Question about 1997 Jeep Cherokee Country

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1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport i6 4L 4x4 w AC - transmission issues

I just purchased a one-owner, used 1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport. It appears to be well maintained and a quick look-over by a reputable mechanic says the same, and aside from a serious lack of transmission fluid (no obvious leaks) all appears well. We put in more transmission fluid and the mechanic verified that the clutch is in fine shape.

(NOTE: A full inspection will happen next week, but I was happy with the price of the vehicle, even if I did discover issues later.)

In 4x4, twice now when coming to a stop the transmission didn't seem to want to downshift. The engine rev'd up very high and in both cases after using the brakes, I would let the machine roll until the rev'ing stopped and all would be fine again. The whole event would be over and done in under 60 seconds, I think.

Also, in 4x4, I hear a sort of low, throaty sound quality. Maybe it could be described as somewhat hollow? It does sound -burly- but, my former vehicle (a toyota 4runner) didn't make any sound changes between 2w and 4wd. Is it normal for a Jeep to have a much different sound when in 4x?

Mostly I want to ensure the vehicle is safe to drive. I am in deep snow winter conditions for the next month and need to use the Jeep every day, in 4x4, for at least 50 miles.

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  • Carly Staehlin
    Carly Staehlin Feb 27, 2009

    Thank you for the time, thundergod. The Jeep is an automatic.

    This could be a U joint problem.

    We were fortunate last night when picking up the other vehicle from the mechanic that he was able to take the Jeep in early. We described the noise and he felt that it was probably a dry part on a U joint. He showed me a double cardan part (the 4 headed part?) and showed me that there is a cap-like end that will pop off and that it shouldn't be dry in there and the noise we are hearing might be that one or more of them is dry.

    He's going to start work on it today, including examining the 4x system.

    Regarding the clutch comment: A CEL (45) informed us that something was amiss with the transmission which is when we discovered that it was empty of fluid. We'd driven it quite a bit and were concerned about major damage as a result. So we put fluid in and got it to the mechanic immediately.

    At that time he said he wanted to make sure that we hadn't "burned the
    clutch out" in the Jeep by driving it so dry of transmission fluid.
    Later when I picked it up, I asked if the clutch had been damaged and
    he said no. The CEL is off. He said he hadn't dropped the pan, but he'd do that when I
    brought the Jeep back once the parts we need have arrived. I assumed that although the vehicle is automatic to me, there must be some kind of clutching system in the transmission somewhere, likely computer controlled.


  • Carly Staehlin
    Carly Staehlin Feb 27, 2009

    You are awesome, thundergod. I just called the shop and requested the services you have recommended. The Cherokee is a great vehicle and with only about 93k miles on mine, I'd like to see this one keep trucking for another decade. I will let you know how this goes with an update next week!



  • Richard Scordino May 11, 2010

    You mentioned a clutch being in fine shape then went on to say it does not want to downshift Is this an automatic or a stickshift??? You have me confused! Did anyone check fluid in the transfer case yet?

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  • Jeep Master
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Yes, there are clutches inside an automatic trans, sometimes up to 20 of them, but they are completely different than that found in a stick-shift unit. Automatic clutches are steel discs with a thin coating of friction material on both sides which are sandwhiched in between steel plates. A stickshift clutch depends upon heat transfer to the flywheel and the pressure plate to stay "alive" very much like your brakes. Auto trans clutches depend entirely upon fluid to remove heat...being so thin, low fluid means nearly instant clutch burn.Application of clutches and bands is controlled by a valve body that gets it's info from shift positon and recently, from control units (electronic). Low fluid which causes any clutch damage, causes material from the clutches to flake off which can contaminate the valve body and any electronic control solenoids, which in turn causes a "snowball effect" creating more internal damage. This is the simple version. If you are having downshift or other shift problems, a cardan joint will not cause this. (though in fact, it may be bad) Either way, I recommend that you have the trans flluid changed (inc filter), change differential and transfer case fluids, do an oil change and replace antifreeze. I do this with every vehicle I buy. This gives you a fresh "baseline" for service intervals and uncovers any potential future problems, when still minor and easily repairable. This includes checking and lubing all suspension and steering components as well. Likely this is why I get over 350,000 miles out of every vehicle I own. (and you can as well). It's good that you have brought it to a shop now, instead of flailing around and guessing as to what their problem is (all the while causing more damage while driving) There is a lot of service work that you can do at home and save $. A few dollars spent now will save you thousands later on!!!.
This likely is the longest post I've written, but it is sometimes important not only guide someone through a repair, but to inform someone in order to avoid costly mistakes!!!
Hope this has helped somewhat. If you have questions as work progresses, ask here and I'll try to help.
good luck

Posted on Feb 27, 2009

  • Richard Scordino Feb 27, 2009

    Awesome is a bit strong, but maybe a bit senile (though I've never been to Egypt). One of my original points never made it to the writing part: I don't see how the tech could know that the clutches (internal, and not even visible even with the pan removed!) were "fine".(PS:I use synthetics in everything except differentials & transfer cases. Have been since I used to build 7,000 hp dragster engines, and synthetics were the only lubricant that did not break down when under the huge pressures and temperatures encountered in that application.) RS

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