Skip to Content

12 Common Jeep Cherokee Transmission Problems

Jeep Cherokees have been around since 1974 and are among the forerunners of contemporary compact SUVs. With this track record, you may think it is a flawless hybrid vehicle. Unfortunately, the label is not as bulletproof as most consumers would like to believe. This fact is evidenced by the 946 complaints logged about the vehicle’s transmission – in a span of only four years!

These Jeep Cherokee transmission problems include difficulties with shifting, various performance issues, and jerking and hesitation. Most of these issues link back to the vehicle’s then all-new ZF 9HP transmission – a 9-speed automatic gearbox that did the 4×4’s reliability more harm than good.

To be more precise, here are the 12 most common Jeep Cherokee transmission problems:

  1. Rough or hard shifting
  2. Service Transmission warning on
  3. Power loss while driving
  4. Delayed shifting during acceleration
  5. Transmission failure with illuminated CEL
  6. Transmission not working properly
  7. Dead transmission
  8. Vibration, jerking, and hesitation
  9. RPMs spike when downshifting, causing slight acceleration
  10. Stalling
  11. Transmission will not engage without high revs
  12. Transmission slips

The problems listed here are based on Car Complaint’s data from 2014 to 2017. While they may not be in the exact order as in other online sources, they are generally the most prevalent. Jeep Cherokee models manufactured during the said period reportedly have the highest count of transmission problems, with 2014 iterations considered the most problematic.

Nonetheless, this article does not intend to deter you from patronizing the Jeep Cherokee. 2018 models onward have been rid of these transmission problems and would only have them if not afforded the proper upkeep.

This guide’s primary objective is to educate Jeepsters about the lowdowns of owning a Cherokee and would be especially handy if purchasing a newer model is outside your options.

Common Jeep Cherokee Transmission Problems

Jeep Cherokee on a Rocky Road

1. Rough or Hard Shifting (Failure Mileage: 10 – 99,000 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Limited, Limited 4WD (Active Drive), Altitude, North, Trailhawk, Sport

Rough shifting (from stop to 3rd gear) is the most prevalent of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee transmission problems. Somewhat similar to delayed acceleration, it occurs during shifting within the first three gears. But unlike the former, hard shifting is mostly observed when driving at speeds under 25 mph (40 km/h).

The occurrence of hard shifting is not only unpredictable but also worrisome, as it makes Cherokee owners feel as if their vehicle had been rear-ended.

Some of the unusual handling behaviors to look out for are as follows:

  • Jerking back and forth between gears
  • Erratic shifting or random shift points
  • Slamming into gear
  • Stalling or bucking
  • Always turning left at busy intersections
  • Accelerator pedal is not engaging
  • Heavy thrusts into 1st and 2nd gears at fast stops

Sadly, a full transmission replacement does not rectify the problem – nor does a radio/software update or valve body replacement (even with the relearn procedure completed). After all, the identified root cause is the vehicle’s ZF-sourced 9-speed automatic transmission (alongside its adaptive learning feature), according to The Car Connection.

There are anecdotal instances when a PCM replacement does the trick. But unless FCA replaces the faulty gearbox on all impacted vehicles, hard shifting will continue to be a pain point for Cherokee owners.

2. Service Transmission Warning on (Failure Mileage: 5,000 – 110,000 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Traihawk V6, Sport 2.4 L, Limited V6, Latitude, 3.2 L V6

The Service Transmission warning light may not automatically illuminate every time your Jeep Cherokee has a transmission issue, but it would under the following circumstances:

  • Unusually slow acceleration
  • CEL, Service Parking Brake, and 4WD Not Available indicators are activated
  • Flashing Service Shifter warning light
  • Engine revs at 4,000 RPM at 60 mph (96.6 km/h)
  • Pulling a P1634 DTC (Data Output Link Circuit Failure error code)
  • Hearing big clunking noises when shifting into drive or engaging in reverse
  • Getting stuck in neutral (only happens when you momentarily stop in neutral while shifting)
  • Vehicle canceling Cruise Control on its own or dying out of nowhere

This list is non-exhaustive, but the scenarios herein almost always occur alongside a triggered Service Transmission warning. Note that transmission noises such as grinding or groaning often precede the said warning indicator. Although due more to an inherent transmission problem, an activated Service Transmission warning light could likely result from minor transmission hiccups that have long been disregarded.

3. Power Loss While Driving (Failure Mileage: 15,000 – 150,076 Miles)

Affected trims: Latitude V6, Trailhawk V6/4.0 L, Sport, Limited, V4 Automatic

This issue manifests not even one week into owning a new unit for some Cherokee owners. For others, they would not encounter the problem as immediately but would end up with transmission failure thrice with less than 40,000 miles on their gauges.

It occurs synchronously with an illuminated Check Battery or Service Transmission light, rough gear changes, the car stopping in the middle of the road, or the Jeep starting but going slow in traffic. Other less popular but more hazardous indicators include the vehicle rolling back with foot off the gas, going on neutral at highway speeds, or misshifting into 8th gear.

Usual symptoms have some owners confusing the problem with a bad alternator or spark plug, only to be told they have a defective engine or gearbox. It is also interesting that many Jeep Cherokee owners experience power loss right after topping off gas at a pump station.

Top solutions offered are more frequent oil changes, TCM or PCM update, and a software flash – but these eventually result in replacing the valve body or, worse, the entire transmission, costing Cherokee drivers at least $5,200. For the most part, Jeep owners find themselves in a bind and join class action lawsuits against the manufacturer out of desperation.

4. Delayed Shifting During Acceleration (Failure Mileage: 62 – 104,364 Miles)

Affected trims: Sport, Limited V6, Trailhawk V6/3.2 L, Latitude, Sport, North

Delays in shifting brought about by transmission problems could put any driver (no matter how skilled) in a precarious situation. Unfortunately, this occupies the top spot in the list of 2015 Jeep Cherokee transmission problems. In this scenario, Cherokees are observed to have challenges in shifting from 1st to 3rd gear (skipping 2nd gear in the process) and randomly turning off in the middle of the freeway as a result.

In some reported cases, Cherokees are unable to downshift from 3rd gear without completely stopping for a few seconds. This slip could be fatal, especially when turning into an active lane coming from a stop (or crossing several lanes).

They also hesitate during acceleration. Front wheels spin, causing all passengers to be thrown back in their seats. Inversely, some owners experience delayed deceleration, which is just as bad.

The operability of Cruise Control is likewise adversely affected. If a driver sets the said feature when the vehicle gets to the crest of an incline, the latter will continue to accelerate unless the driver depresses the brakes to turn off Cruise Control. Not all drivers may be able to react accordingly and on time – and therein lies the danger.

Affected vehicle owners typically resort to software updates or transmission replacements to address the problem. However, the chances of customers permanently resolving their shifting issues are slim compared to those who continue to experience these hiccups on their four-wheelers.

5. Transmission Failure With Illuminated CEL (Failure Mileage: 400 – 60,000 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Latitude, Trailhawk 3.2 L V6, Limited 3.6 L V6

While the transmission failure part of this issue overlaps with a handful of other transmission problems listed in today’s guide, it is the CEL part that most car owners seem to be more worried about. I find this reaction totally understandable, as an illuminated Check Engine Light can be quite disconcerting – especially if you have a pregnant woman or small children on board.

Although the vehicle’s transmission failure is largely due to a design flaw in the ZF-sourced 9HP auto transmission (fitted in 2014 Cherokee models onward), it could also be caused by a damaged rear axle or an electrical problem (usually comes with a fault code). Needless to say, the frequency of the latter versus the ZF transmission being the culprit is incomparable.

Cherokee owners would probably feel more relieved to be told they had to replace their rear axle or take care of a shorted harness, as these solutions are more likely to be permanent.

Based on data gathered by Car Complaints, replacing the entire transmission seems to be the go-to resolution for transmission failure on Jeep Cherokees. This is followed by transmission software reflash. Out of 64 complaints reviewed, the manufacturer only replaced an entire erring vehicle once.

6. Transmission Not Working Properly (Failure Mileage: 8,562 – 86,000 Miles)

Silver Metallic 2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Affected trims: Cherokee Latitude, Limited V6, Trailhawk 2.4 L, Sport, ES

It is the most widespread of all the 2016 Jeep Cherokee transmission problems, with symptoms that generally overlap with rough or hard shifting (the 1st item in this list). Unsurprisingly, the culprit behind both issues is one and the same – the vehicle’s ZF-sourced 9-speed automatic transmission.

In this scenario, affected Cherokees often show a service history involving the TCM or PCM while barely having 6,000 miles on the odometer. The Service Transmission message typically lights up too during these instances.

The CEL tends to come on when the vehicle begins to decelerate from driving at speeds of at least 70 mph (112.6 km/h). And on rare occasions, the vehicle would get locked into 4th gear, only coming undone when the transmission is put into park, and the ignition key turned off.

For all these problems described, dealers seem restricted to offering one of only four solutions – a latest software patch download, transmission replacement, transmission module replacement, or repair of coolant lines. None of these fixes truly addresses the issue, not to mention that transmission replacements provided by the manufacturer are sometimes rebuilt and not brand-new.

7. Dead Transmission (Failure Mileage: 35,000 – 92,000 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Limited, Sport, Trailhawk, Latitude

In Car Complaints’ list of 2014 Jeep Cherokee problems, this issue is originally listed as “Transmission Died.” However, complaints predominantly describe the problem as shifting problems with gears. Cherokees are observed to occasionally jerk and lunge forward (for no apparent reason), jump in and out of gear and make grinding noises, or lurch at takeoff after a slight delay in pedal responsiveness.

Likewise, sudden acceleration occurs without warning and usually begins at 50 mph (80.5 km/h) or higher, snapping the driveshaft.

The top solution most professionals offer is reprogramming the PCM, which does not solve the problem. If anything, the recommended fix has only upset customers who had to deal with repeated visits to numerous dealers and repair shops to get their trannies sorted out.

8. Vibration, Jerking, and Hesitation (Failure Mileage: 50 – 93,000 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Sport, Latitude 2.4 L/V6, Limited, Trailhawk, Larado

This issue sometimes begins as acceleration issues, which dealers recommend flashing or updating the onboard computer. But as soon as these fixes are done, the issue escalates to quick jerking, shuttering, and vibration during acceleration (coming from a stop).

There is a noticeable delay before shifting whenever this happens – not to mention that the transmission shifts hard into 2nd gear, smooths out momentarily, then shift hard (again) into 3rd gear. Any gear past 3rd would seem like drivers never had a problematic gearbox. But once the transmission is in 5th gear at around 55-60 mph, the whiplash resurfaces.

Many savants have recommended bypassing the issue through manual shifting, but even that does not work. Neither does replacing the valve body transmission.

9. RPMs Spike When Downshifting, Causing Slight Acceleration (Failure Mileage: 100 – 79,321 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Latitude, Trail Rated 2.4 L, Limited 3.2 L V6, Sport, Trailhawk V6, Altitude

Residents of Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and the like (as well as mountainous states in Ontario and British Columbia) will not appreciate this particular transmission problem. The Jeep Cherokee is known to have RPM spikes when driving downhill on steep declines – a type of terrain that these regions have in abundance.

Resetting the software alleviates the problem somehow, but not enough to serve as a permanent fix. Perhaps, this pushes most people to try to circumvent the problem by shifting into a lower gear when going downhill (to be able to apply engine braking). However, not many Cherokee owners have confirmed that it actually works – not to mention that those who have tried felt like the car wanted to accelerate despite their foot on the brake pedal.

Ultimately, aggravated Cherokee owners end up taking their vehicles to the nearest auto shop to reprogram or flash the TCM or PCM (whichever is at fault) or trading it in for a post-2018 Cherokee model.

10. Stalling (Failure Mileage: 1,267 – 62,806 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Latitude V6/2.4 L, Sport, Limited V6, Trailhawk 3.6 L

Dealers often blame the fuel pump, throttle body, throttle body sensor, or a full fuel tank for this problem. They are not entirely wrong. However, the Cherokee’s fuel system and sensors are not the only ones at fault. The brake booster and vacuum hoses are components worth looking into as well (among others) since some drivers experience stalling after depressing the brakes or attempting to engage in reverse.

Either the CEL, Service Transmission, or ETC (Electronic Throttle Control) warning indicator goes off, or you hear weird engine noises whenever sputtering happens. However, the issue is extremely difficult to replicate and does not pull or store codes most of the time – a reason for dealers not to provide any kind of fix.

Other accompanying symptoms, such as shaking, flashing dash lights, and grinding sounds, also tend to veer mechanics and car owners from determining and addressing the correct problem source.

11. Transmission Will Not Engage Without High Revs (Failure Mileage: 249 – 34,934 Miles)

Affected trims: Cherokee Limited V6, Latitude, Trailhawk, Sport

Recurring transmission issues render the Jeep Cherokee scary, unsafe, and unreliable to drive. This is especially true for a good percentage of complainants who are elderly, students, disabled, or visually impaired.

Drivers cannot engage the gearbox half of the time if the wheels are rolling slowly. But when they do, the tires squawk during takeoff. They also hear a grinding or loud banging noise when driving forward, going over a speed bump, or moving from park to drive.

RPMs would randomly extend to the 5,000-6,000 range and then fluctuate while driving. Conversely, the power mill on some Cherokees would rev up, but the vehicle will not budge until it hits 5,000-6,000 RPM and downshifts after.

It requires more than a bit of nudging for the Cherokees in question to move, and they spin out when they finally do. Whenever they are brought in for inspection, dealers often blame the transmission issue on “dry rotting” wheels or defective shifters.

Auto shops would then offer wheel replacement, shifter adjustment, or flash updates to customers but to no avail. To make things worse, these problems could recur anytime from a weekly basis to months in between.

12. Transmission Slips (Failure Mileage: 500 – 28,000 Miles)

Jeep Cherokee Parked by the Road

Affected trims: Cherokee Limited 3.2 L V6, Trailhawk V6, Limited

Out of all the items listed, this is more of an aftermath than an issue on its own. Transmission slippage is likely to occur when the vehicle has already had multiple instances of stalling, retarded shifting responsiveness, or getting stuck in gear. At this point, it would no longer matter if one is driving on dry pavement or slick surfaces – the Jeep Cherokee’s handling behaviors will be one and the same.

When you start noticing low fluid levels or more frequent jerking, it is advisable to look into the condition and overall health of your transmission and transmission fluid. A transmission fluid color chart goes a long way in determining the condition of your fluids. While at it, ensure you inspect the state of relevant solenoids and the transmission band, gears, and torque converter.

Mechanically-inclined Jeep owners should be able to perform these checks with some guidance. But if you are outside of this circle, it would be best to seek assistance from a professional.

Conclusion – 12 Common Jeep Cherokee Transmission Problems

In closing, here are the 12 most common Jeep Cherokee transmission problems:

  1. Rough or hard shifting
  2. Service Transmission warning on
  3. Power loss while driving
  4. Delayed shifting during acceleration
  5. Transmission failure with illuminated CEL
  6. Transmission not working properly
  7. Dead transmission
  8. Vibration, jerking, and hesitation
  9. RPMs spike when downshifting, causing slight acceleration
  10. Stalling
  11. Transmission will not engage without high revs
  12. Transmission slips

The majority of Jeep Cherokee’s transmission problems between 2014 and 2017 originated from its ZF 9HP automatic transmission. Since being fitted into Jeep Cherokees in 2014, the supposedly new-age transmission has tainted the brand’s on- and off-road reputation. ZF eventually issued a recall for the problematic gearbox in 2016, resulting in a dramatic decline in reported Jeep Cherokee transmission problems the year after.

Since then, the Jeep label has slowly but steadily regained consumer confidence in its drivability and dependability. If you are contemplating buying a secondhand unit and are not dealing with a 2014-2017 model, know that you are about to get a great deal (not to mention a safe and exhilarating riding experience) with your purchase.