Choosing the Best Upgrades for Your Jeep Tj, CJ, YJ
If you consider yourself a pretty big Jeep fan, you may eventually consider pursuing a used Jeep Wrangler. After all, the vehicle is one of the most popular SUVs in the world, and their 70-plus year tenure (it was previously known as the CJ) proves that they’re a beloved, dependable, and respected nameplate.
However, which Wrangler do you pursue? Do you opt for the legendary CJ5, or maybe you want the impressive LJ model? As you’ll see, regardless of your choice, you’ll still be happy with your used Jeep.
We’ve compiled five of the best used Wranglers below, which may make your decision easier when you decide to buy or modify a Jeep Wrangler.
The CJ5 has several things going for it. First, it’s a reliable, fun vehicle, and fans could expect the long-retired Jeep (last year of production was 1983) to still operate competently (assuming you’ve worked on the engine and mechanics). Second, it’s incredibly inexpensive on the used market, as you can find even classic 1960s or 1970s model for less than $7,000 ( later YJ and TJ models can be had for substantially less).
First released in 1954, the CJ-5 was based on a variety of inspirations, like the Korean War M38 Jeep and the discontinued CJ-3B. Furthermore, the new corporate owner, Kaiser, wanted to put their own spin on the vehicle. The result? Probably our first real look at the Jeep that would eventually evolve into the Wrangler we know today.
For an early 60s model, customers would likely come across the Buick 3.7-liter V6 Dauntless engine, which could pump out 155 horsepower. When the company was sold to American Motors in 1970, that engine was replaced by a unit produced by the new owners. A variety of additional engines were released through the 1970s, including a 3.8-liter, a 4.2-liter, and a 5.0-liter V8.
As Shawn Bell, a screenwriter and car enthusiast, wrote on Quora.com, it’s still fairly easy to come across parts for the CJ5, especially models that were produced after 1976. Of course, if you’re pursuing such a dated vehicle, there’s a good chance that you’ll be looking to upgrade the mechanics. However, if you’re an enthusiast who enjoys using all original parts, this is certainly something to consider.
While the CJ6 is generally regarded as a CJ5 with a longer wheelbase, the CJ7 included a number of new features and upgrades, making it a popular choice on the used market.
First produced in 1976, the Wrangler featured improved handling and stability (the automatic Quadra-Trac all-wheel-drive system helped transform the vehicle into an off-roading behemoth), while the interior was revamped to provide a more comfortable and luxurious ride (engineers included highback leather bucket seats, a tilting steering wheel, and a stunning chrome package).
Potential buyers may be overwhelmed by the various engine choices, as the nameplate featured six different units during its 10-year run. The list includes a 2.5-liter AMC I4, 2.5-liter Iron Duke I4, 3.8-liter AMC I6, 4.2-liter AMC I6, 5.0-liter AMC V8, and a 2.4-liter Isuzu C240 I4 diesel unit.
The vehicle is now a popular choice in mud racing, and it’s also a favorite among those who enjoy rock crawling. With nearly 400,000 units produced over the CJ7’s tenure, it’s no surprise that it’s still such a popular choice.
You can get in on the fun, but it’s going to cost you. In fact, used CJ7’s are much more expensive than any of the other Wranglers listed on this list. Most sellers are seeking at least $10,000 for their used Jeep, while some low-mileage (less than 50,000 miles) Wranglers are fetching more than $30,000!
The mid-1980s Wrangler ended up replacing the beloved CJ, and the initial reactions to the vehicle weren’t great. Many Jeep purists criticized the addition of square headlights and the long, rectangular windshield, while others were turned off by the incredibly long hood. However, there were several appreciated changes, including a wider track, less ground clearance, and a more spacious and comfortable interior.
The YJ ran on a 2.5-liter AMC 150 I4 engine or the optional 4.2-liter AMC 258 straight-six engine, delivering an underwhelming 112 horsepower. In 1991, those units were replaced by the fuel-injected 4.0-liter AMC 242, which could pump out 180 horsepower. If you end up seeking a used YJ, it would probably be in your best interest to pursue one of the later models that include the larger engine.
Several features were added prior to the vehicle’s demise in 1995. Anti-lock brakes were added for the 1993 model year, while an automatic transmission came along in 1994. By the time the vehicle was taken off the market, it truly featured all anybody (in the 1990s) could possibly want from a Jeep.
Several vacation spots ended up using the YJ as a source for pulling their tram cars. In Ocean City, Maryland, you can find the YJ Islanders pulling along passengers as they travel down the boardwalk. In 2013, it was announced that the vehicles would be phased out in favor of the 2013 JK Sport, which features a much more powerful 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine. Still, it’s a testament to the vehicle that they last for nearly 20 years.
The YJ is also affordable, with used late-1980s models typically costing between a wide range of $1,500 to $8,000.
The TJ was next in line for the Wrangler, replacing the YJ for the 1997 model year. Engineers added a coil-spring suspension, and they also returned the classic round headlamps, providing fans with two much-desired features. The original TJ included a standard 4.0-liter AMC 242 Straight-six engine, but buyers could also opt for the available 2.5-liter AMC 150 Inline-4 unit.
Over the years, the TJ underwent several changes, including the addition of plastic mirrors, a four-speed automatic transmission (with overdrive), and a 19-gallon fuel tank capacity. The interior was also slightly revised, with the seats getting a revamped design.
While the TJ was the last Wrangler to use AMC parts, that doesn’t mean replacements will be hard to come across. You should still expect to pay low prices for any TJ part you may need, unless you decide to opt for a newer (perhaps more dependable) replacement.
The TJ may be the least expensive used Wrangler on the market, with most sellers asking for less than $5,000.
Despite being on the market for only a couple of years, the 2001 1/2 Wrangler Unlimited (generally referred to as the “LJ”) is a popular choice among those seeking a used Wrangler. The vehicle featured a longer wheelbase (an additional 10 inches), a Dana 44 rear axle and the Command-Trac 231 transfer case.
The vehicle was soon outshined by the Rubicon Unlimited, which was released less than a year later. The vehicle featured the same wheelbase and design of the LJ, but it included the popular off-roading capabilities of the Rubicon. The upgraded vehicle features a Rock-Trac four-wheel-drive system, diamond plate rocker guards, hulking Goodyear MT/R tires, a six-speed manual transmission, and a towing capacity that is nearly double that of the brand’s other vehicles.
These Wranglers are generally a bit pricier, starting at around $3,500. However, considering the capabilities of the vehicle, that’s really not an unreasonable price.
In 2001, DaimlerChrysler developed a successor to the beloved TJ platform. This new version of the Wrangler was known as the JK, and its initial release to the market arrived in 2007 as another complete redesign of the Wrangler model.
The TJ chassis was replaced by the all-new JK platform, and the vehicle itself was noticeably wider than the previous model. Combine that with the available 32-inch factory-size tires, and this was one aggressive and beefy looking Wrangler. Oddly enough, the model is shorter than the TJ. by 2.5-inches, giving the JK Wrangler a 44.3-degree approach angle, and a 40.4 departure angle. It was also available in both two- and four-door models. With the two-door model having a 2-inch longer wheelbase than the TJ, but still shorter in overall length.
The JK Wrangler was originally released in 2007 with a 3.8-liter V6 engine, able to produce 202 horsepower and 237 lb.-ft. of torque. The Rubicon trim featured heavy-duty axles, extra-low gearing, thanks to a Rock-Trac transfer case, and front and rear electronic locking differentials.
Skip ahead to 2017, where the JK Wrangler arrives at its 10-year stretch of off-road SUV domination. Rock-Trac transfer cases, heavy-duty Dana axles, and electronic front and rear locking diffs are still present. But now, the Wrangler Rubicon has an electronic sway bar disconnect system when driving in 4LO mode and is powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, generating 285 horsepower and 260 lb- ft. of torque.
The 10-year evolution of the JK Wrangler is considered by many (including Jeep itself) the most capable version ever produced. Some still prefer the old CJ or TJ Wranglers, but it’s hard to argue against the JK, considering that a model from 2015 can be bought (used) off-road ready with a Trail Rated badge right off the dealer’s lot.
All vehicle pricing sourced by CarGurus and last updated as of March 2017.