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Jeep TJ Overview: Second Generation Wrangler Facts

XT Staff

XT Staff

 / Jun 17 2019
Jeep TJ Overview: Second Generation Wrangler Facts

Perhaps the most iconic car brand over the past century, Jeep has remained a durable vehicle capable of overcoming any obstacle that comes in its path. After major improvements in the Jeep YJ series (1987-1995), the Jeep TJ generation (1996-2006) took our hearts by storm. Returning to Jeep’s CJ off-roading roots and incorporating the creature comforts of the YJ generation, the Jeep TJ seemed like the perfect combination of off-roading, sport, and family comfort. The towing capacity also increased by 300 lbs. over the YJ to 2500 lbs. With its radical transformation in 1996, the Jeep TJ has been regarded as one of the most beloved generations of auto-manufacturing, period. Here, we’ll discuss what you need to know about your Jeep Wrangler TJ and ways to improve its performance. We’ll also talk about the beloved TJ Rubicon and its short-lived competitor, the rugged Jeep Wrangler Unlimited or LJ.

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TJs are beloved for their ability to take on the unknown, and thankfully this has only improved as the aftermarket advances. As the community has learned more about the TJ's capabilities, the aftermarket has adapted to get even more from the platform. With boundless options of appearances, performance, and protection to choose from, there are unlimited options to personalize your TJ Jeep.

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The Jeep TJ: the Favorite Child 

It’s been said parents often love their first or their last child the most. For Jeep owners, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike the YJ generation’s clunky first edition models and the ongoing debate surrounding Jeep’s newest generation of Wranglers, the TJ series seems to be universally loved. Who knew the middle child would get the most affection?

Two radical transformations marked the TJ generation. First, Jeep would eventually drop AMC engine parts and accessories from its manufacturing line. Secondly, and most importantly, 1996 Wrangler models would bring back the famous round headlights that so many Jeepers missed. Improvements on Wrangler suspension components, transmission, and T-cases, all of which had their flaws during the YJ generation, along with other revolutionary changes would mark this amazing Wrangler evolution including:

  • Coil spring suspension with four-link control arms for smoother handling and greater lift capabilities
  • Higher lift and improved off-roading angles
  • Integrated twin catalytic converters 
  • Round headlights 
  • Standard 19-gallon gas tanks (1999-onward) 
  • The introduction of a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive (2002)
  • Neater dash arrangement- with the ability to manipulate overdrive in select models 
  • Standard NV231J T-case with 2.72:1 low range options

The Jeep Wrangler TJ generation also saw the introduction of the most beloved Jeep Wrangler of all-time, the Rubicon. With better lift, improved suspension components, and sharper off-roading angles, the Rubicon was designed to do what a Jeep does best: cross untamed obstacles. Other notable models from the TJ generation include the stalwart Sahara, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Wrangler X, Wrangler Sport, and so many others.

Wrangler TJ Round Headlights Lake Lifestyle
TJ Wrangler Sport

TJ Wrangler Engines

Jeep Wrangler TJs offered three different engine sizes during its reign. The first was a 2.5 L AMC Straight-4 engine with three-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission. These engines were backed up by an AX-15 transmission until 2000 when it was replaced by the NV3550 5-speed transmission. This 2.5 four-cylinder set-up only lasted until 2002, where it was replaced with the DOHC 2.4 L four-cylinder engine (2003-2006).

While your four-cylinder engine runs well, it’s not meant to handle transmission upgrades or aftermarket alterations. Four-cylinder replacements can also be very expensive; it’s almost cheaper to replace it with a V6 or V8.

The best engine from the Wrangler TJ generation remains the 4.0L six-cylinder engine available for all stock TJ models. The 4.0L engines on TJ engines didn't really change until 2005 when it received an entirely remodeled throttle body. On average 4.0L Wrangler TJ engines registered 190 horsepower.

While the DOHC 2.4L engine may have been cheaper, it couldn’t handle aftermarket upgrades to your suspension system or tires like a 4.0L could. Jeep also introduced the NSG 370 six-speed transmission in 2005. While faster, it had less torque than its predecessors. 

Wrangler TJ Engine Bay
TJ Engine Bay

TJ Six-cylinder Engines:

  • 4.0 L AMC 242 Straight Six (1996-2006)

TJ Four-Cylinder Engines:

  • 2.5 L AMC (1996-2002)
  • 2.4 L PowerTech (2003-2006)

TJ Transmissions

Six-Cylinder Manual:

  • AX-15 five-speed (1996-1999)
  • NV3550 five-speed (2000-2004)
  • NSG370 six-speed (2005-2006)

Six-Cylinder Auto:

  • 32RH three-speed (1996-2002)
  • 42RLE four-speed (2003-2006)

Four-Cylinder Manual:

  • AX-5 five-speed (1996-2002)
  • NV1500 five-speed (2003-2004)
  • NSG370 five-speed (2005-2006)

Four-Cylinder Automatic:

  • 30RH three-speed (1996-2002)
  • 42RLE four-speed (2003-2006
Wrangler TJ Ax15 Transmission Case
AX-15 Transmission Case

TJ Rubicon Special Features

Perhaps you own a Jeep Wrangler TJ Sahara or a Sport edition, but if there’s one Jeep you ever wanted to own, it was the Rubicon TJ. Designed for rock climbing and traversing the mountainside, the Rubicon was the most ultimate off-roading vehicle ever created. Available between 2003 and 2005, the Jeep Rubicon was one of the hottest selling Jeep’s ever and forever remains a classic to this day.

  • Front and rear Dana 44 axles (4.10 gears)
  • NV241OR T-Case at a 4:0:1 low range 
  • Upgraded six-speed manual transmission in 2004 
  • Standard 4.0L I-6 engine
  • Diamond plate rocker panels
  • ARB lockers
  • Higher fender flares
  • 16-inch alloy wheels 
Wrangler TJ Rubicon with the American Flag
TJ Wrangler Rubicon

Jeep Wrangler LJ Overview

The Wrangler Unlimited edition or LJ was introduced in 2004 with an improved suspension, lift, and off-roading capabilities. If you had the money the Jeep Unlimited Edition was worth the features.

  • Improved Dana 44 rear axle: 3.73 gear ratio
  • 10-inch longer wheelbase
  • Higher ground clearance by an inch over standard TJ models
  • Higher fender flares
  • Better off-roading angles in all categories
  • 4.0L engine (manual transmission available in 2005 models)
  • Command-Trac NV231 T-Case 
  • 1500 lbs. greater towing capacity
Wrangler TJ Unlimited
TJ Wrangler Unlimited

The Jeep Rubicon LJ: Even More Features 

If you’re wondering whether to get the Jeep TJ Rubicon or the Wrangler LJ Jeep has made the decision a lot easier. Picture the same improvements from the Jeep Wrangler LJ with these added features:

  • Front and rear Dana 44 axles
  • Diamond plate rocker panels
  • Rock-Trac NV241 six-speed manual transmission system with four-wheel drive
  • Larger tires (245/75R16 Goodyear)

The Rubicon Limited Edition had the greatest towing capacity and off-roading angles of any Jeep from this generation. Well worth its expensive price tag, you won't be surprised to find these machines still crawling the mountainsides and rumbling down the highways.

Wrangler TJ Rubicon Unlimited
TJ Rubicon Unlimited

Special Editions

Jeep greatly improved its line of special edition models from its previous generation, offering standard 4.0L engines in all its special edition models. The Wrangler X was slowly phased out for the improved Sahara and Sport models, which featured better Dana 44 rear and front axles for better off-roading.

Choosing between a Rubicon, LJ model, or a Rubicon LJ all comes down to how much you're willing to pay. The Rubicon LJ doesn’t require many upgrades to keep it in tip-top shape while the standard Rubicon and Wrangler LJ could use some quick restoration and aftermarket accessories to make them howl again. 


Wrangler TJ X Special Edition
Wrangler X

Common Wrangler TJ Problems with Age

The Wrangler TJ had some problems of its own. Being over a decade old (maybe even two), many TJs have begun to suffer from cosmetic and engine problems that could seriously affect your restoration. Here are some of the most common problems associated with aging Jeep Wranglers from 1997-2006. 

  • Early models (1997-2000) often suffer from cracked exhaust manifolds
  • Plastic tank radiators have the potential to leak without you noticing
  • Valve cover gaskets on older engines have been known to leak
  • Four-cylinder models use Dana 35 rear axles, which are historically weak and unreliable
  • Soft rooftops crack from age (excessive UV light and debris)
  • Cargo door hinges use weak aluminum assemblies, which may break over time.
  • Short rear shafts cause vibrations that can crack suspension components over time

Aftermarket Options to Improve your Wrangler TJ

Unfortunately, many parts are simply bound to degrade that you’ll be liable to replace. It’s key to check up on these common problems to avoid costly repair or increase your risk of an accident. There are many aftermarket accessories you can use to improve the longevity of many aging parts on your Wrangler TJ.

  • Replace a soft rooftop with a more durable hard rooftop that will fit a full or half door Jeep cabin
  • Replace a low pinion Dana 30 front axle with a high pinion Dana 30 for more strength and a longer lasting drivetrain
  • Replace a Dana 35 rear axle with a sturdier Dana 44 rear axle
  • Install a cat-back exhaust and header combo that won’t crack as easily as a stock TJ exhaust manifold
  • Replace your control arms with polyurethane bushings that will last longer and can be adjusted to increase your suspension lift
Wrangler TJ Round Headlights Barricade
Aftermarket Armored Wrangler
Fitment includes: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, TJ, Sport, Sahara, SE, X, Rubicon, Unlimited