AskTFL: Which Jeep Wrangler is Best for Me: Already Modified or Bone Stock?

2018 jeep wrangler rubicon
All-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Buying a Jeep Wrangler for heading off-road is a good idea, but with so many variations and generations out there, which Jeep is best?

This is the conundrum faced by a reader named Joe, who sent in the following question weighing the pros and cons of a JL versus a modified JK:

I purchased a 2018 power wagon last year. It’s awesome and I love it. But we got into overlanding, and it’s just too big for a lot of the trails in So Cal. We want to switch to a Jeep. Here is my question:

If I sell the Power Wagon and have say $55-$60K budget, would you buy a 2018+ JLU  8-speed AT and do some minor mods like 35-inch tires and small lift or would you buy a 2015+ JKU 5-speed AT and do more extensive mods (like 37″ tires, plus all the gearing, etc).

I just want to overland, and yes do some hard rock crawling at times, but I think I’ll have a Roof Top Tent most the time so I’m not expecting to do extreme rock crawling.

I think I’m leaning toward the newer JL and 8-speed, assuming out of the box it will do 90% of what I need for overlanding. Then I can build on it more as time goes on. 

Or is the JL overrated and it’s better to get a JKU with all the mods that make it a beast? 

Thanks for the question Joe. We edited it for length, but Joe says that he has a JKU he could purchase, already fit with a ton of modifications, including stronger axles, lower gearing, bigger tires, stronger drive shafts and more.

First off, there will be a big difference in how these two Jeeps drive out on the road, with the JLU being the more civilized and easier to handle of the two. When it comes time to head off the pavement, the fully built JKU will no doubt be more capable, though more importantly, it sounds like it will be more reliable with all the beefed up parts. Stock axles and drive shafts are fine for moderate off-roading, but if you do get extreme, having stronger metal will help to avoid leaving you stranded.

There is another argument to be made that buying something with so many modifications can come with headaches if the installation wasn’t done properly, and this can be a hard thing to find out before purchase. At least going stock, you know everything about the modifications on the vehicle.

The flip side of this argument is that buying a modified vehicle usually means overall savings, as you could never buy all those parts and have them installed for a lower price than what you will pay for the Jeep.

Based on the lack of “extreme rock crawling” as Joe puts it, we would lean towards the JL. It will handle some incredibly tough situations straight out of the box and return a better ride when you’re running to and from the trail. Not to mention the eight-speed automatic should help you to save a bit on fuel as well.

Buying the JKU sounds like overkill for you Joe, although having something that’s overbuilt is usually a good problem to have out on the trail, to make sure that nothing goes wrong.

You wouldn’t be making the wrong decision buying the JK, but if it was our money, we’d go with the JL.