Jeep Cherokee Transmission Problems & Overview

When Chrysler bought American Motors back in 1987, their main interest was the Jeep brand. The midsize Jeep Cherokee had become surprisingly popular, and with Chrysler’s marketing money, it would go on to define the SUV segment in the 1990’s.

By the turn of the 21st century, the famous AMC-UV had fallen behind the now-crowded sport utility segment, so it was retired in 2001. High gas prices and a soft economy eventually led to the fuel efficient CUV, which spurred Chrysler (now owned by Fiat) to revive the iconic Cherokee name for the 2014 model year.

Now based on a front-wheel drive platform, the second-generation Jeep Cherokee KL sported lots of modern tech, a robot face, and fuel-sipping engines that were backed by a new 9-speed automatic transmission that was built by the German gearbox maker ZF. This transmission was the first of its kind, and the additional gears were intended to boost fuel economy without sacrificing performance.

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With a compact design and a gear ratio spread of 9.81:1, ZF claims a 16% fuel economy increase over a similarly sized 6-speed automatic. Unfortunately, the Jeep Cherokee 9-speed automatic couldn’t even get into production before the problems started, and it’s been plagued by gremlins ever since.

Do you have a problem with your Cherokee?
Let’s look at some of the most common Jeep Cherokee transmission problems, and see what you can do to get your truck back on the road.

Common Issues/Codes Summary

Coming soon.

The first few gears are the worst

The Jeep Cherokee ZF 9-speed automatic was said to provide unprecedented levels of performance and fuel economy. Unfortunately, software and design issues make accelerating from a stop an exercise in randomness. Stepping on the gas pedal could trigger sluggish response, wheel spin, or a sudden surge of power. The software updates can often cure the problem. However, it may cause the ZF 9-speed to skip 2nd gear entirely, going from 1st to 3rd. Here’s a few of the most common owner experiences:

  • 1st Gear – Many owners have reported a pronounced delay from the time that they step on the gas, until the truck starts to move. These same people also say that stepping on the gas could result in unexpected wheel spin.
  • 2nd Gear – The most common complaint about this gear is that the transmission will hang in 2nd, and not up shift for an extended period of time.
  • 3rd Gear – Once the ZF 9-speed finally decides to select 3rd gear, it does so very harshly. Creating a sort of ‘bang’ into 3rd gear.

2014-2015 Cherokee Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) & Software Updates

Even after transmission related production delays, the 2014-2015 Jeep Cherokee immediately spawned TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins) to address shifting issues. Some of the reported problems included sudden acceleration, unexpected downshifts, failure to kickdown when accelerating, shifting into neutral while driving, and front-axle vibrations.

Although dealers were apprised on how to solve customer complaints, FCA (Fiat-Chrysler) claimed the problems weren’t mechanical, but stemmed from the software that controlled the shifting. They also claimed the transmission software ‘adapted’ differently to each person’s driving style. However, using the latest software updates seem to help the transmission to adapt more logically.

– TSB 375108 Summary

On 12/19/2013, Chrysler issued a software patch to fix inconsistent or harsh shifting between 1-2 & 2-3. Dealers were instructed to install the new software on customer vehicles, as well as all unsold Cherokee’s still sitting in inventory.

– TSB 384499 Summary

On 02-07-2015, a TSB was issued to fix the trouble-prone 5-4 downshift. The problem stemmed from a potentially faulty C-clutch snap ring.

– TSB 379349 Summary

On 06/19/2015, a TSB was issued to inform dealers of another transmission software update that was intended to fix numerous issues, including a 3-2 downshift delay while driving on inclines, garage shifts (Park to Reverse or Drive), overall coastdown shift quality. Throttle response and performance feel, management and prevention of busy shifting, and lift foot/change mind shift quality.

What Transmission Does a Jeep Cherokee Have?

YearEngineTrans TypeDrive
19974.0LA340 / AW4RWD
1996-19944.0LA340 / AW44WD
1996-19944.0LA340 / AW44WD
1996-19914.0LA340 / AW4RWD
1990-19874.0LA340 / AW4RWD
1993-19874.0LA340 / AW44WD
2000-19984.0LA340 / AW44WD
19974.0LA340 / AW44WD
1993-19874.0LA340 / AW44WD
19974.0LA340 / AW44WD
2000-19984.0LA340 / AW4RWD
20014.0LA340 / AW44WD
20014.0LA340 / AW44WD
1990-19872.5LA340 / AW4RWD
2000-19984.0LA340 / AW44WD
1990-19872.5LA340 / AW44WD
1986-19842.5L, 2.8LA9044WD
20014.0LA340 / AW4RWD

How to Diagnose & Fix

  1. Check the OBD Codes
  2. Check the fluid level
  3. Test transmission pressure
  4. Drop the transmission pan
  5. Repair, replace or rebuild

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5 thoughts on “Jeep Cherokee Transmission Problems & Overview

  1. Hey, got a 97 cherokee 6cyl.. p0700 and p0785 shift solenoid b electrical.
    after hitting 3/4 gear wont downshift and revs to high rpm when accelerating from a stop. returns to normal after after being shut off and left for a bit. CEL comes on obviously as it threw the codes. Hoping its simply a solenoid replacement & will be taking it to a tranny shop tomorrow & will update, but any input is appreciated

  2. 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee won’t reverse but everything else works also it shakes when it gets to 45 it shakes

  3. Went to have my 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee inspected…the first time 6 codes came up so the mechanic reset my computer…drove it for a little while and brou?ght it back to him…put it back on the device and said that it was showing computer didnt reset yet, gave me a 10 day inspection and said to drive it stop back in periodically and go from there (it had 2 things on this device for O2 sensor). My check engine light comes on and goes off. The light was off when i got to garage and it came back on when i pulled back into my driveway. So my husband took it to autozone and before he got there which was about 10 miles the light went off…..they put it on the computer thingy and it showed reverse shift solenoid. will the truck pass inspection if that is the only thing that comes up and what or where do i look for this reverse shift solenoid part? How much does the part cost? Thank you in advance for any information….

  4. I have a 96 jeep cherokee 4.0 5-speed.
    It goes into 1st gear easy in the morning or just starting but after being on the highway for 15 minutes, I’ll try to put in 1st after exiting the highway and it won’t go into any gear unless I turn it off and it will continue being hard to take in and out with the occasional grind till I get home.

  5. I have a 2003 Jeep Cherokee transmission is leaking from some where. Its slipping, I smelled a burning smell, I drove it and the fluid blew out the back as well. Please help!!

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