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2018 Jeep Wrangler

Our 2018 Jeep Wrangler Hit 80K Miles and It's Been a Bumpy Ride

The long-term Jeep made it to 80,000 miles kicking, screaming and demanding a new alternator

  • We hit 80,000 miles in our long-term 2018 Jeep Wrangler.
  • But not without a recent rash of expensive repairs.

We just can't bring ourselves to part ways with our 2018 Jeep Wrangler. It has become a handy support vehicle on our video shoots, particularly when things get dusty, dirty, grimy ... you get the idea. That's why it's one of the rare vehicles in our long-term fleet to get a whole heap of miles put on it. We usually run our long-termers for about 20,000 miles, but we just hit a whopping 80,000 in the Jeep, more than 30,000 of which have come since we officially wrapped up its long-term test.

But the Wrangler suddenly went from mogwai to gremlin a little more than a year ago and has been plagued with problems since. Most of its issues have been electrical, including the alternator and the automatic start-stop system. The constant ferrying of the Wrangler to and from dealerships and service centers has left us a little exhausted, but perhaps that's just part of owning an exotic animal. Still, this recent experience with mounting expenses and ownership headaches seemed to warrant a recap.

Auto stop-start system can't stay healthy

This love-it-or-hate-it feature can't seem to stay off the injured list. We first picked up an error code for it last October. The feature was disabled but the truck drove fine, right up until it didn't. The Wrangler's battery died, requiring a tow to a dealership in Alhambra, California. It appears a bad sensor led to the Jeep draining both the battery that powers the stop-start system and the primary battery.

We replaced both batteries and the faulty sensor, which cost us a cool $1,314.14. Unfortunately, that was not the end of this issue. A nearly identical problem occurred just seven months later, requiring us to replace both batteries yet again. This repair came with additional labor because of contaminated fuel found in our fuel pump. We weren't able to get a straight answer on how the fuel became contaminated, what it was contaminated with, or why an electrical problem caused them to investigate the fuel tank. We paid what was due, $1,741.95, and did not return to this location.

So, we spent more than $3,000 in 12 months in no small part thanks to a feature many of us wish we could throw into the Pacific Ocean anyway. We encountered one more problem with this feature, but thankfully without the wallet-busting cost. In July, the Wrangler would not restart after engaging auto stop-start so we took it into a Santa Monica dealer. The folks there found a completely disconnected power cable, possibly because a previous dealer had failed to reconnect a ground cable. That repair was handled for free.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Hurt Axle Locker

The error code for "axle locker system needs service" first appeared in March of 2021. Based on our research, this appears to be a common problem related to a faulty sensor. We ran it into a Santa Monica dealership in part because we had recently had the Jeep serviced there. The dealer recommended we replace the entire rear-axle housing, an expensive repair ($2,300) that we were not inclined to take it up on.

We instead opted to install an aftermarket electrical connector called a pigtail so we could bypass the faulty sensor. The Wrangler did not seem any worse for wear and the connector cost us $179.

Nearly a year later, we started receiving the error message again. Installing another $179 pigtail on the front locker did not resolve the problem. After doing some research on potential causes, we ran the Wrangler over to an Alhambra dealer to take a look at the differential. Things did not progress smoothly. That dealer found metal shavings in the differential and recommended a complete axle replacement, which we also declined, given that the only problem we'd noticed was the error message itself.

The service center was also, it should be noted, not particularly interested in working on the vehicle after these two $179 aftermarket parts had been installed. Fortunately, the error code has not reared its ugly head since, perhaps owing to some kind of system reset done by the dealer.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Oh, and the alternator died

Last, but not least, we got a chance to replace the alternator. The Wrangler was 100 miles short of hitting 80,000 when it started squealing while traveling uphill. That telltale sign spelled doom for its alternator. The repair, performed by a dealership in Monrovia, cost us $1,238.28.

A broken idler pulley just two months later was replaced for free under warranty because of the alternator repair. While that didn't hit us out of pocket, it was yet another stop in for service with the Wrangler.

Edmunds says

Total it all up and that's $4,652.37 in unscheduled maintenance on our not-very-old Wrangler in the past year. It would have cost a lot more, too, if we had agreed to either of the dealer-recommended axle procedures. Few things beat driving the Wrangler with the top down. It's a shame so much of our Wrangler's time lately has been spent with its hood up.