2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Problems: Problems & How to Fix Them

2003 jeep grand cherokee problems

The 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee is an off-roading icon that still has a strong following today. But like any vehicle that’s been on the road for nearly 20 years, the Grand Cherokee has its fair share of common problems.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the most reported 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee problems and explain how to diagnose and repair them yourself or know what to expect at the mechanic. Whether you already own one of these Jeep SUVs or are shopping for a used model, being aware of these issues can help you make an informed decision.

An Overview Of The 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The 2003 model year was the end of the WJ generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, produced from 1999 to 2003.

These Jeep SUVs came with a choice of two engines:

  • 4.0L PowerTech Straight 6 cylinder (190 horsepower)
  • 4.7L PowerTech V8 (235 horsepower)

Transmission options included a 4-speed automatic for the 4.0L and 5-speed automatic for the 4.7L. The Grand Cherokee delivered solid off-road capability courtesy of two 4WD systems – Quadra-Drive or Quadra-Trac II.

In 2003, Jeep made minor styling tweaks but the Grand Cherokee was still easily recognizable. Some key standard features included:

  • Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
  • Cruise control
  • Air conditioning
  • Power windows, locks, and mirrors

There were also plenty of options like leather seats, a sunroof, heated front seats, and a 6-disc CD changer.

So now that you’re familiar with the WJ-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, let’s get into the most common problems and issues original owners reported.

Engine Problems Plague The 4.0L And 4.7L PowerTechs

Without a doubt, the Achilles heel of the 2003 Grand Cherokee is the weak engines prone to all sorts of issues. The 4.0L straight-6 is most notorious for head gasket failure. Between blown gaskets, cracked cylinder heads, and overheating – these engines can leave owners stranded.

Symptoms of the 4.0L head gasket failure include:

  • White smoke from the exhaust
  • Overheating at idle
  • Milky oil
  • Coolant leaks

Replacing the head gasket and related components can easily exceed $1000. Opting for a full rebuild may be better for the long haul.

The 4.7L V8 doesn’t have quite the same overheating and head gasket issues. But it still has its fair share of common engine problems in the WJ generation, including:

  • Stalling at idle
  • Oil sludge buildup
  • Misfiring or rough running
  • Oil leaks

Jeep issued several technical service bulletins (TSBs) related to sensor malfunctions causing stalling, misfires, and no starts on the 4.7L. Replacing the crankshaft position sensor, camshaft sensor, or fuel injectors may be needed.

To help prolong the life of these engines, stay on top of routine maintenance and use quality oil and parts. Consider an engine flush or fuel injector cleaning to remove built-up gunk.

Faulty Transmissions Lead To Shifting Delays And Slips

The 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee had two different transmissions: a 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed automatic. The paragraph only mentions the 5-speed automatic, which was paired with the 4.7L V8 engine. The 4-speed automatic was paired with the 4.0L inline-six engine.

5-speed automatic transmission

The 5-speed automatic transmission paired with the 4.7L V8 engine is notoriously unreliable. At around 100k miles, delayed shifts and harsh gear changes are common as the transmission starts to slip. Eventually, it may stop shifting properly altogether.

Issues to watch for include:

  • Delayed engagement when shifting into Drive or Reverse
  • Harsh downshifts and flared shifts
  • Transmission slipping between gears
  • Complete transmission failure

The 5-speed automatic was plagued by problems like:

  • Solenoid failures
  • Broken bands and clutches
  • Leaking seals
  • Electrical issues

Replacing the transmission fluid and filter may help temporarily but usually doesn’t fix these inherent flaws. A full rebuild or replacement remanufactured transmission will be needed in most cases.

4-speed automatic transmission

The 4-speed automatic transmission paired with the 4.0L inline-six engine is more reliable than the 5-speed automatic, but it still has some issues. Some owners have reported:

  • Rough shifting between gears
  • Transmission overheating
  • Torque converter failure
  • Loss of reverse gear

Regular maintenance and fluid changes can help prolong the life of the 4-speed automatic transmission. However, some owners have had to replace the transmission due to severe damage or wear.

Brake And ABS System Problems Put Safety At Risk

Given their importance for safe stopping, brake issues are particularly concerning in the 2003 Grand Cherokee. Owners most often report:

  • Long pedal travel with reduced braking power
  • Groaning, grinding or squealing noises when braking
  • Vibration in the brake pedal
  • Pulling to one side when braking

Worn out brake pads, rotors, calipers and wheel cylinders can all contribute to poor braking performance. Any suspicions of brake problems should be inspected immediately for safety.

The anti-lock brake system (ABS) has also been prone to failure in this generation. ABS lights illuminated on the dash indicate issues with the ABS system, which could be caused by various factors, such as low brake fluid, faulty wheel speed sensors, damaged wiring, or a bad ABS module.

Diagnosing the root cause of any brake or ABS problems should be left to an experienced mechanic. Expect to pay at least $500+ to fully repair either system.

Steering Components Prone To Leaks And Noisy Pumps

Power steering issues usually show up close to 100,000 miles on 2003 Grand Cherokees. Problems include:

  • Power steering fluid leaks
  • Moaning or whining from the power steering pump
  • Stiff steering feel
  • Fluid puddling under the Jeep

The main causes stem from leaking power steering hoses, worn out pump seals, faulty pressure control valves, and damaged rack and pinion gears. Topping off the power steering fluid may temporarily mask leaks but doesn’t fix the underlying problem.

Repairs can get expensive if the entire power steering rack needs replacement. At minimum, plan for a few hundred dollars to replace the major components causing the issue.

Electrical Gremlins: Ignition, Lights And Power Windows

The Grand Cherokee is a heavily built vehicle, but it also has many electrical issues. Here are some of the common problems and their solutions.

Ignition Switch and Stalling

The ignition switch can cause a lot of trouble, such as:

  • Difficulty turning key in cylinder
  • Key sticking in ignition
  • Vehicle stalling or not turning over
  • Complete ignition failure

Stalling can also happen from worn out crankshaft and camshaft sensors. Engine computer trouble codes for crank/cam sensors will point your mechanic in the right direction if engine stalling is an issue.

The average cost to replace the ignition switch is $300. The sensors may cost another $100-$200.

Frequent Bulb Burnouts and Lighting Issues

All lights – headlights, turn signals, brake lights and interior lights – tend to burn out frequently. This stems from inferior electrical components.

Moisture getting into headlight and taillight housings leads to corrosion and short circuits. Check for water intrusion if you experience repeated bulb burnouts.

The bulbs are relatively cheap to replace, but you may need to replace the entire housing if it is damaged by water or rust.

Faulty Window Regulators and Motors

Power windows often stop working correctly because of failed motors and regulators. Stuck windows or windows that fall into the doors point to broken regulator cables and clips.

The average cost to replace the regulator assembly and motor is $150 per window. You can also try to fix it yourself by following some online tutorials.

Rust Damage In Common Areas

Rust damage from road salt and moisture is unavoidable on any aging vehicle. But the 2003 Grand Cherokee has some notable trouble spots to monitor closely.

The rear wheel wells, rocker panels, and lower fenders are all prone to bubbling paint and rust. Minor surface rust can be sanded down and touched up. More advanced rust will require cutting out the metal and welding in new patches.

In cold climates, inspect under the Grand Cherokee frequently for rust on the subframe, suspension components, fuel and brake lines. Damaged or corroded metal under the Jeep can lead to expensive repairs. Consider having the undercarriage coated in rust protection to help minimize future damage.

How Much Does It Cost To Repair A 2003 Grand Cherokee?

Based on the common problems covered, it’s clear that 2003 Grand Cherokees can rack up high repair bills, especially with engine and transmission issues.

Here are some typical repair costs:

  • Head gasket replacement – $1000-$1500
  • Remanufactured transmission – $1500-$2000
  • Power steering rack replacement – $350+
  • Brake system repairs – $500+
  • Ignition switch replacement – $300
  • Window regulator/motor – $150 per window

Maintenance costs are also higher compared to other vehicles, averaging around $666 annually for routine services.

If the engine or transmission requires major work, it may make more financial sense to sell it rather than paying thousands in repairs. But for minor issues, the Grand Cherokee is reasonably affordable to work on for DIYers armed with basic tools and mechanical know-how.

Extending The Life Of A 2003 Grand Cherokee

Despite the common problems, 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokees can still be reliable long-term vehicles if properly maintained. Here are some tips to help yours keep going strong:

  • Stay on top of engine maintenance – Regular oil changes, tune-ups, belt/hose replacements are crucial. Consider a fuel system cleaning service.
  • Change the transmission fluid – New fluid helps transmissions last longer. Use only approved Jeep fluid.
  • Clean electrical connections – Corrosion on battery cables, grounds, and wiring connectors causes electrical gremlins.
  • Watch for leaks – Fix any fluid leaks immediately to prevent bigger problems.
  • Use OEM or higher quality parts – Avoid cheap aftermarket components that commonly fail prematurely.
  • Keep it garaged – Parking indoors helps minimize rust and other weather-related damage.
  • Inspect regularly – Check undercarriage, wheel wells, lights, etc. to catch issues early.
  • Follow the maintenance schedule – Stick to the maintenance schedule based on mileage and driving conditions. You can find the schedule in the [owner’s manual].

Is A 2003 Grand Cherokee Worth Buying?

The 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee remains popular on the used SUV market thanks to its timeless styling, off-road prowess, and available 4.7L V8 engine option. There is also a 4.0L inline-six engine option. Prices range from $3,000 to $6,000 for decent condition examples according to [Kelley Blue Book].

But it’s buyer beware – these Jeeps come with their share of headaches if maintenance was neglected. Try to find a one-owner Grand Cherokee with service records. Pre-purchase inspections and test drives are a must to avoid a potential money pit.

If you go into a purchase aware of the common problems, you can budget for repairs and determine if a 2003 Grand Cherokee still makes sense versus a newer, more reliable vehicle. With some DIY wrenching and diligent upkeep, it can still be a worthwhile SUV purchase.

Common 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee Problems: Final Thoughts

In this detailed guide, we covered the major mechanical, electrical and cosmetic issues reported by original owners of 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokees.

While engine, transmission, and brake problems give the most headaches – diligent maintenance and prompt repairs goes a long way to enhance reliability. And many problems can be addressed DIY-style for owners willing to get their hands dirty.

Hopefully this overview better prepares prospective buyers to find a sound 2003 Grand Cherokee – or helps current owners diagnose and fix common problems as they pop up. No vehicle is problem-free as it ages, but forewarned is forearmed when it comes to the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

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