By on March 29, 2010

TTAC Commentator cc-rider writes:

Hi Sajeev- I am a huge fan and advocate of TTAC.  I have a co-worker and friend in dire need of some good advice from the best and the brightest. She has a 2002 Jeep Liberty with 110,000 miles.  Last week her car had to be towed to her mechanic.  She found out the engine is toast.

Turns out it is a victim of engine sludge.  After the fact, it seems that this is a fairly common issue with the Jeep 3.7 V-6.  It seems that a new engine would be $3,000 in parts and at least another $2,000 to be installed.

In my opinion, it seems pointless to spend that sort of money on a car that’s maybe worth $4,000.  She doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on another car- maybe $2,000 at most.  She doesn’t put many miles on in a year and goes mostly to and from work.  I am very familiar with the Nissan SR20 engines and am partial to them.  I was recommending she find a used 1st generation Infiniti G20.  They seem to give a huge bang for the buck at that low price point.

I’d love to hear everyone’s take on her situation.  By the way, she is in the NYC metro area for anyone with a cheap ride for sale.

Sajeev Answers:

So she’s just a “co-worker and a friend.” And you’re only “partial” to SR20 mills?  Uh-huh.

I call shenanigans! The first-gen Infiniti G is a wonderful car that’s over 13 years old.  When a dude recommends an ancient ride to a girl that (probably) has no feelings for it, there’s more than meets the eye.  Recommending an old car makes you an instant caregiver: you probably enjoy that person’s company, and they’ll occupy more and more of your time quite soon.

Sorry to bust chops: I won’t recommend my favorite cars to my…uh…friends who happen to be women. And nothing more than that, of course. But if a girlie rolled up in Fox Mustang (Fox anything, for that matter) and wanted my digits, I wouldn’t show her the door. Word is Bond.

Ok, seriously.  The Liberty is a goner because of the reasons you correctly stated.  Unless she really loves the beast: get a used motor from a junkyard (like LKQ or for about $1000, and spend another $1000-ish for labor. It has a warranty, low miles and probably won’t sludge up: if you run a motor flush and religiously change synthetic oil from here on out. There are 3.7L motors that run fine with proper upkeep in brutal urban traffic, I’ve seen that personally.

Otherwise, yes, dump the Liberty and seek alternative transport.  You should help her make that decision, yet narrowing down the field doesn’t mean recommending antique Nissans. Once that’s done, find a clean example of whatever ride she likes and buy her dinner to celebrate her new set of wheels. And if someone finds out they are “partial” to more than SR20 engines after a few sips of vino, so be it!

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46 Comments on “Piston Slap: At Liberty to Go There? You Know…...”

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Ah, and I believe that this company was bailed out by the boys who don’t pay taxes, headed by a president who couldn’t pass mechnanics 101. How fitting. Too bad Chrysler and GM paid more attention to MBAs than engineers.

    They are reaping the consequences.

    • 0 avatar

      They are reaping the consequences.

      Oh? How? There seems to be a large number of gullible souls who are still happy to patronize these companies, despite their glaring, unavoidable disinterest in producing a quality product or a sustainable business model.

      In fact, many of those “wise consumers” had a front-row seat for the bailout, and still don’t hesitate to justify the whole thing with their wallets.

      I talk to people quite routinely who call their American car a “complete piece of s**t,” and then use the next sentence to discuss a replacement from the same manufacturer, even after the bailout fiasco.

      So, no. Chrysler and GM are reaping no consequences.

    • 0 avatar

      Troll harder.

      Search for “taxes” to find the relevant link.

      If you want to talk about cars, do so here, you want to talk politics and your ignorance thereof, take it elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      OK guys, this thread is about helping cc-rider with his problem… let’s keep it on-topic please.

    • 0 avatar

      Well the Liberty was designed long before the messiah, but I do find them all relevant to today’s “car talk” with the GM and Chrysler bailouts/ union giveaways.

      Anyway, my wife’s DD is an ’04 Liberty and I’m not aware of sludge being a big issue with the 3.7? Our Liberty is actually well designed and reliable small sized SUV with a solid four-wheel drive. Other then being UAW built, I don’t have any regrets buying it.

      Now depending upon how the overall mechanics and options, I’d probably find a junk yard motor and swap it. For a couple of thousand dollars it should have plenty of life left it in.

  • avatar

    I’m just amazed that there are still cars out there that don’t make it to 200,000 miles/320,000km.

  • avatar

    This is approximately a 10 year old car – if the rest of the car is in decent shape, the advice given by Sajeev is probably wise. You can’t get much of a car for $2k – a completely different car (like the G20) would be a new set of questions. Stick with what you know.

    • 0 avatar

      I ran into this quandry about 3 years ago with my Explorer. it’s a ’95 with (at the time 225,000 miles on it. The original transmission ate a band, and the rest wasn’t far behind. Trans shop said $2200 for a new trans, and I weighed the cost of buying another $2 grand car vs. the known quantity in the trusty Explorer. I went ahead and fixed it.

      So now the Explorer has 265,000 miles on it, with just a slight oil leak from the original oil pan gasket, a tired front-end, and still looks and smells like a new car.

  • avatar

    Suggest to your “friend” that a manual transmission won’t blow up like the engine in the liberty. Then look for the G20/ 5 speed with the body redesign, 99-02. The body is a little heavier, but its chunkier look still looks quite contemporary.
    A 96 and up Nissan Maxima with a Vq V6 and 5 speed would also be a fun driver.

  • avatar

    I hate the Jeep Liberty, but I think getting a rebuilt engine is the right call. Rebuild the engine and you know what you have with the Liberty as opposed to another old car whose maintenance record is unknown. Besides the backseat of the Liberty probably folds down in case you and your “friend” decide to hang out there.

    • 0 avatar

      I also dislike the Liberty as it was a major letdown in its replacement of the much loved Cherokee. The transmission tunnel is so large and the Liberty so narrow – good luck asking anyone with size 10 shoes or bigger to even attempt to safely drive it (it is kinda tippy in a nice Explorer sort of fashion – think tall, short and narrow wheelbase – not the best combo). I was stuck with driving the Liberty often as it was one of the company cars. I joke not that I would fight for the keys to the Grand Marquis or even the Aveo (talk about picking the lesser worse of the bunch).

  • avatar

    Sajeev- thanks for the public heckling. I am sitting here laughing at everyone’s insinuations!

    At your suggestion, I looked on for used 3.7 engines and they are all over $2500 anywhere near us. That would make replacing the engine a much pricier/questionable proposition.

    The only reason I suggested the G20 is that they are so cheap. Those cars fly under the radar in a Steven Lang-esque sort of way. I know from first hand experience that the drivetrains are stout. As mentioned, the second gen cars can be had for cheap, too.

    Thanks for any car-related suggestions!

    • 0 avatar

      Can she afford car payments or a lease payment? I would say b/c this month Toyota is giving away cars with its highest incentives ever – they should continue to do so as they’ve now opened the spigot to full and once you do so – it is so hard pulling them back. Heck, you can even lease a new Civic for less than $200 a month. They will probably try to deal with the Jeep to use it as a down payment of some sorts. I’d recommend a Civic over the Corolla b/c of better resale value and less issues with UA and possible steering failures (Cobalt and Corolla use same steering rack I read).

      Just her gas mileage will make a difference if she drives a lot.

  • avatar

    Only $2k to spend? Buy a 2nd gen Geo Prizm (corolla w/o the price premium). She can tell herself its just a holdout until she can afford another vehicle. In the mean time, it will be exceptionally dependable, inexpensive, and surprisingly non-ghetto.

    EDIT: heres a good one (auto too) in jersey city:

  • avatar

    The Liberty is a goner because of the reasons you correctly stated

    It might not be. If she has her oil-change receipts and you can find evidence that this is a known issue with this engine, you’ll probably do well to go through small-claims for part or all of the engine replacement. There’s substantial precedent for this sort of thing.

    You might even get lucky and find out Chrysler has a secret warranty for this problem.

    I highly recommend you, or your friend, grab a copy of Phil Edmontson’s Lemon-Aid guides and read the (extensive) advice on how to get repairs like this done and how to go to court if needed. Most of it is geared towards Canadian law, but the same principles apply.

    Once you get your engine replaced on someone else’s dime then you can sell the Liberty.

  • avatar

    A Jeep Liberty is one of the last vehicles I’d want to drive if I lived “in the NYC metro area”. How about a 2 – 3 year-old, low mileage Hyundai Sonata?


  • avatar

    I like Sajeev’s advice.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    If someone is gonna send you out here to Jersey to buy a car, you should do it the Jersey way. Steal a Liberty and strip it. Selling the seats alone should cover your NJTransit tickets.

  • avatar

    Can’t help but wonder…did she fall for the “3,000 mile oil change intervals are way overkill” crap that is quite common nowadays?

  • avatar

    Guys- apparently she had the oil changed a couple months before the engine seized- not that it matters right now. At 110,000 miles, I doubt there will be any luck with contacting Chrysler.

    The car is in Fairfield County, CT about an hour from nyc. It is looking like a engine replacment would total 5 grand.

    The main point here is that she doesn’t have the 5 grand to spend. I am guessing it would go on a credit card if it had to be done. For all the people writing to say replace the engine, is it worth it to rack up the credit card for the repair?

    • 0 avatar

      In Saab’s case, buyers had eight years in which to make a sludge claim on the B205 and B235-equipped models regardless of mileage. I’m pretty sure Toyota did the same. I’m too lazy to check VW’s 1.8T or Chrysler’s 2.7L V6, but they were probably subject to sikmilar terms. Sludge isn’t a wear item; it shouldn’t happen under reasonable use and you should have case.

      If you have the receipts for your changes, there’s absolutely no reason not to call Chrysler and try and get partial or complete coverage. If nothing else, it’ll up the dollar value of the car when you do sell it.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      If the rest of the car is in good shape, maybe sell it as a fixer-upper and add that to the $2k budget?

      (or is $2k the assumed value of selling it in that condition?)

  • avatar

    $2000 would be a heck of a down payment on a two year old Accent, Civic, Yaris or Versa. The monthly note on $8,000 would probably be about what gas was for the Liberty.

  • avatar

    “After the fact, it seems that this is a fairly common issue with the Jeep 3.7 V-6.”

    Actually it’s not. I googled 3.7 and engine sludge and found very few hits of any consequesnce. had TWO listed. I searched and found a thread on a Liberty with sludge. Some selected comments below:

    Never heard of this issue before.

    There was one person that had a similar problem but I believe he got his oil changed(or lack there of) at jiffy lube. What brand oil have you used and how do you know its sludged up?

    never heard of it in the 3.7L

    the 3.7 L is a “smaller” version of the 4.7 L on the Grand Cherokee… I think that basically is the “same” engine. any info of sludge problems on the 4.7?

    I think that this is a “random” issue? not a general fault…

    Never heard of sludge in a 4.7 either.

    You’re correct, they are basically the same engine. They even use the same belt.

    Never heard of any SLUDGE problem.

    I have never heard of sludge build up disabling these motors. I don’t doubt you had it, but if these motors are all sludging up at 70,000 miles then why is everyone on LOST still driving them at 150,000+? Ball joints on the other hand are a common problem. Several folk have well over 100,000 miles on these motors. I did a google search on lost kjs and every result for sludge had to do with the diesel motor and the differences between synthetic and conventional oil, nothing on the 3.7 sludging up.

    140K here with full synthetic changes with PureOne filters every 7-8K and no problems. Don’t believe it’s “sludged up” but haven’t needed to take it apart to inspect anything. Started right up the other day at -10* F with the original battery. I’m a happy KJ owner. It hasn’t been babied either.

    Now does this mean that no 3.7 ever sludges up? No, it just means that it is very unusual. Any motor can sludge up provided the conditions are right. As noted above the 3.7 is 4.7 with two cylinders lopped off. Other than that they are same motor. I have 4.7 with over 90,000 miles and no problems.

    We are assuming a lot here. How does she know the engine is sludged? What kind of mechanic is he, what is his training? Did he just look at the underside of the oil cap and pronounced the engine sludged? Also what kind of maintenance was done to this vehicle? Was it only used for short trips? It would be nice to know more information.

  • avatar

    First of all, the 3.7 and 4.7 (off which the 3.7 is based) do not have chronic sludge issues like the Chrysler 2.7. Generally, the 3.7 and the Liberty KJ are good, reliable designs if maintained. Second, cc-rider says his girlfriend doesn’t put many miles on her Liberty, yet, her 8 year-old car has 110,000 miles on it (that’s a healthy 13,750 miles per year). So, did she buy this Liberty used? Has she only recently started driving less? If driving less, is she still changing the oil by the calendar and not the odometer? Who does her oil changes? At 110K miles this Jeep has many years of service left in it. Get a new engine and take care of it.

  • avatar

    BTW, here are several 2002 3.7 engines for sale around $1500…

  • avatar
    George B

    cc-rider, the obvious first question is why did your friend buy a Jeep Liberty and does she still like it? Does she have dogs to transport, need to haul antique furniture or big art objects, or like to go camping in the wilderness? There are many cars that would be a better choice for commuting than a Liberty, but maybe she wants a car for more than a go-to-work appliance. I would defer to Steve Lang regarding best car for $2000 down, but first we need to narrow the selection based on what she wants.

    If she doesn’t drive much and wants or needs an SUV, I like the previous generation unibody Nissan Pathfinder after they added the VQ35 engine. Bad gas mileage, but similar capability to a Liberty with much better reliability. A friend of mine has a Ford Explorer for similar haul stuff and mild wilderness capability.

  • avatar

    She bought the car with 64,000 miles in 2005. Apparently, she has stayed on top of regular oil changes with this same local mechanic. I have no idea of his skill level or appitude.

    She just said that the oil level was low in between oil changes, but there was never any marks on the ground indicating an oil leak. The mechanic told her the oil was burned out the tail pipe and that she would have never known this was going to happen.

    The majority of her driving is to and from work which is less than 10 miles.

  • avatar

    I get the impression that funds may be a bit of an issue here. If thats the case,keep the Jeep. Do a little research,make a few calls,you should be able to do an engine job for way less than 5 grand.

    Buying a used car on a small budget,is just too risky.

  • avatar

    First, I’d get a second opinion on the Liberty to make sure the engine is in fact toast.

    If the Jeep is done, and she can get financed, I like the idea of using the busted Liberty and the $2K as a down payment on a Focus/Accent/Versa.

    If her only option is something for $2000, she is in a tough spot. Cars in that price range are almost always going to have some issues that (at the very least) will take some personal time to fix. My advice in that case is to just pick something you know.

    I’ve personally had some bad luck with junkyard transmissions/engines, but that doesn’t mean you will. Remember their prices are negotiable.

  • avatar

    Mikey has the right idea here.
    Just like I stated in the other Liberty topic, know thy enemy.
    A car in the $2000 range is a pandora’s box of issues that could leave you with a mulititude of issues that could cost you more in the long run. She would be essentially replacing one 100K beast with another, except she doesn’t know where and how this other car was driven. I think you have to do some serious shopping around, I know how expensive Fairfield County is, (I live there…) but there are plenty of places that could help you out cheaply if you snoop around.
    Keep the Liberty, know thy enemy. At least you know how much you have to spend, with a very well used car, that dollar amount could be unknown.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with others on here about buying a $2000 car to replace the Liberty. The gains far out weigh the risks. In 2005, she may have bought a car that was used to tow, or something like that. Maybe the first 64,000 miles were harder on the Liberty than it should have been. Still, I would shop for an engine from a wrecked car even if it means credit card debt. I am not an expert on finding junk yard engines, but $5K seems spectacularly excessive. I mean, Porsche engines are $4K – $8K for crying out loud. Additionally, I cannot imagine it is THAT hard to remove this engine from the Jeep. There is nothing special about that 3.7L and it was used in the old and new Liberty, as well as the current Grand Cherokee. Spend a lot of time finding a more reasonable engine before shoving her into a $2K used car that is going to be just as costly.

  • avatar

    I have a 131k mile 4.7L Ram 1500 and if the 3.7L uses the same oil fill tube assembly I can see how problems might possibly arise on a vehicle driven in cold climates on extended dino-juice change intervals.

    I drive 24 miles each way to work (warm-up consists of less than 1/3 to 1/4 of my trip) and change Mobil1 every 4k miles. For the 4-6 coldest months of the year in Richmond, VA (and for the same period on a 6 mile commute in Georgia before that) I get copious amounts of snot/mustard on the bottom of the oil fill cap and in the fill tube. I believe the fill tube is a cold sink that causes moisture driven off of the oil in the crankcase to condense inside the tube. It is a high point that has no connection to the PCV system, so any moisture would become trapped there. When I first noticed the problem and people still seemed to be buying Rams with the 4.7L engine it was a commonly discussed topic on Dodge forums.

    Even still, this stuff shouldn’t cause a lubrication failure with proper fluid and filter changes. In theory it shouldn’t circulate and build up in a warm, ventilated portion of the engine either.

  • avatar

    Toyota Corolla. Go for the 60 month 0% financing, if you don’t have $15k cash at hand.

    Next question?

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Please allow me to offer a very different alternative: Sell the Liberty for what she can get and don’t get anything at all to replace it. It’s springtime in metro NYC! Is it possible to get by without a car until late fall?

    A few years ago in Chicago I got rid of my car for what I thought was a short time. It ended up being nearly three years, and this is how I managed:
    I walked a lot more.
    I took transit a lot more.
    I took taxis a lot more.
    I rode a bike a lot more.
    I rented a car for the weekend about once a month to do a big shopping trip and/or go see someone far away.

    There are other potential options as well – the car sharing model is cheaper than the traditional car rental model for certain types of trips (which I rarely did).

    Even with all the taxis and car rentals, I was saving hundreds of dollars a month. So much that by the time I got a car a few years later, I paid cash for a brand-new one.

    So, see if your lady-friend is up for the challenge. Can she make it until fall without owning a car? You should offer to give her a ride in your car from time to time. In a place like NYC where it is so expensive to own and operate a car, I would be very surprised if she didn’t have $4000-6000 saved up by October (unless she spends the savings on something else). That really opens up a lot of possibilities for a better vehicle!

  • avatar

    Ajla has a good point re the second opinion. “Engine is toast, victim of sludge” is not very specific. If sludge actually caused a problem, it would likely involve some oil passage getting plugged up and a part starving of oil and getting destroyed. What part(s) are trashed?

    Why was it towed? A no start is usually caused by a relatively minor problem. Major problems are frequently indicated by loud knocking noises, major exhaust smoke, or extreme vibration.

    Could be the mechanic is trying to take (fiscal) advantage of a naive chick.

  • avatar

    From what she explained to me, everything hit the fan when she was driving on I-95 at 60 mph. The engine made a loud, ugly noise and the car promptly turned off. I asked if any idiot lights went on and she said no.

    It was at that point the car was towed to the mechanic and the dianosis was made.

  • avatar

    I find the cost quoted for a replacement to be very, very high.

    And this “friend” is obviously your chickey-poo, so grab a wrench, a hoist, and some jack stands, take a weekend, and bust this mutha out…

    Just jokes man. Seriously, an engine swap, like for like, is not a big deal. Plan on 8-12 hours for anyone who is even modestly experienced. Even at an $80 labor rate, you’re into it for less than a grand, plus the used engine. Find a shop who knows how to shop. Unless I’m way off base, a used Liberty engine shouldn’t be more than $1200-$1500.

    That being said, at $2500, the Liberty deserves to be saved.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know Joe, I kinda think if cc-rider had the time/tools/skills to do an engine swap, he wouldn’t be asking here. In theory, you might do it for $2500, but I’ve had very mixed luck with salvage engines, and labor and miscellaneous parts have way of creeping up.

      Is a 3.7 a timing belt engine? Yet another thing to consider when looking at salvage engines, if you don’t know the mileage, then you might want to replace the belt just in case.

  • avatar

    While I’m not a fan of the liberty, like some of the other guys said the 3.7 is the same engine as the 4.7 sans 2 cylinders.
    My wife’s 02 durango 4.7 has 114k on it and still runs fine. I use regular valvoline oil during the summer, changed every 3k.
    During the winter i use valvoline synthetic for better flow at low temperatures.
    My sister has an 06 liberty with just over 100k and it runs fine. She uses the dinosaur juice year around, chnages it every 3k.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Make and offer on this…

    or this…

    or look here for a while…

    Have it shipped to the mechanic who should be able to do it for about $600.

    Problem solved… if you’re highballed just get another mechanic.
    It doesn’t take a PhD to put in an engine.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    I had a 2001 Sentra SE with the sr20 motor in it with a 5 spd. The thing was reliable as the moon and a blast to drive. It cornered flat and the breaks were excellent. Bought it new and kept it for like 6 years/88,000 miles. Only ever had 2 issues with it. A window regulator went and so did the distributor but both were after about 5 years of ownership.

  • avatar

    This was a surprisingly apt response to cc-rider’s email.

    More astute than anything the “Car Talk” guys would come up with, though they would make a good effort, as would the current Ann Lander, the Dear Abby, or Annie’s Mailbox. Carolyn Hax would offer similar advice, along with a recent popular novel and/or self-help book with a title along the lines of “How Your Creepy Co-Worker is Trying to Keep You Dependent on Him.” Cary Tennis would digress.

    Your advice was more in the spirit of Dan Savage. Well done!

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