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2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon: The First 365 Days

On the evening of 30 December 2017, I drove home with a new 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon in Gobi (tan). I wanted to get out an article on the afternoon of 30 December 2018 to mark the one-year anniversary of this acquisition.

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As the kids say, YOLO.

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As I documented in the first deep-dive blog post about my new vehicle, a Jeep Wrangler was a vehicle that I had been seriously pondering off and on for over a year. I had been semi-interested in Jeeps since I was a teenager, but became much more interested in owning one in recent years because of my off-pavement lifestyle outside of work.

My frequented shooting ranges are accessed via undeveloped roads and can get quite hairy depending on rain. My two-wheel drive Toyota Tacoma is fine for these on normal days, but I wanted a fun 4×4 capable vehicle and wanted a Jeep Wrangler over a pickup truck out of personal desire.

Leaving the range.

Anyway, exactly one year later, I have a shade under 12,000 miles on the Wrangler (11,974 to be exact). Quite a bit has happened to the vehicle during this time. While I am not a hardcore rock crawler or off-roader, I have taken it on a few trails.

Train tracks on the Bradshaw Trail, 33.517780, -115.677465

It has seen a bit of road time as I have taken the Jeep on a couple of trips to Las Vegas this year, including 2018 SHOT Show, and it has been my regular daily driver to work (very short commute to work – 10 miles round trip) as well as my primary shooting range vehicle.

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#rangeday #ar15

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During the first year of ownership, I was also inducted into the Jeep Wrangler cracked windshield club.

I have done a few upgrades and add-ons since the initial purchase that I have documented in a collection of different articles and videos. These include:

The above list is a hodgepodge of add-ons and accessories, but the one notable true upgrade (as in replaced a part) is the LOD Offroad Destroyer Rear Bumper with Tire Carrier. As it stands now, after the initial install of the LOD Offroad Destroyer rear bumper, I added the LOD Offroad horizontal Hi-Lift jack mount to hold a Hi-Lift 48″ X-TREME jack as well as the LOD Offroad Rotopax mount to hold a 2-gallon Rotopax.

On the 3N06A Coldwater Canyon Trail

I do not want to discuss all the add-ons and upgrades of the past year in detail since I already wrote several articles documenting them, so feel free to read about all of these add-ons in those posts:

For most Jeep Wrangler owners, the one glaring omission on my upgrade list is the lift kit, or suspension upgrade, with bigger tires. Don’t get me wrong. I plan on upgrading the suspension, but after buying the Wrangler outright, I was not in the mood of spending several more thousands of dollars to remove perfectly good Rubicon springs, shocks, and the 32″ BF Goodrich tires. The resale on these parts is not very good due to the fact that a good majority of Jeep Wrangler owners are also removing these same parts for lift kits and new wheels and tires.

Another case in point is the stock OEM rear bumper which has been sitting in my garage ever since I installed the LOD Offroad Destroyer rear bumper and tire carrier system. I posted it on Craiglist and tried to sell it for $80 a got zero interest. Basically, the commonly upgraded OEM parts have very little resale value, so upgrading bumpers and suspension becomes a loss in terms of the initial money spent on the (new) Jeep.

I figure I will wait until I wear in the stock tires by about 50%, at which time I will need to actually plan on the tire replacement. When I do a tire replacement, I will go larger which then requires/justifies the lift kit.

I really love the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon. I put a lot of miles on it in its first year (just under 12,000) simply because I like driving it, so much in fact that I have neglected my Honda Prelude (barely 2,500 miles driving in over 14 months) and my Tacoma (unknown miles in past year).

There honestly is not much that I actually hate about the Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon. But I want to mention a few caveats about owning the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon for anyone considering a Jeep Wrangler (particularly a JK).

The first item of note are the in-cabin noises. The most notable one for me is the A-pillar trim. It’s not a rattle, but more a squeak as the A-pillar trim upper section rubs the A-pillar trim bottom section on the driver’s side. I’m sure this could develop on either side, but for some reason I found it on my driver’s side. I can easily fix this with some rubber, fabric, or other shim between the two trim pieces, but I haven’t been annoyed by it enough to do it, yet. Also, I get some phantom rattles coming from the rear interior, that I have yet to isolate. It probably won’t bug most people, but I have excellent hearing (at least I think I do) so if there is any sort of noise, I can hear it. I added more noise to the vehicle by adding the LOD Offroad Destroyer rear bumper with tire carrier system because the tire carrier does have resonance while driving. Considering I added extra pieces to it (Hi-Lift jack and Rotopax), there is more to vibrate/resonate, so this is not surprising. But keep in mind that adding more stuff to the Wrangler will most likely result in more noise coming into the cabin (e.g. 50″ windshield mounted light bars).

The second issue is the reputation of below average service at the dealership service centers. Jeep Wave is a program that is supposed to provide members benefits and perks for their Jeep. New Jeep purchases get a 24-month complimentary membership, which includes four free oil changes and four free tire rotations. But when I looked into Jeep dealership service centers in my area, every single one had poor reviews. While Yelp can be trolled, the law of averages does tend to work itself out, which portrayed Jeep service centers in my area in a bad light. If you go on Jeep forums, the trend of poor customer satisfaction at Jeep dealership service centers appears to be a common issue across the United States. So I ended up not even taking advantage of the Jeep Wave free oil changes and tire rotations, and have been doing them myself, including a differential fluid change (because of going through some water crossings up to the rock sliders).

Note that I have actually changed my oil three times in the first year. Once at 2000 miles to get the break-in metals out. Once again a 5,000 miles on the odometer to send off a sample to Blackstone Laboratories and see how the engine is breaking in. Another at 8,000 miles on the odometer to see if the break-in metals are starting to reduce in the test results.

As far as tire rotation, I have actually been rotating my tires every 2,000 miles. This sounds excessive, but given that it only takes me half an hour to do a 5-tire rotation in the garage (taking my time to actually wash and clean wheels), a 2K mile tire rotation interval allows me to make sure the tires get even wear, which is important considering it goes off-road at least twice a month.

While the poor customer satisfaction at Jeep service centers affects my willingness to use them for free oil changes, the bigger ticket item here is the fact that this also affects any type of (warranty) service that a Jeep owner may require. The fact that Jeep service centers get poor reviews (anything to long lead-times to appointments, to poor service diagnosis, to service centers not torquing a wheel correctly resulting to it coming off on the freeway) makes me dissuade anyone from actually buying any Jeep unless they are at least somewhat mechanically inclined and can work on their vehicles to some degree. I also want to make sure that people are aware of this situation with Jeep service centers in general, and need to be prepared for a mixed-bag when comes to having to take their vehicle in for non-maintenance service work.

I dread the day I actually have to go into a Jeep dealership service center for a recall or warranty work.

The third caveat about the Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon is the gas mileage. Mind you that I am not complaining about gas mileage since I was well aware of the below average fuel efficiency going in. But people should not underestimate fuel efficiency when looking into buying a Wrangler. The new Wrangler JL does get better gas mileage thanks to an updated 3.6L Pentastar or 2.0L turbocharged engine, an 8-speed automatic transmission, and the Engine Stop-Start (ESS) technology. But anyone looking into the JK should be well aware that 14-16 miles per gallon (combined) is not uncommon, give or take a mile or so.

In stock form, a Sport model probably can get the advertised 18MPG more often than the others. But once you start adding bigger tires and steel bumpers, it all starts to lower fuel efficiency quickly. I get around 14-15 miles per gallon on average, but that is because 95% of my driving is surface/city streets, and not highway/freeway. Straight freeway driving I get 17-18MPG (confirmed during a straight shot from a SoCal gas station to a Las Vegas gas station with no stops in between).

The fourth item that appears to only be a problem that I have is the gas pedal. I do not like the way it is positioned. I am sure it is because I am short, but the way the gas pedal is placed, it is more difficult to depress than any other vehicle I have driven (1960s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s). At rest the gas pedal is significantly lower than the brake pedal. So even if you move the seat forward, you’re lifting off the gas pedal quite a distance to get to the brake pedal. I sat the the Jeep Wrangler JL as well as the Jeep Gladiator (which is essentially the same interior as the JL) and the gas pedal is way better than the JK, and feels more how a modern vehicle’s gas pedal should be positioned in terms of height compared to the brake pedal and possibly the angle to the floor.

So what does the future hold for my 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon?

As I mentioned earlier, the suspension upgrade is the one big ticket item on my to-do list. When I need new tires, I plan on going with the 35″ BF Goodrich KM3, which is the latest revision in the BFG Mud-Terrain T/A KM line of tires. I plan on getting the Metalcloak JK Wrangler Game-Changer Suspension 2.5″/3.5″ RockSport Edition, which is a very highly regarded lift kit. Along with this, I plan on going with an Adams front drive shaft (pretty much required when lifting a Jeep Wrangler JK to clear exhaust and because of the change to the drive shaft angle). With the new tires, will most likely be a new set of wheels in order to get some offset to ensure no rubbing and to get a slightly wider stance due to the taller suspension post-lift.

I do want to get a new front bumper (most likely the LOD Offroad Destroyer front bumper), but to be honest, the OEM with the Rock Hard 4×4 winch mounting plate works great. I will most likely stick with the OEM bumper until it gets damaged.

I may change out the factory OEM Rubicon option rock sliders to the Rock Hard 4×4 Rock Sliders since the factory sliders may rub against 35″ tires. At the very least, I might have to trim them. Then I will probably look into a big(ger) brake system upgrade since even now, I feel like the Wrangler could use more braking power thanks to the extra weight (steel rear bumper, winch on front bumper). Outside of those items, there really is not much else I am looking to upgrade, except possibly adding some aluminum Rock Hard 4×4 under carriage armor / skid plates.

Anyway, that is my one-year ownership wrap-up / year-in-review for my 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon in Gobi. I have no regrets whatsoever buying the Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon other than wishing I had more money to do the upgrades sooner, and more time to drive trails.

Some have asked me if I wished I just bought the JL instead. I will admit there are a few things I like about the JL over the JK such as the aforementioned gas pedal positioning, the better looking stance from the factory (thanks to the factory 33″ tires), and winch ready OEM front bumper. But given the actual (not MRSP) price difference between the JK and JL partly due to the insane dealer markups, as well as the first year of the new generation issues (e.g. track bar weld recall), and the fact that the JK is already well established in terms of all the knowledge and information on the JK platform, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon definitely was the right buy for me.

Lots of tans: 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon in Gobi behind a Eberlestock G2 Gunslinger backpack in Dry Earth, MOLLE accessories in Coyote Tan, and a 10/22 Takedown rifle with a X-22 Backpacker stock in Flat Dark Earth.

Of course, the Gobi color was not to be passed up. I am glad to have seen the Jeep Gladiator in Gobi at the 2018 LA Auto Show.

Here’s a random sampling of photos of my JK from 2018 to end this write-up:

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