For many people, the phrase ‘off-roading’ is synonymous with the brand Jeep. Having been around since the World War II era, there is a lot to be said for the marque that builds tough-as-nails, capable vehicles that can traverse almost any terrain without a fuss. But how reliable are Jeep vehicles these days, and would you be making a mistake if you wanted to buy a second-hand one?
Checking how many recalls there are for a vehicle is an indication of reliability. J.D. Power scores quality and reliability based on consumer reports. Some Jeep models have numerous recalls and middling ratings from J.D. Power, while others score over 80 and have no recalls issued at all.
You may be feeling a little unsure about buying a used vehicle, or perhaps it’s the idea of spending money on this specific brand that has you at a stalemate. Let’s look at what defines reliability and how this manifests in the current Jeep lineup.
Deciphering how reliable a vehicle is can be pretty tricky, as word of mouth is highly subjective. But, for the most part, consumers in America refer to minimal maintenance and repairs on a vehicle when they speak of reliability. A car that will go for many years with minor mechanical hiccups to attend to is considered reliable, and cars that do what they are advertised to do without breaking down is a requirement of this characteristic.
There are some ways to research how reliable vehicles are, including seeking out the opinions of authorities such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that have thoroughly tested such cars. The NHTSA also provides a central point for cars in the USA to be rated and reviewed in terms of safety, reliability, and dependability.
One of the first ways to identify problematic cars is to research whether any recalls are issued for the specific model year you are interested in purchasing. It is also a good idea to look at older year models that belong to the same generation as your car to get a good idea of underlying issues.
The NHTSA is responsible for issuing recalls when a manufacturer or the authority determines that a vehicle is a safety risk or fails to meet the minimum standards. It stands to reason that a car with numerous recalls will be problematic and potentially less reliable than a rival with fewer recalls.
Recalls are issued for problems ranging from seatback strength, missing bolts, and headlight malfunctions to more severe issues such as faulty components, faulty electrical wiring, or potential brake failure.
J.D. Power is a data analytics and consumer intelligence firm in America that focuses on automotive research. By collecting consumer reports through surveys, J.D. Power compiles a scoring for vehicles that reflects quality and reliability, driving experience, resale value, and the overall dealership experience.
The quality and reliability ranking provided by J.D. Power considers how many defects, malfunctions, and design flaws are reported by consumers who own specific vehicles, from the engine to the infotainment setup. Naturally, cars with higher ratings mean fewer owners are experiencing problems with such vehicles.
Not only does the authority measure individual car models, but it conducts surveys per brand, too. Before we look at individual Jeeps, let’s get to know the brand a little better before discussing its reliability.
During the World War II period, a reconnaissance car was commissioned by the United States to assist in the war efforts. Requirements at the time centered on torque, overlanding ability, and four-wheel-drive capacity. Willys-Overland was one of the companies that produced such cars, which soon became known as ‘Jeep’ vehicles. After the war, many imitations of this style of vehicle appeared, but the Willys MB Jeep still serves as the root of the modern Jeep Wrangler that we know today.
After the war ended, Willys-Overland produced these cars for the general populace, called CJ models, that represented “Civilian Jeep” cars, and soon after this, the name ‘Jeep’ was trademarked.
From the brand’s history, it’s easy to see where the ethos for building uniquely-styled vehicles with the capacity to tackle rougher terrain comes from. Serving in military scenarios implies being hardy, reliable, and dependable for when times get tough. And, with around eighty years of experience, these characteristics have carried over to the modern iterations.
Jeep is produced under the Stellantis automotive manufacturing corporation after a merger between Fiat Chrysler and the PSA Group. Production of Jeep vehicles has not slowed down, and a variety of cars make up the current Jeep lineup, from the rugged Gladiator pickup truck to the luxurious Grand Cherokee L. But how reliable are these cars, really?
J.D. Power has conducted surveys for the 2021 model year on which brands reported the fewest problems per 100 car owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The 2021 Jeep Gladiator was the recipient of the Highest Quality award in the midsize pickup segment. No other Jeep products received any similar titles, and 2020 and 2019 were quite bare, too, with Jeep not featuring in the results at all.
Other authorities, such as Consumer Reports and Forbes, have found Jeep to be problematic in listing vehicles with low dependability and reliability, despite the 2021 range improving a little over previous years’ score. Looking at what owners of Jeep vehicles have to say across a variety of forums, Jeeps seem to have an above-average cost to maintain. In fact, back in 2015, Consumer Reports ranked the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as one of the ten most unreliable cars on the market.
To help set your mind at ease, Jeep offers the following warranty when purchasing any new vehicle: a three-year, 36,000-mile basic warranty that includes maintenance for the same period. Five years or 60,000 miles of cover is also provided for the drivetrain, corrosion, and roadside assistance.
Let’s look at what is currently available in the United States from the brand and take a closer look at how these top off-roaders score when it comes to reliability.
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic vehicles on the road today, the Wrangler is also one of the best for off-roading – in fact, the Wrangler is sometimes described as sacrificing its on-road comfort for being extreme off-road instead. What makes the Rubicon so excellent in this application is the Rock-Trac system that ups off-roading prowess even more, especially when combined with the shortened wheelbase.
In terms of reliability, there has been a single recall issued for the 2021 model year, which the NHTSA notes is for an overheated clutch component that could increase the risk of a fire. Additionally, there are around 80 complaints listed with the authority for issues ranging from engine and brake problems to electrical system malfunctions.
According to the J.D. Power survey, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler earned positive scores of 83 out of 100 for quality and reliability, and an overall score of 80. This shows a slight improvement from the previous model year that earned 80 and 79, respectively.
The brand hasn’t had a truck on the market in America for around twenty years, but in 2020, it launched the Gladiator midsize truck to rival other popular pickups, like the Chevrolet Colorado and the Ford Ranger. What’s striking about this truck is how much it looks like a classic Jeep Wrangler, but despite having a load bed that makes it ideal for hard work, it still acts as a capable off-roader, too.
With standard 4×4, the Gladiator was designed to uphold the ability to take the path less traveled. The Gladiator Rubicon is superb at slow-speed rock crawling, while the Mojave manages desert conditions and higher speeds. But reliability is the name of the game, right? And in this regard, the Gladiator has some concerns leveled against it.
Gladiator trucks suffered a variety of recalls since its launch that included issues for missing grease in the monoblock joint, an overheating clutch pressure plate, problematic seat belt retractors, and a faulty rearview camera. The NHTSA also has over 175 complaints from consumers.
In its launch year, the Gladiator earned a 78 out of 100 overall rating from J.D. Power, with a 79 out of 100 score allocated to quality and reliability, specifically. This improved for the 2021 model year, and the latest Gladiators scored much higher: 85 out of 100.
The Renegade is Jeep’s subcompact crossover, and even though it shares a platform with the Fiat 500X, it has a ‘Trail-Rated’ badge and all-wheel-drive on certain derivatives that makes it quite suitable for off-roading. It comes loaded with features like hill descent control, Active Drive Low 4×4 system, a crawl ratio of 21:1, and the Selec-Terrain system with unique driving modes for snow, mud, rock, and sand. It also has a wading depth of 19 inches.
No recalls were issued for the 2021 Renegade and only two for the previous model year, pertaining to a lingering rearview camera image and a fractured rear brake caliper. Still, scores from J.D. Power were less impressive than other models in the range, including 77 out of 100 overall, and 80 out of 100 for quality and reliability. 2022 models have also been scrutinized by the authority and retained these self-same scores.
The Compass is another compact crossover option in the Jeep family; the Compass is a surprisingly competent off-roader when you choose the correct derivative. The rugged Trailhawk and the top-end High Altitude will get the job done right, with the former only being available in four-wheel drive with the best ground clearance and the most impressive approach, breakover, and departure angles in the range.
The Trailhawk also gets hill descent control and an off-road specific suspension. Of the Jeeps mentioned thus far, the Compass has the least number of recalls issued over the last two years, with only one recall for faulty windshield wipers on 2020 models and just 22 complaints from consumers. It also scored 81 out of 100 for quality and reliability from J.D. Power for both the 2021 and 2022 versions,
Although there seems to be enough evidence pointing towards Jeep vehicles offering some measure of reliability, this has to be considered more seriously when you’re looking at an older car that may be out of warranty. So, how do you know if a used car is reliable or not?
The following tips are the best way to ensure a second-hand car meets your reliability standards:
- Check the history: As far as possible, carefully peruse the service and maintenance history of the car you want to buy. Vehicles that have been carefully maintained will have less wear and tear affecting their capability and are less likely to break down. An even bigger bonus is a vehicle that has a clean history in terms of accidents. Cars that have been extensively repaired, both mechanically and aesthetically, are more prone to issues later on in life.
- Recalls: Check for recalls on the model you are looking to purchase, and don’t just check for one model year, but for all the years included in the same generation as your vehicle. If recalls were issued, confirm with the dealer whether the work was indeed carried out. Outstanding recalls are a red flag.
- Warranty: On younger second-hand models, you may still be lucky enough to take over the tail-end of the manufacturer warranty. This is always a good thing as it means you are covered should anything go wrong.
- Do a comprehensive inspection: Before buying any used vehicle, you should do a thorough inspection. There is no harm in getting a professional to do this for you. Requesting an official CARFAX report to know what you are buying is also a great idea.
- Do your homework: Make sure you take time to read through consumer reports on various forums and websites before making a final decision. There is no more evident warning sign than a host of people complaining about malfunctions or issues with a vehicle. Have a look at ratings from agencies like J.D. Power and be wary of those with low scores for quality and reliability.
It may seem overwhelming when there is an internet full of information trying to convince you whether something is good or bad. And, with cars, there is a lot of subtext to consider. Using the information from authorities like the NHTSA and J.D. Power is one of the best ways to research reliability, as the surveys conducted sample to population and give an accurate portrayal of consumer experiences.
If you want to buy a used vehicle, and more specifically a second-hand Jeep, be sure to check the history, recall listings, and consumer reports for the specific model you want to buy. Overall, current ratings and history tell us that Jeep has a penchant for producing cars designed to safely and reliably take you on and off-road.