engines found in a 4WD. Powerful, torquey and generally pretty darn reliable, with quite a few getting up over 300,000km without issue now. The early models did suffer head issues thanks to weak valves, which were replaced in 2013 onwards, and there have been a few reports of cooling system probs, and oil pump starvation, but overall, it’s a beast of a motor that offers an excellent compromise between grunt, economy and longevity. Oh, and it takes boost pretty well too, just sayin’.

Should I buy a Jeep Wrangler?

If you’re chasing a used vehicle that has decent on-road manners, can be transformed into an absolute trail-slayer with ease (thanks to unmatched aftermarket support) and want a crossover vehicle that’ll be fun, practical and have more cool points than anything this side of an Ultra4 rig, then yes, absolutely. 

They make excellent 2-person tourers too and are more than capable of towing a lightweight camper trailer (think Patriot or Cub Weekender) without a worry.  I mentioned it already but it bears repeating because it’s a big part of the Wrangler appeal, there’s nothing you cannot buy for them. Long-range tanks, barwork, racks – if you can think of it, it’s almost certainly available, which beats trying to outfit your Kia Sorrento for outback travel. 

There are a few things to be aware of though. If you’re looking at the heavy-duty Cruiser or Patrol end of the spectrum then a JK will likely not be for you. They’re not workhorses, they’re not designed to be tow rigs and Range Rovers they are not. Their tow ratings and payload capacities are relatively tiny, and while they’re not terrible on-road, they have solid axles and soft suspension by design which makes them unsuited for tarmac rallying. While pleasant enough inside, nobody will ever accuse them of being luxurious. If you’re looking for a rig that’ll tow your 26-foot plate boat while playing you a Brahms concerto over an 18-speaker sound system as you recline in supple leather seats with inflatable lumbar support, a Wrangler should probably not be at the top of your list, or anywhere near your list really. 

JK Wrangler Price Guide

Keep in mind there are a lot of variations in price between the 2-door, 4-door and various trim models, not to mention level of mods, so take these prices as a rough guide. 

  • 2009 Wrangler Unlimited Renegade 3.8L; ~180,000KM $15K – $20K
  • 2013  Wrangler Sport 2.8L; ~95,000km $19K – $35K
  • 2017 Wrangler Rubicon 3.6L; ~50,000km $40K – $50K

Insurance quote

We rang Club 4X4 and got a quote on a 2017 JK Unlimited Sport 3.6L for comprehensive insurance for a 35yo male with a clean record living in Western Sydney. 

1 year: $1370

Before You Buy Checklist

  • Service history (every 15,000KM minimum)
  • Bring a code reader
  • Check dipstick on 3.8L models, if low, bail
  • Check head carefully for leaks or noises (2012 3.6L models)
  • Check auto transmissions on 2012 3.6L models for sloppy shifting or taking too long to get into gear
  • Check uni joints on axles and driveshafts for wear (clicking/grinding on full steering lock; vertical play on driveshafts ends)
  • Check hardtop roof for leaks (especially around rear window)
  • Check boost hoses (diesel models)
  • Check radiator, AC condenser and intercooler for mud clogging (diesel models)
  • Ensure all mods have been completed to a professional level, especially suspension

Quick Rundown

Body: 2 door, 2423mm wheelbase; 4 door, 2946mm wheelbase

Engines: 3.8L V6 (192hp 315NM); 3.6L V6 (285hp 353NM); 2.8L CRD (192hp 410NM)

Transmissions: 4speed auto; 5-speed auto; 6-speed manual

Chassis: Separate ladder frame

Driveline: Part-time 4WD; solid axles; coil springs

GVM/Payload: 2540kg/467kg (3.6L 4-door)

Tow Capacity: 1000kg (2-door); 2300kg (4-door)

Fuel Economy (Avg): 3.8L = 16.4L/100km; 3.6L =11.7L/100km;  2.8L CRD = 8.8L/100km 

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