Jeep 4.0 Engine Reliability, Problems, Specs

Jeep 4.0 Straight-Six Engine

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The Jeep 4.0 isn’t only a legend in the Jeep world, but also the automotive industry as a whole. While it’s not very powerful it is absolutely strong and reliable. These engines are known for their longevity, being able to make it 300,000+ miles with minimal problems along the way.

Not to burst it’s bubble, but the Jeep 4.0 engine is still prone to a few common problems. These include exhaust manifold cracks, oil leaks, and water pump and thermostat failure. Fortunately, these problems are not very severe at all. We will cover each problem in depth below as well as provide some more context on this engines brutal reliability.

Jeep 4.0 Engine Reliability, Problems, Specs

Jeep 4.0 Engine Problems

  1. Exhaust manifold cracks
  2. Oil leaks
  3. Water pump & thermostat

1) Exhaust Manifold Cracks

Exhaust manifold cracking is without question one of the most common problems on the Jeep 4.0 engine. This is especially true with the age and mileage of most around today. Fortunately, it’s a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme. Exhaust manifolds may also be known as headers or exhaust headers.

Sometimes it may just be the manifold gasket or bolts causing the issues. However, it’s also common for the manifold to actually develop cracks. Symptoms are most noticeable on a cold engine. As the Jeep 4.0 exhaust manifold heats up and expands. This expansion can help close the crack, so symptoms may go away once the engine warms up.

Symptoms

  • Ticking sounds
  • Raw exhaust smell
  • Visible cracking

Exhaust manifold cracks typically cause odd engine sounds – notably a ticking noise. Again, this may only be present on a colder engine as the cracks become smaller with heat. You might also notice the Jeep 4.0 smells unusually stronger like raw exhaust. Though, this can be hard to notice with small cracks. Otherwise, a visual inspection might confirm if and where cracks exist.

Repair Options

There are several viable options if you run into a cracked exhaust manifold on the Jeep 4.0 engine. You can opt for an OEM solution, but sometimes new parts can be tough to track down. Used Jeep exhaust manifolds may quickly run into the same issues so be cautious.

Aftermarket exhaust headers are a good choice. However, modding the exhaust may be seen as illegal and can cause emissions concerns. Nonetheless, it’s a good option to hopefully avoid running into more manifold leaks in the feature.

Finally, you may be able to repair your cracked Jeep 4.0 manifold. Some have success with this option, but others find it to be a short-term solution. This can be a good, cheap option for AMC straight-6 owners who don’t mind a DIY project.

2) Oil Leak Problems

Well, this one hits close to home as big BMW enthusiasts. Many of the same jokes about oil leaks float about in the Jeep community, too. In reality, oil leaks affect many engines so the Jeep 4.0 engine is not alone here. Some Jeep oil leaks are simply due to age and mileage while others were known to be faulty from the early days.

The Jeep 4.0 valve cover, valve cover gasket, and rear main seal are a few of the most common oil leak problems. Over time, these seals and gaskets wear down and begin cracking. Oil leaks generally start as a small leak and gradually become worse as cracks expand and new ones develop.

With the age of these engines it’s likely many engines are leaking or had previous oil leaks that were repaired. If you’re in the market for the 4.0L engine definitely look for any leaks and see if any of these repairs were done in the past.

Oil Leak Symptoms

  • Visible leak
  • Burning oil smells
  • Light smoke from engine bay

Visible drops of oil on the ground is a dead give-away oil is leaking from somewhere. When the 4.0L inline-6 is leaking from the rear main seal it often drips onto the ground. However, valve cover gaskets lie at the top of the engine so small leaks may not make it to the ground.

With Jeep valve cover gaskets check for potential burning oil smells or light smoke from the engine bay. You might also notice some oil pooling around the valve cover gasket area.

Oil Leak Repairs

The DIY crowd will appreciate the fact that these oil leaks are cheap repairs. Gaskets and seals often come in for less than $20, so a couple hours in the garage can save a lot of money. Those going to repair shops will find bills to be a bit pricey due to labor costs.

Rear main seal replacement can run $300-500+ at a repair shop. It’s a fairly labor intensive job. Valve cover gaskets are quicker thanks to the simple engine design of an inline-6.

3) Water Pump Failures

Overheating is another common issue on the Jeep 4.0 engine. The water pump and thermostat aren’t always to blame. However, they’re typically good starting points and a common cause of overheating. This wasn’t a major issue when these engines were newer. However, water pumps take a lot of abuse over the years and are common repairs on many aging engines.

The engine is known to develop head gasket problems on occasion, too. Those failures become a lot more common when the engine is subjected to overheating.

Another issue outside of actual water pump failure is the pump flow. Some OEM pumps don’t flow very well at lower RPM’s and idle, which can also cause overheating. Fortunately, there are some aftermarket solutions that help solve this problem on the Jeep straight-6 engine.

Water Pump Failure Symptoms

  • Coolant leaks
  • Steam from engine
  • Overheating

If you notice a coolant leak then the water pump may be to blame. In some cases the coolant loss can be incredibly rapid and you’ll even notice steam from the engine as it leaks out and burns off. This can lead to rapid overheating on the 4.0 Grand Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler.

It’s important to ensure the engine does not overheat, so if you notice this symptom shut off the engine as soon as possible. Running the engine too hot for long periods increases the risk of additional problems.

Jeep 4.0 Engine Reliability

Is the Jeep 4.0 straight-6 engine reliable? Yes, we believe this engine earns good remarks for reliability. AMC was struggling financially when they built this engine. As such, AMC opted to use some older but proven and simple engineering. Many consider the 4.0 among the best Jeep engines for its simplicity, reliability, and 4×4 capability.

However, no engine is perfect and that applies to the legendary Jeep 4.0L engine. These engines are known to run into problems such as exhaust manifold cracks, oil leaks, and water pump failures. This also isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s not totally uncommon to see head gasket, piston skirt, and leaking fuel injectors among some other engine problems.

Then there’s age which is a big factor. The engine often doesn’t have much trouble making it beyond 200,000 miles and even 300-400k+ miles in some cases. That’s pretty good longevity and reliability for the Jeep 4.0 engine. Still, with the current age of these engines it’s likely they’ll need some extra TLC and potentially a rebuild.

Rebuild Kits

Given the allure of the Jeep 4.0 engine opting for a rebuild kit is an increasingly common choice. Most parts are pretty inexpensive, so it’s not a bad deal for those who can DIY. Of course, rebuilds are very labor intensive and require a good bit of knowledge around an engine. Generally, rebuild kits include something along the lines of the following parts:

  • Seals & gaskets
  • Pistons & rings
  • Rod bearings
  • Main bearings
  • Camshaft, lifters, & cam bearings
  • Oil pump
  • Timing kit

During a rebuild you can choose to do a bit less or take things even further. Plenty of options exist for internal upgrades, stroker kits, forced induction, etc. Again, this stuff can add up to be expensive if you’re not capable of doing the work on your own. At that point, you may be better off sourcing an already rebuilt engine and simply swapping.

Summary

It’s no secret the 4.0L straight-6 build by AMC is somewhat a legend in the Jeep world. They certainly don’t put out much power by modern standards, but they offered solid performance for its era. It used a simple design that provides lasting longevity and reliability. There’s a reason Chrysler and Jeep kept an AMC built engine around for 20 years.

However, no engine is perfect and that applies here too. A few common issues with the Jeep 4.0 include the exhaust manifold, oil leaks, and water pump. Other problems like head gaskets, pistons skirts, and crank position sensors also aren’t uncommon. A lot of reliability simply comes down to maintenance, so ensure you take good care of the 4.0L engine.

The Jeep 4.0 engine often holds up easily to 200k miles and some even make it to 300-400k with few problems along the way. Not bad for longevity and reliability. However, with the age of these engines it’s becoming more common that they require rebuilds. It can be a costly endeavor, but some believe its worth the cost to own one of the greats.

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16 Comments

  1. I proudly own a 93 Grand Cherokee Laredo w/4.0L engine. It has 240+thousand miles on it and still runs great. Only repairs I have made have been replacing the harmonic balancer, a fairly easy and cheap project. The only oil leak was due to the sensor, a 10 minute repair. This engine is indeed legendary imo. It’s runs the interstate at 80+mph easily for as long as you can stay awake while being a monster in the mud powering 4wd. Chevy, Ford and Chrysler all made great inline 6 cylinders. The slant 6 by Chrysler is legendary…(I owned one in the early 70s)…but this 4.0 in my Jeep has stolen my heart. I wouldn’t trade it for any other. I just learned that it was an AMC designed today. That makes me love it even more!

  2. Inherited my father’s 96 grand cherokee limited, the 4.0 in it is the perfect engine for this SUV. He never drove it but to work an back so its only got barely 100k on it. Love this truck

  3. I own a 1999 Jeep XJ Sport, major changes I did was the power steering pump @ 265000km and water pump @ 302000km, I’m currently on 32000km and it’s a daily runner,legendary indeed.

  4. Love, love, love my ’98 GC Laredo 4.0 straight 6. This baby goes & goes. Everytime one of my newer vehicles need repairs, my Jeep is still running. 300k+ miles.

  5. Just bought a 96 2 door Cherokee 4.0 automatic tranny, engine has 138k….2 owner west coast car headed to VA as I write this. Any advance guidance appreciated.

    1. It’s amazing how different your comment is when you missed the n’t…all joking aside, I am currently building my 4.0 to a 4.7 stroker. 98 Cherokee Sport.

  6. I rescued my 2001 xj from the scrap yard, It only had 176k on it, started right up, didn’t over heat, did a pressure test on the coolant system… not sure why it was scrap it’s been my daily for 20k now. My wide also has a 99 wj w 160k (just a baby) and my 94 xj has 300k on it……… after reading this I realize I may have a problem LOL

  7. My daily driver is a 2004 Grand Cherokee. At 190k it still doesn’t leak or burn oil. I recently had bad issues and had to replace the power steering pump and then it needed an entire tune up,new injectors,the works.Still love it.

  8. 98 Cherokee here, XJ 4×4 with 310k runs REAT on the original motor. Will NEVER sell this vehicle.

  9. i have a 2004 jeep wrangler 4.0 in need of a rebuild. it over heated and when i removed the oil i found metal granuals in it. where do i go now?

    1. Hi Paul, this is pretty close to what happened to my 98 XJ 4.0, the metal granules in mine were pieces from the top of the piston. Easiest way to check if you haven’t found out is pulling spark plugs to look at the piston tops or drop your oil pan.

  10. While I have never owned one myself, I have worked on 4.0L Jeeps in the past. I know someone who drove the wheels off his Cherokee for months with 5 psi of oil pressure at idle, barely got to 15 at full rev. Changed the oil (conventional cheapest he could find) about every 8,000 miles. Overheated it badly at least twice. I don’t know any other engine that could hold up to that abuse and still keep running. It was ticking pretty good when he finally sold it!

  11. I have a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0l. I purchased it from the original owner it had a 124000 on it.. At a 151 I had to replace the lifters as one collapsed. Now I have 202000 miles on it and the only thing wrong is it starting a rear main oil seal leak. Other than that it’s been a dream. Can someone tell me if the rear main seal is still a 2 piece or did they change it over to a one piece? Thanks Jeff D

  12. I bought a 96 jeep grand cherokee Laredo 4.0l with 166.0000 miles. It runs very strong. I love it but it’s to small on the inside for me. I’m selling it to get something bigger

  13. Thanks for the article and info, I enjoyed it. Between a brother and I, we have had 4 Jeeps with this motor. All served well. But my writing here is to ask a question. A different long-serving vehicle I have is a well-maintained 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Sport (3.0L). The engine recently gave up the ghost and the transmission was already well worn. The rest of the truck is still in good shape with recently done bearings, bushings, etc. I was considering swapping in the 4.0L in-line 6 when I saw this article. Any ideas on if that is a reasonable solution? If so which vintage? Transmission recommendations? Other ideas?
    Thanks

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