The Most Common Jeep Wrangler Automatic Transmission Shifting Problems and Solutions

Are you experiencing a shifting problem on your Jeep Wrangler? You are not alone. Many owners experience Jeep Wrangler automatic transmission shifting problems like using other SUVs. In general, the transmission of the Jeep Wrangler causes shifting problems due to delayed shifting, torque converter problems, failed gear engagement, and more.

Read on to get the whole potential reason for causing transmission shifting problems along with potential solutions as well as some troubleshooting processes.

About Jeep Wrangler Automatic Transmissions

jeep wrangler automatic transmission not shifting

The Jeep Wrangler already comes with a variety of transmissions, including 3-speed and 4-speed models. The Jeep Wrangler 1986–2006 models used a 3-speed automatic transmission, which was simple and lightweight. These automatic transmissions don’t have overdrive gear.

From 2003 to 2012, the model also used 4-speed RLE, until the 5-speed W5A580 was introduced in 2012. The 4-speed RLE is considered a medium-duty transmission and features an overdrive function, making it great for highway driving. But its gear ratio wasn’t perfect for off-road driving.

The W5A580 was first used in a Jeep Wrangler in 2012, and it’s a reliable choice for fast shifts along with 600 lbs. of torque handling ability.

Jeep Wrangler Automatic Shifting Problems and Solutions

jeep wrangler transmission problems

The Jeep Wrangler is an incredible vehicle and a reliable option for off-road driving. The Jeep, like other high-end brands, suffers from a variety of transmission flaws. The following are some common Jeep Wrangler automatic shifting issues to look out for before purchasing the vehicle.

Before the brief discussion, let’s check the quick list

Problem Solution
Delayed Shifting Replace the faulty part
Torque Converter Problems replace the damaged sensor
Failed Gear Engagement install a modified filter
Leaking Seals Problem Replace the transmission seal
Gear Slips and irregular Gear Changes Replace the solenoid set or wiring
Unexpected Shits to Neutral Take the vehicle to service centre
Clogged filter Clean or replace the filter

Delayed Shifting

This problem is common with the 42RE and the 42RE 4-speed automatic transmission and greatly affects the Jeep Wrangler’s performance. The delayed shifting mostly occurs during shifting from 1st to 3rd or 3rd to 4th, and no engine warning light comes on once it occurs.

It may occur as a result of insufficient fluid pressure from a worn pressure solenoid. If it only happened in 4th gear, it means the overdrive solenoid is causing the error. The main cause of delayed shifting is low transmission fluid or a dirty transmission filter. Another potential error is a sensor or wiring failure.

Worn bands can also cause delayed shifting or rough shifting. Whether the worn band, faulty wiring, or sensor failure is causing the problem, you must replace them to restore the transmission’s functionality. If you experience a problem while engaging the 4th gear, you have to replace the overdrive solenoid. The cost of a 42RLE Jeep Wrangler ranges from US$1750 to US$2500.

Torque Converter Problems

If you own or want to own a 2000 or later Jeep Wrangler, you may encounter this issue in the 42RE and 42RE 4-speed automatic transmissions. The torque converter error is an intermittent problem, and the “check engine” light comes on due to this error.

This problem can occur due to faulty sensors. The failure of the throttle body sensor can also prevent the torque converter clutch from engaging precisely. In this case, you have to replace the damaged sensor.

If the input/output speed sensor of the gearbox gets damaged, it can give a wrong reading, affect the performance of the torque converter clutch, and cause a variety of speed sensor-related codes. A damaged corresponding sensor or governor pressure solenoid can also cause this issue.

You can use a code reader to verify the issue and use an upgrade kit to repair this overdrive problem.

Failed Gear Engagement

A Jeep Wrangler with a 545RFE 5-speed automatic transmission can experience this problem. The gear engagement can fail due to keeping the vehicle outside in the cold weather. In addition, if the transmission fluid gets dirty, drops, or is the wrong type, it can prevent the gears from engaging in drive and reverse.

The vehicle’s gear can also fail to engage if the transmission cooler filter becomes loose or the fluid drains from the torque converter. It can interrupt gear engagement. To avoid this hassle, you have to install a modified filter to build pressure and allow the transmission to function properly.

Leaking Seals Problem

Your Jeep Wrangler can show an improper engine transmission light or cause lethargic gear shifting if its lubricant gets leaked.

The transmission fluid can leak due to the crack in the transmission pan. Typically, the transmission fluid is placed at the engine’s bottom, and it can leak or cause a dent due to driving on sharp roads.

Transmission fluid can also leak due to damaged, corroded, or cracked torque connectors. The transmission seal can also fail to save the transmission liquid, which can get damaged because of continuous friction on corrosive material.

However, repairing or replacing the transmission pan or torque connector can solve the problem. Replacing the transmission seal can cost around $132 to $158, while you’ll be charged about $73 to $100 for changing the transmission pan. But replacing the torque connector is a bit expensive; it costs around $1200 to $1400.

Gear Slips and Irregular Gear Changes

Many Jeep Wrangler owners complain that their vehicle randomly slips gears. It’s a more common problem for A6MF1 6-speed transmissions than for other models. Though gear slippage causes problems occasionally at first, it can become more frequent if left untreated.

Your Jeep Wrangler can experience irregular gear changes if you leave it outside in cold weather and trigger the check engine light. This problem is also linked to solenoid issues. Hence, you may need to replace the whole solenoid set to fix this problem. But if the solenoid is functioning, replacing the wiring will be good enough to solve the problem.

Unexpected Shits to Neutral

The ZF9HP48 9-speed transmission of the front-wheel drive Jeep Wrangler can move to neutral unexpectedly. A faulty or damaged transaxle range sensor connector and wiring can be the root of this problem as it creates inaccurate signals on the sensor. Once the TCU identifies this doubtful signal, it changes the transmission to neutral and places the P0901 code.

In this case, the check engine light will appear, and you’ll need to service the Jeep Wrangler to fix this error as it’s a severe safety issue.

Also Read: Jeep Wrangler Wheel Bolt Pattern

Clogged filter

A clogged filter can also cause shifting issues in your Jeep Wrangler’s automatic transmission. Using dirty or old transmission fluid can block the filter, which can prevent the internal parts of the vehicle from functioning properly due to insufficient lubricant.

Apart from transmission shifting problems, it can also cause slipping transmissions, grinding gears, or other common signs of transmission problems.

How to check for Jeep Wrangler Transmission Shifting? 

Though you’ll automatically learn about the transmission shifting problem in your Jeep Wrangler, you should do some troubleshooting to check the vehicle’s real condition. Below are a few tricks to apply:

  • Start by checking the lubricant level, as it can drop due to frequent driving and cause trouble.
  • Carefully check the automatic transmission if any part gets leaky.
  • Check the “Check Engine” lights if they come on.
  • Inspect the engine’s heat indicator. If you find it over the mid-level, let it cool down before running the engine again.
  • The engine can also produce noise or other unusual sounds, which are also wise to look for.
  • You can also check for any burning smell, which indicates used or dirty transmission fluid.
  • Monitor the speed of the gear shifting.

Signs that Indicate the Transmission of a Jeep Wrangler Needs Repair

jeep wrangler automatic transmission problems

Though the motor is the soul and heart of a vehicle, the transmission is one of the key parts. If the transmission fails, your Jeep Wrangler may not shift into first gear or leave if something goes wrong.

The longer it takes to repair the transmission’s shifting problem, the more expensive the repair will be. The following are some symptoms that indicate your Jeep Wrangler needs to visit an auto repair shop.

Hearing Knocking Noise during Accelerating Quickly

If you hear any knocking noise when accelerating, decelerating quickly, or changing gears, it means something is wrong with your Jeep Wrangler’s transmission. The knocking noise also indicates an error with the engine mount.

However, if you hear a knocking sound, especially in those situations, it means your Jeep’s transmission is loose or damaged. In this case, repair your vehicle immediately before it gets worse.

Smelling Something Wrong

If you get a sweet smell when walking up to your Jeep Wrangler, it means its transmission isn’t okay. In this case, you can inspect the vehicle for red, pink, or brown puddles. Transmission fluid is typically pink, but it can darken or change color over time.

If you find the fluid pooling underneath your Jeep Wrangler, inspect its reservoir to determine whether it requires topping off or not. If the reservoir has insufficient transmission fluid, top it off and then start driving your Jeep Wrangler. Otherwise, driving with insufficient fluid can cause severe damage.

A closed system is used for transmission. Hence, you should take the vehicle to the service center if you notice a fluid leak or sweet smell.

Noticing Irregular Gear Shifting

If your Jeep Wrangler has irregular gear shifting, you have to repair its transmission, as it is a serious problem for the transmission control unit. This is especially true for automatic transmissions, whereas manual transmissions only have a clutch problem.

Instead of considering the transmission’s type, you should fix the error instantly. Otherwise, delaying servicing the transmission can damage the gears.


1. How to know if the transmission goes bad in a jeep wrangler?

The most obvious sign of a faulty transmission is hearing a knocking noise when accelerating, decelerating quickly, or changing gears. The knocking noise is also a sign of a damaged engine mount.

2. What are the early symptoms of transmission failure?

If the transmission of your Jeep Wrangler fails, it can refuse to change gears. The other sign includes slipping gear, a burning smell, leaking fluid, a dragging clutch, or checking the engine light.

3. Will changing transmission fluid help shifting?

Though changing transmission fluid might not fix the mechanical error, it can make the shifting smoother and increase the transmission’s longevity. Manufacturers usually suggest changing the fluid every 150,000 miles of driving under normal conditions, but you should change the fluid more often.

Also Read: How Many Miles Per Gallon Does A Jeep Wrangler Get?

Final Words

Jeep Wranglers are a tougher but more fun vehicle to drive on trails and in mud. However, you can experience some Jeep Wrangler automatic transmission shifting problems during regular use. Since you can’t keep the vehicle idle all the time or avoid those problems, understanding the reasons and potential solutions can help restore the transmissions’ functionality quickly, and conveniently. I hope you get enough clues to do Jeep Wrangler troubleshooting at home. If you are still confused or can’t fix the problem, it’s recommended that you hire an expert mechanic.

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