By John Goreham
Automakers all use outsourced parts, and Jeep is no different from its peers in that regard. One important component that Jeep opted not to build itself is the automatic transmission in the new-generation Jeep Cherokee compact crossover. The transmission is provided to Jeep by ZF ("zed eff" if you want to pronounce it right). However, the good folks at ZF are not the cause of the trouble.
Mechanically, the transmission is not a problem. ZF supplies the same basic unit to other companies, and it supplies transmissions for a wide variety of vehicle types for automakers such as Jaguar and Land Rover, not just Jeep. Importantly, the automakers themselves “tune” the transmissions to meet what they expect to be the needs and wants of their particular customer base. Tune means program, which leads us to the root cause of the trouble that has plagued the Jeep Cherokee since the 2013 introduction of this popular vehicle: software.
At CarComplaints.com, owners of 2014 Jeep Cherokees have written 257 complaints detailing their transmission woes. What is striking about the transmission complaints is the variety of the problems. There are 18 independent sub-headings for this transmission’s troubles. Typically, a defective part or system will be properly corralled by just one or two CarComplaints.com headings.
The majority of the troubles are described best as “shifting very roughly.” Way back in February of 2013, Jack L. of Middletown, MD, described the problem, saying, “Shifts very roughly from time to time mostly at lower speeds. My wife actually thought we had been hit from behind one time it was so rough. Hope this isn't going to be another Chrysler Transmission Problem like the two Grand Voyagers we owned.”
S.J., of Bryan’s Road, MD (I wonder if he knows Jack L.?) reported in May of 2014 that the dealer had tried to fix the problem twice unsuccessfully. What we liked about S.J.’s comment was that it goes to the very heart of why we here at CarTalk write these Carpocalypse stories. S.J. said, “Not only is this a safety issue, but this problem also devalues the car. Who would want to purchase or accept this car as a trade-in with a known transmission problem?” Who indeed? Not a reader of this blog!
To its credit, Jeep has not run away from the problem. Early on, the company and even its chairman owned up to the software glitches responsible for this issue and technical service bulletins (TSBs) were issued. Owners would bring their car in, and the software would be updated, hopefully solving the problem. Except the problem did not go away. CarComplaints.com had just as many transmission complaints in the new model year.
Fast forward to February 2015 and yet another fix was proposed to solve the issue. Automotive News quoted Jeep’s Sergio Marchionne, chairman of FCA US, as saying, "We have had to do an inordinate amount of intervention on that transmission, surely beyond what any of us had forecast." Marchionne added, "There are things that we have done -- that we continue to do. Our proactive customer care intervention has actually increased in intensity on these vehicles in 2014, especially in the second half."
Good intentions, ownership of a problem, so why is CarTalk still harping on this non-issue? Simply because owners are still reporting Jeep Cherokee transmission issues. Fredrick W., of Harrisburg, PA, was just one recent owner that wrote to CarCompalints.com about a 2016 model year Jeep Cherokee. Fredrick says,“The Jeep’s transmission is just AWFUL. It jerks, it skips gears, it gets stuck in gear, and at times it won't even engage. It's as if you are getting whiplash when it shifts, and you’re not even in a crash. It's been in the shop several times to NO AVAIL.” The most recent complaint logged at CarComplaints.com about the Jeep Cherokee’s transmission comes just last month.
A recall has been announced for this problem but given the prior history of other proposed fixes we felt our readership would want to know about this issue and make an informed decision if they are considering a new or used Jeep Cherokee.