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Old 12-23-2013, 05:17 PM   #1
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TJ as a first car for college

Hi all,
I am currently looking for a 1st car for college and am looking at buying a TJ. My family currently owns a 2012 JKU altitude edition which I get to drive often. Sadly I don't get to take this car to college with me.

So my budget is around $10,000 and am looking at a TJ wrangler. I am very unfamiliar with these, as I mainly research parts for our JK. There are a number of TJ's for sale in my local area. Is there anything I should look for/stay away from. I believe I would prefer to have the 4.0 v6 vs the 4. Also has to be an automatic.. That's about it for specs.

Thanks in advance,
Jkaltitude

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Old 12-23-2013, 05:24 PM   #2
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I would look for frame rust/rot. I have an 01 and love it. I would recommend to get a later one especially if you want an auto since mine is a 3 speed. I know the later ones are a 4 speed but not sure what year it changed. I've heard somewhere 03-04 are the "best" years but they all have their pros and cons.

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Old 12-23-2013, 05:39 PM   #3
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The 4.0 is an inline 6 not a V6. But look for rust on the frame and tub. Make sure to check under floormats and carpet inside. What are your plans for the Jeep? Keep it stock or build it up? I'd try to find one with a D44 rear axle if you plan on wheeling and adding bigger tires (within reason). It will save you money and time not having to swap in a different rear. You'll also have a better stock gear ratio with the D44 rear (no 3.07s). Make sure you test drive it and pay attention to all details. Listen for squeaks or odd noises and vibrations. Look at the tires on the Jeep to see if they are all the same size at least. Running multiple size tires can destroy things. I'd also try to find one that is stock or close to stock to make sure you aren't buying someone's problem. I'm in college as well.
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Old 12-23-2013, 06:22 PM   #4
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Thanks guys. I was thinking something closer to the end of generation TJ. As usually by then the manufacturer works out all of the 'problems' by then. I'm expecting some rust as the cars are all about 10 years old, but as long as the frame is ok I should be ok right?
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Old 12-23-2013, 07:03 PM   #5
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04 seems to be the best year for the 4sp auto
03 has an older trans pan that is known to have issues during a steep climb. basically the pick up tube comes out of the atf and you lose pressure, causing the trans to lose gear. fixable with a new trans pan

05-06 have an OBDA issue, which also has a fix, lots of threads on it
06 is the one with a bigger issue that has been popping up recently. hard shifts between 1st and 2nd while the trans is cold. pcm,tcm think the trans fluid is way overheated and give bad shift points. the fix can be very costly

05-06 also have a gas overfill issue, which also has a fix

the only thing that could be an issue with the 04 is the trans could use an update
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:08 PM   #6
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04 seems to be the best year for the 4sp auto 03 has an older trans pan that is known to have issues during a steep climb. basically the pick up tube comes out of the atf and you lose pressure, causing the trans to lose gear. fixable with a new trans pan 05-06 have an OBDA issue, which also has a fix, lots of threads on it 06 is the one with a bigger issue that has been popping up recently. hard shifts between 1st and 2nd while the trans is cold. pcm,tcm think the trans fluid is way overheated and give bad shift points. the fix can be very costly 05-06 also have a gas overfill issue, which also has a fix the only thing that could be an issue with the 04 is the trans could use an update
So it seems like '04 is the best year to go with! What about the ones from the late '90s in to the early 2000s? That would help keep my price down and add a little more in my pocket for modifications but I don't want to be pumping $$ into repairs!
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:29 PM   #7
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The years I would choose from would be 2000-2004, though I personally miss my '97 that was stolen a lot. 2005-2006 have oil pump drive assembly problems, and '98-99 can't display their own diagnostic codes like '97 and 2000 and newer TJs can.

Tell your folks that Wrangler TJs have an impressive safety rating and record. They are heavier than most cars due to their heavy steel frame and body, and insurance industry actuarial studies show occupants are less likely to be seriously injured in an accident than in the typical car.

I think a TJ would be a good choice. Not to mention they're fun to drive, and I believe more fun to drive than the significantly bigger/longer JKU.
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:44 PM   #8
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Please, please, please, don't call a TJ, a car. Just a friendly heads up.

A Prius is a car. A TJ is nothing similar.

Your first vehicle, yes. Jeep, 4x4, off road vehicle, or maybe even SUV.

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Old 12-23-2013, 08:50 PM   #9
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... reminder as to what happens when a Jeep gets called a "car"
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:51 PM   #10
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go with a 98! hah.

In 03 I think they made a change to the mirriors to plastic instead of aluminum.

In 2000 they switched the hvac controls from sliding ones to knobs.

I think 2000's are pretty good. I like the way the nv3550 shifts compared to the ax-15.
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:52 PM   #11
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Thanks guys, I'm going to stick to the '00-04's then... I'll let you know how the test drives go, and keep you informed! And sorry it's habit, but believe me I know these things are far from cars. Just such a common term that's why I used it
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Old 12-23-2013, 09:00 PM   #12
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Thanks guys, I'm going to stick to the '00-04's then... I'll let you know how the test drives go, and keep you informed! And sorry it's habit, but believe me I know these things are far from cars. Just such a common term that's why I used it
Eeek, now its a thing. OMG!

Thing (See Below)

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Old 12-23-2013, 09:14 PM   #13
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Eeek, now its a thing. OMG! Thing (See Below)
Hahah it is an awesome off road, rugged VEHICLE! Is that better?
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Old 12-23-2013, 09:57 PM   #14
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Hahah it is an awesome off road, rugged VEHICLE! Is that better?
Getting there.

No offense. There are just certain normal mental thought processes that need to be stripped out and realigned when you own a TJ. When you own a TJ, the entire world is your new playground. You can mod it for climbing rocks, and cruising oceans. TJ's come stock to get you places a "car" wouldn't dare go. It's an amazing vehicle.

I drove through a flooded underpass in my TJ, like it was nothing. "Cars", trucks, and Semi's were either stuck or didn't dare to go through it. My TJ got mad, when I questioned if it could make it. My TJ said, "Just put me in 4hi, shut up, and let's go to dinner." It didn't even say, 4lo.

Like I said, an amazing vehicle.
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Old 12-23-2013, 10:49 PM   #15
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Getting there. No offense. There are just certain normal mental thought processes that need to be stripped out and realigned when you own a TJ. When you own a TJ, the entire world is your new playground. You can mod it for climbing rocks, and cruising oceans. TJ's come stock to get you places a "car" wouldn't dare go. It's an amazing vehicle. I drove through a flooded underpass in my TJ, like it was nothing. "Cars", trucks, and Semi's were either stuck or didn't dare to go through it. My TJ got mad, when I questioned if it could make it. My TJ said, "Just put me in 4hi, shut up, and let's go to dinner." It didn't even say, 4lo. Like I said, an amazing vehicle.
They are truly remarkable vehicles. I love our JKU, and I like how many of the 'modern' conveniences it has and how comfortable it can be when compared to some of the older wranglers (no offense to anyone who owns them) .. It's just they have come a long way in creature comforts. However I can't take that to college, and even if I could I think I would be a nervous wreck worried that something could happen to it. That's why I think the TJ will be perfect. Just enough creature comforts, and on road comfort, and still has some of the older nostalgia! I think it will give me a whole different perspective of wranglers!
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Old 12-23-2013, 11:47 PM   #16
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They are truly remarkable vehicles. I love our JKU, and I like how many of the 'modern' conveniences it has and how comfortable it can be when compared to some of the older wranglers (no offense to anyone who owns them) .. It's just they have come a long way in creature comforts. However I can't take that to college, and even if I could I think I would be a nervous wreck worried that something could happen to it. That's why I think the TJ will be perfect. Just enough creature comforts, and on road comfort, and still has some of the older nostalgia! I think it will give me a whole different perspective of wranglers!
Yeah, my baby is a '97 Wrangler. I drove a YJ before I got my TJ. I loved the feel of it, but not the ride. The TJ has a much better suspension. Get the TJ and tell your parents that you have a True Jeep(TJ), and the have the Just Kidding Jeep(JK). It is best to get one that is unmodded. This way you don't get some else's mistakes. Also, check for rust along with the normal inspections. Good luck in your search and welcome aboard.
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Old 12-24-2013, 02:09 AM   #17
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for $10K you can get a nice 2000-2004 TJ that is for sure, but there is nothing wrong with a great deal on the '97-'99 TJ's either, those 4.0L will have a distributor and conventional plug wires, the 4.0L was improved in model year 2000 with distributor-less ignition and other important refinements.

Since you are in college you will be leaving it in parking lots daily so get one with a hard top for security. I'd stay away from the Rubicon for your college TJ, it will cost you more and perhaps be a more tempting target for thieves. A 2000-2004 Sport or Sahara would be great for your mission, the X model came out in model year 2002, all of these TJs came only with the 4.0L 6-cylinder.

If fuel economy is important, stock TJ's on stock tire sizes get better fuel economy.

Make sure you test drive it at highway speed to detect suspension issues. Good luck with your TJ shopping.
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Old 12-24-2013, 07:44 AM   #18
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Parked outside in a college environment, I would second MarkGLHS suggestion above.
Find one with a hard top and full doors. Less temptation for passers by, and easily removable when you come home on breaks.
I have an 04 auto, and it's been problem free. Now lifted and used off road a lot. I bought it stock as a rock in 06.

Good luck and be safe. If I had a Jeep when I was in college, I would have gotten in a lot more trouble than I already did!
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Old 12-24-2013, 09:42 AM   #19
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I've had mine parked at college all semester long with no problems. I had the top and doors off for a week straight at one point and it was on the other side of campus. Nobody that I know of messed with it. Granted I don't leave anything of value in it. I also have a soft top and half doors. I wouldn't let that be your limiting decision. Find a nice, clean Jeep and buy it regardless of top/door configuration.

However, your chances of encountering thieves probably depends on the location of your college.
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Old 12-24-2013, 10:57 AM   #20
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Thanks again everyone,
I guess it depends on which college I go to and the type of people that are there, who may or may not want to screw around with my Jeep. However, at my high school this year I've gotten many door dings, and have been rear ended leaving the parking lot. so let's just say I'm going to air on the side of caution with my TJ and the college parking lot!
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Old 12-24-2013, 12:02 PM   #21
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get some off road bumpers and some rock rails/sliders and wont have to worry about a ding again
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Old 12-24-2013, 12:14 PM   #22
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get some off road bumpers and some rock rails/sliders and wont have to worry about a ding again
x2. Haven't received a door ding yet due to my sliders and tires sticking out. Sucks for the person bashing their door on my sliders though.
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Old 12-24-2013, 12:31 PM   #23
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Just a few things to mull over.

1. Cars at college get broken into. A soft top might get damaged etc. So if you go TJ then a lock box installed or never leave anything in it.
2. Poor MPG. I think the 4.0 rates around 16mpg stock?? A college kid with less $$ will be putting a bigger % into the tank.

Other than that stuff I love the TJ. If you can swing the fuel and are careful about what you leave inside then go for it.
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Old 12-24-2013, 01:00 PM   #24
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I really wouldn't be too concerned with the hard vs soft top when buying it. Most colleges don't allow freshman to have vehicles if you are living in their on campus housing. That should give you time to decide if you want hard it soft. Although I do agree that hard tops offer less temptation (and resistance) to vandals. Mine was parked in my driveway in a quiet neighborhood and had the windows slashed
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Old 12-24-2013, 11:03 PM   #25
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I'm going to try and look for a hardtop, but if the price and mileage are right and it has a soft top so be it.

One more question guys... How different is the 4 cylinder vs the 6? Gas mileage will obviously be somewhat better, which is a plus for me being on a college budget but how much different is the power between the 2? Very noticeable? For those of you that have a 4, do you regret it?
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Old 12-24-2013, 11:12 PM   #26
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I'm going to try and look for a hardtop, but if the price and mileage are right and it has a soft top so be it. One more question guys... How different is the 4 cylinder vs the 6? Gas mileage will obviously be somewhat better, which is a plus for me being on a college budget but how much different is the power between the 2? Very noticeable? For those of you that have a 4, do you regret it?
I owned a four banger, now I own a 6 and I will never go back to a 4. Underpowered, gas mileage is the same. I absolutely love my 4.0 and it's worth it to hold out for one.
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Old 12-24-2013, 11:27 PM   #27
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Thanks again everyone,
I guess it depends on which college I go to and the type of people that are there, who may or may not want to screw around with my Jeep. However, at my high school this year I've gotten many door dings, and have been rear ended leaving the parking lot. so let's just say I'm going to air on the side of caution with my TJ and the college parking lot!
Whatever Wrangler you choose, please get an alarm. It was the first thing I did when I left the Dealership with my Brand new Wrangler.

I've had my '97 Wrangler for 16 years, and I have no door dings.*crosses fingers*.

Tricks I learned from past college years, and owning nice looking vehicles:

No.1 - I walk and park further away.
No.2 - If the parking lot is fairly empty, I'll park far away and double park.
No.2 - I only park next to cars, because their doors are too low to ding me.
No.3 - Parking your Wrangler next to wanna-be Jeeps is just asking for trouble.
No.4 - Never park next to a Hummer, or any lifted vehicles.
No.5 - Never park next to another Wrangler. Especially if yours looks better.
No.6 - Park on the end so that only one car parks next to you. Then, you can cheat to give them more room.

(Note: Having a good alarm helps to protect you when you isolate yourself this way)
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Old 12-24-2013, 11:59 PM   #28
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My advice, TJ's aren't safe. Not in comparison to the rest of the vehicles on the road. It's not a car, it's a Jeep. People don't want to ride in it, the back seat blows. You can't use it to transport anything. I would suggest keeping nothing bigger than 31's on there for gas milage since college is all about saving a few bucks. The jeep is an awful choice for college but that being said it was my first and only vehicle. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Totally bad ass and a blast to drive. But it's just not economical and effective. Also be careful with the accessories right now, when you park in those public lots people can and probably will mess with your stuff at some point. Also a soft top will likely get cut eventually. Just warning, my campus is rather chill so I've been lucky. My friends...not so much. Seriously just keep it bare bones, life will be easier haha. But have fun too, it's not all bad just know what you're getting into! Personally my '04 is so much better than my buddy's '00 and '01. Not by much at all but the little things just add up. Get a D44 in the rear too, you'll regret it if you don't.

Edit: Also inline 6 is a must in my opinion. along with a stick shift
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Old 12-25-2013, 12:09 AM   #29
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My advice, TJ's aren't safe. Not in comparison to the rest of the vehicles on the road. It's not a car, it's a Jeep. People don't want to ride in it, the back seat blows. You can't use it to transport anything. I would suggest keeping nothing bigger than 31's on there for gas milage since college is all about saving a few bucks. The jeep is an awful choice for college but that being said it was my first and only vehicle. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Totally bad ass and a blast to drive. But it's just not economical and effective. Also be careful with the accessories right now, when you park in those public lots people can and probably will mess with your stuff at some point. Also a soft top will likely get cut eventually. Just warning, my campus is rather chill so I've been lucky. My friends...not so much. Seriously just keep it bare bones, life will be easier haha. But have fun too, it's not all bad just know what you're getting into! Personally my '04 is so much better than my buddy's '00 and '01. Not by much at all but the little things just add up. Get a D44 in the rear too, you'll regret it if you don't.

Edit: Also inline 6 is a must in my opinion. along with a stick shift
I don't know about you, but chicks love riding in mine. Even when we're piled 9 deep in the Jeep (yes, 9 deep) transporting girls to a party. Pledge life. But definitely agree with getting a manual. Girls dig that.
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Old 12-25-2013, 02:17 AM   #30
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I'm going to try and look for a hardtop, but if the price and mileage are right and it has a soft top so be it.

One more question guys... How different is the 4 cylinder vs the 6? Gas mileage will obviously be somewhat better, which is a plus for me being on a college budget but how much different is the power between the 2? Very noticeable? For those of you that have a 4, do you regret it?

As was pointed out above the fuel economy between the 4 and 6 cylinder TJ's is about the same but the 6-cyl has much better power and torque. However, there are some excellent deals I have seen on 4-cylinder TJ's, which would be the SE model only. If you could get say a 2003 SE with 50K miles and a hardtop and full doors and no rust for 6 grand do not pass it by just because of the smaller engine.

And I disagree with what was said about a TJ not being a good college car, it is. The small size and excellent reliability and low maintenance makes it a good choice. Fuel economy is the biggest downside to owning one, that and internal volume for carrying stuff. But when I was in college all I needed to carry on a daily basis was my girlfriend and a backpack full of textbooks, a TJ can do that very well. As a home-owner now, a TJ makes a bad choice as my only vehicle, that's why I also have a Grand Cherokee (which would not be such a great college car).

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