Think rugged and durable, think Jeep. I think that’s what they (Jeep, the company) want most of us to think when hopping into its off-roaders. And indeed, they really are very dependable vehicles that you can trust while you’re out trekking over boulders and mountains. But alas, not all of its staple 4x4s are entirely trustworthy. More than a few of them have succumbed to the sea of unreliability over the years. Here, we’ll look a bit deeper into the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems.
The Liberty lived on for a decade within the Jeep family, being sold across 2002 on to the 2012 model years. Between two generations (and the facelifts that ensued), plus a lot of changes in and around it throughout these years, is the Liberty a reliable Jeep? Well, as we’ll get into the teething 2003 Jeep Liberty problems soon, we’ll try to answer this with greater detail. TL;DR, it’s not the most bulletproof Jeep you can own, but it’s at least not too terrible of a nightmare to live with.
What Do You Need To Know About The Jeep Liberty?
The Jeep Liberty was quite a change for the brand. First teased in 2001, its design was inspired by the Dakar and Jeepster concept cars from 1998. It was made for the US market, although it was also sold as the ‘Cherokee’ in other regions such as Egypt and Venezuela. The Liberty was classed as a compact SUV and engineered to replace the old XJ Cherokee. As a result, the new Liberty became the smallest vehicle within Jeep’s line-up until the Patriot and Compass came along later.
When it was brand new, the early Liberty was priced between the cheaper but off-road-focused Wrangler, and the more luxurious and larger Grand Cherokee. As with the XJ Cherokee before it, the Liberty had a unibody construction underneath. It also became the first Jeep to use a rack-and-pinion steering, and featured independent front suspensions. A lot of changes came along as the Liberty progressed through two whole generations.
First-Generation Jeep Liberty (KJ) – 2002 To 2007
In its first generation, the Liberty can be had in various trim options and with brand-new engines. The highlight of which is its ‘PowerTech’ motors – a 150hp 2.4-liter straight-four, and a 210hp 3.7-liter V6. Both of these ‘PowerTech’ engines are gasoline-powered, while Jeep relies on two more engines from Italy-based VM Motori that are turbo diesel in design. The latter comes in a 2.5-liter and a larger 2.8-liter, both inline-4s. The early 2.4L PowerTech was discontinued in 2006.
Mated to them are a huge variety of different transmissions. These include two Chrysler-made 4-speed automatics (the 42RLE and 45RFE), another Chrysler 5-speed auto (545RFE), two 5-speed manuals from New Venture Gear (the NV1500 and NV3550), and a Chrysler 6-speed manual (the NSG370). Initially, Jeep wanted to sell the CRD (common tail turbodiesel) engines to gauge the US market’s interest for diesel, with the aforementioned VM Motori engines.
It was a hit, as the 2.8-liter variant sold more than 10,000 units in its first calendar year. It added an extra 60 lb-ft of torque and lower fuel consumption compared to a V6. As for drivetrains, the Liberty can be kitted with either a part-time Command-Trac, or a full-time Selec-Trac four-wheel-drive system. Certain government fleet Liberty cars had the later and upgraded Selec-Trac II system, while some were entirely two-wheel-drive.
Second-Generation Jeep Liberty (KK) – 2007 To 2012
Proving its status as the entry-level model, Jeep estimated that 70% of Liberty buyers were new to the brand. It had a more utilitarian and boxy design, akin to the Dodge Nitro, of which the second-generation Liberty is related. At this point, the smaller Patriot and Compass have come into the Jeep family, now becoming the brand’s smallest SUVs, and are targeted to cost and fuel economy-conscious buyers. The Liberty then went upscale, turning into a higher performance model.
It only had two engine options – a 2.8-liter VM Motori RA428 inline-4 turbodiesel, and a 3.7-liter PowerTech gasoline V6. Both are carryovers from the previous Liberty, now slightly retuned. The gearboxes were brought forward to the new Liberty as well, with a 4-speed Ultradrive (Chrysler-designed) 42RLE automatic, and a 6-speed Chrysler NSG370 manual. A third option was made available in the form of a Mercedes-Benz 5-speed W5A580 auto.
Plenty more upgrades came along the way, such as the huge under-the-hood changes in the 2009 model year. The improvements included stiffer rear-axle shafts and retuned springs, shocks, anti-roll bars, steering gear valve, low rollback brake calipers, and a revised brake pedal ratio. The Liberty was officially discontinued for the 2012 model year before its place in the Jeep family was taken up by the next generation Cherokee (KL).
Is The Jeep Liberty A Reliable SUV For You To Consider Owning One?
Before we get into discussing with greater detail all the little (and not so little) 2003 Jeep Liberty problems, we should ask a very simple question. Is the Jeep Liberty, as a whole, truly a reliable SUV? Perhaps you saw one for sale at a good price, and are thinking of getting one as a family hauler. Well not too long ago, we took a deep dive into some of the more common issues with the Liberty’s sibling, the Patriot. We concluded that the Patriot wasn’t all too bad.
While it certainly had its issues and is not immune to significant headaches, it was plagued with woes that aren’t terribly serious. Plus, its issues can be solved without too much expense or work. However, the Liberty – which was also made in more or less the same era – is far worse. Just to compare, we’re referencing data from CarComplaints.com, taking reports from its users and the NHTSA. The Patriot had around 805 complaints overall, while the Liberty had 2,210.
We took a glance at CarComplaints.com’s PainRank scoring system. This analyses factors such as the scope of the problem, the frequency it occurs, how easy it is to fix, and how much it’s going to cost as a weighted average. While the Patriot ranks third overall (out of nine) among Jeeps, the Liberty sits in fifth. And then, PainRank breaks it down into each model generation. The Liberty’s 1st- and 2nd-generation cars ranked 14th and 15th respectively, out of 18 places.
What Are The Most Common 2003 Jeep Liberty Problems That You Need To Be Aware Of?
Remember, the 2003 Jeep Liberty is among the earlier batch of cars within the Liberty family. It seems as though the first-gen Liberties are less reliable than the second-gen ones. This is evident as there are over around 4.5x more reports – based on data compiled by CarComplaints.com – across the first-gen cars compared to the second-gen. This is despite there being a recall for later second-generation Liberties that affected 347,000 units in total caused by rusty rear control arms.
That said, the 2006 model year seemed to have carried most of the total complaints. As we look at the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems, this model year had around 162 complaints. Or, more than 1,000 if taken into account individual reports filed with the NTHSA. If we need to round up the list of issues that p in the 2003MY, the lion’s share of complaints were regarding faulty power window switches and regulators. They seem to have a habit of failing prematurely.
While they’re not expensive or complex fixes (relatively speaking), their common occurrence is enough to be an annoyance. Aside from the electric windows, though, there are numerous other faults with the engine and elsewhere. Without further ado, let’s look more closely at analyzing all the various 2003 Jeep Liberty problems…
1. Power Windows – Defective Power Window Regulator; Windows Would Not Open Or Close Properly
The first, and by far the most common of the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems is its faulty power window regulator. In electric power windows, the ‘regulator’ is what feeds the mechanism of the glass slabs to move up and down as needed. With the Jeep Liberty, this otherwise important part is made from flimsy plastic, which can break fairly easily. Looking at CarComplaints.com, many owners have had to replace the power window regulator more than once.
Sometimes upwards of five or more times! This can affect all four windows front and rear, on the driver and passenger side, even if you don’t use them all too often. According to some reports, you can hear odd grinding or crunching sounds as the power windows are being wound up or down. This is then followed by a loud ‘snap’, as the window falls suddenly into the door frame. As it falls down, it may also affect the door’s locking mechanism, locking or unlocking the door on impact.
Although this was recalled in later model years of the Liberty, the 2003MY wasn’t included. Owners will then have to repair it out of pocket. On average, the cost of replacing the power window regulator is at least $300 for a single window. Now, multiply that by five or six times. However, a few owners have had more serious defects. They were asked to replace the power window motors and the entire assembly. The repair bills for this would be around $600 or more.
2. Power Windows – Faulty Power Window Regulator Clips; Windows Could Fall Into The Door
This is an extension of the previous point, but it once again highlights just how prevalent power windows are when jotting down all the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems. While the power window regulators have critical design flaws, the clips too are just as poorly made. These are what hold the windows in place, and in the Jeep Liberty, they too are made from cheap and flimsy plastic. It could snap quite easily, causing the glass windows to fall back into the door frame.
Just like the regulators, damaged clips are a common issue with the 2003 Liberty, even when the windows themselves haven’t been used often. It can break just as frequently as the regulators did, resulting in owners having to replace them at least three times on average. Several owners have resorted to using tape and glue to keep the windows in place. Once again not covered under a recall, resulting in owners having to shell out over $300 for each window.
3. Engine – Blown Head Gasket (Among Other Faulty Components); Car Driving And Idling Rough
Now, we can get into the more costly side of the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems. It seems to suffer from numerous engine-related troubles, the more common one revolving around the head gasket. Even with a relatively moderate mileage of around 90,000 miles, several owners have reported that their Liberty’s head gaskets blew. The result is the car idling and driving very roughly. There are various other symptoms to spot this, such as hearing odd ticking noises or misfires.
Or, it might be diagnosed as the coolant having leaked into the oil through a cracked head gasket. Several other components might be affected by this aside from the head gasket. Examples include the valvetrain (one owner noted their valve sets dropping into a cylinder), camshaft and crankshaft sensors, timing cover, rocker arms, and more. Apparently, there is an engineering flaw within the Jeep Liberty where motor oil rapidly turns into a thick and clogged-up sludge.
All the while, not a single warning light blinked. Unfortunately, the problem would’ve started to happen long before many owners could realize it. At which point, there ought to be a catastrophic amount of damage done to the engine. Most owners who’ve suffered this problem had to cough up between $2,500 to $7,000 for a brand new engine. The large variance in price is due to some owners being somewhat lucky to find refurbished engines. Still, it’s a very costly problem.
4. Fuel System – Susceptible To Leaking Or Puncture, Causing Fires
This next set in the collection of 2003 Jeep Liberty problems is thankfully covered under a recall that affected more than 1.5-million vehicles. Nonetheless, some owners were not made aware, thus posing an issue. Similar to what happened with the old Ford Pinto, the Jeep Liberty (as well as several other similar SUVs) had its fuel tank placed in a way that made it susceptible to being punctured in the event of a rear-end impact. It’s made worse by some of the tanks leaking.
The fuel tanks were tucked between the rear axle and bumper. Moreover, the higher-up stance of SUVs like the Liberty meant that the fuel tank was left dangling exposed far lower than in most cars. To make things worse, some of these fuel tanks were made from plastic. Altogether, rear-end collisions have resulted in numerous deaths, as even low-speed impacts could cause the tanks to combust. Chrysler (Jeep’s parent company) tried to solve this by installing a tow hitch.
It should, according to their statements, provide some protection for the exposed fuel tanks. But they later admitted that high-speed collisions can very easily break through the tow hitch. With low-speed impacts, the addition of a trailer hitch made little difference, as well. The issue of cars being engulfed in flames mostly affected Jeep-designed vehicles like the old Grand Cherokee and the first-generation Liberty.
5. TIPM Module – Electrical Faults; Airbags Deploying Randomly, Or Not Deploying At All
The TIPM, or ‘totally integrated power module’ is the central electronic brain of your car, mainly made for Fiat-Chrysler vehicles. Most functions require going through the TIPM, such as running the fuel pump, working the power windows, door locks, horn, ignition, as well as the engine. On the subject of the 2003 Jeep Liberty problems, one particularly nasty issue caused by defective TIPMs involves the airbags. To be more specific, they can deploy at random occasions.
Alternatively, a broken TIPM might not be able to signal the airbags to deploy at all in the event of an accident. Either way, it can result in serious injuries. Many Fiat-Chrysler cars of this era had faulty TIPMs, and the Jeep Liberty (both 1st- and 2nd-generation) is no different. Several recalls were made affecting millions of vehicles, not to mention the offer of an extended warranty. Still, some owners were stuck with broken TIPMs, necessitating a $1,200 or more replacement.
6. Suspension – Corroded Ball Joints; Wheels Could Fall Off, Or Cause Accidents
Another issue that’s covered under recall, but could still occur after the fact is rusty ball joints. These were among the first to be recalled. Sometimes, the lower control arm ball joints can experience a loss of lubrication, leading to accelerated corrosion and wear. It may even separate from the steering knuckle entirely, which can cause the driver to lose all steering. One particular owner heard a loud grinding noise before the wheels fell completely off the control arm.
Understandably, this is incredibly hazardous, and unfortunately could be seen happening in Jeep Liberties with mileage as low as 75,000. Several owners had to replace more than just one ball joint, though the ones up front seem to rust quicker than in the rear. The cost for replacing the ball joints average around $500 for one set. Often, the rusted ball joints would be replaced at the dealership by similarly designed ball joints, which could potentially run into the same issues.
What Should You Do About These 2003 Jeep Liberty Problems?
So, we’ve seen here that there are plentiful 2003 Jeep Liberty problems that you might face. But what if you’re still planning to take up that sweet deal on a second-hand Liberty… Or, perhaps you already own one, and are lucky enough to have never suffered these problems before? Well, there are a few ways that you can keep yourself on top of these defects before they get out of hand. Remember that some of these 2003 Jeep Liberty problems are absolutely deadly.
Having your car burst into flames from an already alarming rear-end collision may cost you your life. Or how about the fact that the airbags might not deploy when you want them to? Therefore, you should certainly inquire with a local Jeep dealer or specialize to make sure that your 2003 Liberty has gone through these fixes. Make sure it’s all been repaired or replaced where necessary. There were a total of 13 recalls throughout the ’03 model year, as we noted some of them earlier.
Nevertheless, you may want to consider third-party solutions rather than Jeep’s in-house repairs. It might be more expensive, but could at least ensure that the faults remain solved. For example, that aforementioned ball joint recall replaces them with similar units. Thus, perhaps in a few years, they could rust again, prompting another repair. The barrage of power window issues too, had the plasticky regulators and clips replaced with other plasticky parts.
2003 Jeep Liberty Problems – Conclusion
Rounding off our guide on 2003 Jeep Liberty problems, and we can see that it’s not all roses and sunshine. While it’s by no means as unreliable of a lemon as the Chrysler 200 that we also looked at before, the ’03 Liberty isn’t as robust as some of its compatriots. The main issue that you’ll be dealing with is with the power windows. As minor as it might seem, they occur quite frequently. If you’re unlucky enough, it might happen five or more times, for all your windows.
A repair bill of $300 might not sound like much, by many owners have to pay at least $1,000 or higher. This is owing to just how often the power windows keep failing, as per a clear cost-cutting oversight on Jeep’s part. The engine, although not as common of a problem, can still suffer from flawed engineering. The valvetrain and head gaskets are often the first components to fail, which is then followed by complete engine failure. The only solution is a brand new engine.
That’s another $2,500++ out of pocket. This is still cheap compared to the cost of human life that’s been lost to having your Liberty combust at an instant following a rear-end collision. While that’s already “solved” through several recalls, the fix that Jeep had in mind isn’t even adequate. In all, the 2003 Jeep Liberty, while not a complete joke, requires a lot of due diligence to make sure you’re getting a good one. If you could, perhaps look at some of the later model years, instead.
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