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P0128 Jeep Engine Code Meaning & Fix (Guide)

P0128 is a fault code that signifies an issue or flaw with your rig’s coolant temperature circuit. It stands for Coolant Thermostat Regulating Temperature. Although it is of low severity, it is never advisable to ignore it or to continue driving without resolving this error code. In this guide, let us delve into error code P0128 — its meaning, indicators, triggers, and fix.

The P0128 Jeep code is an engine-related fault code that signifies an inadequate coolant mixture/level or a malfunctioning thermostat. Symptoms include:

  • An activated CEL.
  • Starting and performance issues.
  • Reduced HVAC efficiency and fuel mileage.
  • White exhaust smoke.
  • Subpar battery performance.

Having relevant technical data and a comprehensive service manual is essential to resolving the P0128 engine code. With that, speculating on potential causes of this fault code without conducting thorough diagnosis and initial troubleshooting is ill-advised.

For non-tech-savvy Jeepsters, it is best to outsource the code’s resolution to your local auto shop or a professional technician. Mechanically-inclined DIYers, on the hand, will benefit immensely from today’s guide.

Yellow Jeep Wrangler in a Parking Lot

Meaning of Engine Code P0128

The P0128 code is an OBD-II (Onboard Diagnostics) fault code that could signify an issue specific to your Jeep’s coolant temperature system. When triggered, this code indicates that the engine’s coolant temperature has not reached the proper operating temperature within a specified time after starting the rig.

For different vehicles, this DTC is often traced back to problems with cooling system components, coolant temperature sensors, or wiring/connector issues. But for Jeeps, the P0128 code is predominantly attributed to a defective thermostat, ambient temperature conditions, or a lean fuel mixture.

Variances exist in how the P0128 Jeep code is defined, depending on the year and model of your Jeep and its ECM programming. The same variable applies to different types of vehicles, as can be seen in the non-exhaustive table below:

VehicleError Code Reading
P0128 JeepCoolant Thermostat Regulating Temperature
P0128 FordCoolant Thermostat
P0128 VolkswagenCoolant Temperature Below Operating Range
P0128 NissanThermostat Function
P0128 GMCEngine Coolant Temperature Below Thermostat Regulating Temperature
P0128 ToyotaCoolant Thermostat
P0128 MitsubishiCoolant Thermostat Malfunction
P0128 MINIThermostat Low Coolant Temperature
Source: OBD Code Lookup

Like most trouble codes, displaying error code P0128 on your OBD-II diagnostic scan tool does not alert you of the exact nature of the problem. Nonetheless, it can point you towards several potential issues needing to be immediately checked (more on this in the ‘possible causes’ section).

Standard Operating Temperature for Vehicles

Normally, a vehicle’s engine coolant temperature should reach at least 176 °F (80 °C) within 6 to 20 minutes of starting the engine. This value does not take extreme ambient temperatures or the usage of air conditioning or heating into account. Note, too, that this range differs from the ideal engine temperature recommended by experts, which typically falls between 195 °F (90.6 °C) and 220 °F (104.4 °C).

Now, it is known to car owners (especially seasoned ones) that several things could upset these requisites. Among them are coolant leaks, extreme outside temperatures, a malfunctioning PCM, and a faulty thermostat (to name a few). Regardless of the reason, if the PCM/ECM/ECU detects that the coolant temperature falls below the specified threshold, it will trigger the P0128 code or any other relevant error like the P1281 code.

This could be a problem for Jeepsters since the same parameters apply to all Jeep production models.

AFR, SOT & Running Lean

Since I mentioned ‘running lean’ as a common trigger to the P0128 Jeep code earlier, you may wonder if the air-fuel ratio (or AFR) has anything to do with hindering a Jeep from reaching SOT (or standard operating temperatures). My response to that is a “yes” and “no.” Let me explain further.

The AFR (explained extensively in my article on the P1281 code) primarily affects the combustion process within your Jeep’s power mill and the efficiency of fuel combustion. While an imbalanced AFR can impact engine performance, it typically does not directly influence your four-wheeler’s ability to reach standard operating temperatures in a timely manner.

Your engine coolant temperature is primarily regulated by the cooling system and thermostat — components that control the flow and circulation of coolant throughout the engine. Conversely, the air-fuel ratio is mainly concerned with the ratio of air to fuel during the combustion process.

Issues related to the AFR, such as running lean or rich, can indirectly affect the engine’s ability to reach SOT if they lead to performance problems. For instance, excessive fuel can result in incomplete combustion and reduced efficiency, potentially delaying the warm-up process. In a similar fashion, insufficient fuel can cause the engine to run hotter (although it is less likely to delay the timing of the vehicle warming up).

Despite the interaction between the AFR and engine temperature, the primary factors affecting a Jeep’s ability to reach SOT are related more to ambient conditions, the cooling system, and the thermostat.

Suppose a Jeep is experiencing difficulties in reaching the appropriate operating temperatures. In that case, it is more likely that the issue is related to the above factors rather than to the AFR’s stoichiometric mixture.

P0128 Engine Code Symptoms

Check Engine Control Light on the Vehicle Dashboard

CEL Activation

The most obvious symptom of the P0128 code is the illumination of the Check Engine Light or CEL on your Jeep’s dashboard. The CEL serves as an early warning to alert you of potential issues within the engine and its related systems.

Low Engine Temperature

This engine temperature flaw can be caused by several factors (most of which are mentioned throughout this article). When the engine fails to reach the proper operating temperature within the specified timeframe, the ECM illuminates the Check Engine Light — in addition to storing this error.

Even a slight deviation in engine temperature from the standard can significantly impact your Jeep’s performance. This is where addressing the underlying cause of low engine temperature comes in and is important in avoiding potential engine-related problems.

Performance Issues

Synchronous with getting the P0128 code on your diagnostic scan tool, your Jeep’s engine might exhibit rough idling or hesitate during acceleration, mainly when the coolant temperature is way below the optimal level. Starting difficulties and higher-than-normal idle may also occur as the engine struggles to warm up to the desired operating temperature.

Additionally, your Jeep’s onboard computer could trigger transmission shifting issues due to going into a fail-safe or limp mode.

Decreased Fuel Efficiency

When the engine coolant does not reach normal operating temperature within the allotted timeframe from starting the engine, one of the PCM’s remedial actions is ‘fuel-dumping.’ However, the resulting air-fuel imbalance only turns your Jeep into a gas guzzler and does nothing to speed up the warm-up process.

Conversely, you may also notice a decrease in fuel efficiency when your engine is in lean condition since it does not receive the optimal amount of fuel necessitated for efficient combustion. The incomplete combustion, in turn, translates to a diluted air-fuel mixture leading to reduced power output and energy generation.


In cases where the P0128 Jeep code signifies that the power mill is running hotter, engine overheating is likely to occur. The latter may be linked to low coolant levels or a bad radiator/water pump for the most part. But let us not forget that this outcome can also trace back to a faulty thermostat.

Thermostats deteriorate for several reasons, including coolant contamination, defective temperature sensor, thermostat stuck in an open/closed position, or normal wear and tear. There is also the issue of thermostat-engine or thermostat-ambient-temperature compatibility.

For instance, not all full-flow 180° or fail-safe-type thermostats work with just any Jeep iteration, as these designs require different (not to mention specific) temperature ranges to operate properly. Incorrect installation of a thermostat following servicing or replacement is another factor.

Reduced HVAC Performance

Typically, a P0128 code does not directly indicate HVAC performance issues. However, certain conditions that lead to this readout, such as a malfunctioning thermostat or coolant temperature sensor, can indirectly impact HVAC performance.

For instance, cooling system issues in your Jeep can affect the HVAC system’s ability to provide sufficient heating or cooling inside the cabin if the engine is not reaching the proper operating temperatures.

Diminished Battery Performance

Specific Jeep models rely on the coolant temperature sensor to determine charging rates for the battery. Some Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Cherokee, and Jeep Renegade iterations belong to this group. The coolant temperature sensor serves a far more important purpose for these vehicles, relaying vital information to the ECM/PCM, which regulates the charging system.

By monitoring the coolant temperature, the ECM/PCM can adjust the charging rate of the alternator to ensure optimal battery charging. This is particularly crucial during cold starts when the battery may require additional charging to compensate for increased electrical demands.

That said, an out-of-spec engine coolant temperature effectively compromises the battery’s performance, leading to challenges when cold starting and triggering the P0128 Jeep engine code in the process.

White Exhaust Fumes

Shared with many other fault codes, this symptom can indicate a coolant leak (among other problems). The good news is that it is of low severity.

On the flip side, it can lead to failed emissions tests or potentially worsen into a more severe issue. While not the most prevalent indicators, white fumes from the tailpipe are still worth watching for since it signifies your Jeep’s inability to reach SOT during travel.

Possible Causes of the P0128 Code

Although a malfunctioning thermostat proves to be the most prevalent cause of code P0128, many other variables could set off this error.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of alternative culprits to look into, especially if the issue persists in your Jeep:

  • Extreme ambient temperatures
  • Low or inadequate coolant quantity
  • Cooling fan issues and coolant leaks
  • Out-of-range temp sensor readings
  • Malfunctioning or compromised thermostat
  • Faulty CTS sensors or coolant temperature switch
  • Wiring/connector issues related to the CTS sensor or coolant temperature circuit
  • Incorrect coolant mixture (diluted or too concentrated)
  • Leaking radiator hoses (if resulting in a significant loss of coolant)
  • Corroded radiator cooling fins (if hindering proper airflow through the radiator)
  • Blockage in the coolant system (i.e., logged radiator channels, restricted heater core)
  • Reduced airflow due to accumulated snow/ice (if impeding heat dissipation from the engine)
  • Poor vehicle upkeep or disregard for regular inspection and periodic change of relevant components
  • Failing or outdated PCM/ECM/ECU

P0128: Diagnosis & Fix

Car Engine Coolant Level Check

1. Check Technical Service Bulletins.

Check Technical Service Bulletins for issues related to your Jeep’s cooling and fuel systems, coolant temperature circuit, and coolant sensors.

2. Check the level and quality of the coolant in the reservoir.

If low, top it up to the recommended level and monitor for leaks. If rusted or in poor condition, flush the coolant system and fill the reservoir with fresh coolant. You may also want to physically examine passages for punctures or damage.

3. Perform a comprehensive scan of your Jeep.

Utilize a high-spec DRB-III or OBD-II diagnostic scan tool to perform a comprehensive scan of your Jeep, checking for the P0128 Jeep code and any other related DTCs. If readings show multiple fault codes, resolve other errors first and in the order they were stored in the system before addressing code P0128. Also, record all findings, and take note of freeze-frame data.

4. Inspect wiring harnesses and connectors.

Visually inspect wiring harnesses and connectors linked to the CTS sensor and the coolant temperature circuit for looseness/detachment, arcing, oxidation, fraying/saturation, impairment, or scorching. Refer to your service manual for precise color-coding, routing instructions, and locations of relays, fuses, and other potentially implicated components.

5. Perform a voltage test.

Ascertain that your Jeep’s charging/electrical system is not compromised by performing a voltage test and verifying rated output. Owners who usually experience reduced battery performance or low voltage strongly advise looking into this.

Also, this step is especially important for those who drive Jeep models relying on the CTS sensor to determine charging rates for the battery, as it will help rule out if the sensor or the battery is at fault.

6. Perform resistance and continuity assessments on applicable fuses and fusible links.

Additionally, verify ground and reference voltage as required. Before conducting these evaluations, disconnect sensors and dedicated control modules from the PCM to ensure their integrity.

Utilize the OEM values specified in the service manual as a benchmark for identifying faulty relays or fusible links that require replacement. Once the necessary adjustments have been made, re-scan the system to determine if the P0128 code clears.

7. Verify the integrity of sensors.

If all relevant wiring/connectors check out, verify the integrity of sensors next. Depending on your Jeep model and trim, this could mean just your CTS or include oil/air intake and APP sensors.

Pinpoint the sensor responsible for the issue and visually examine it for any apparent damage. If none is detected, consult your service manual for guidance on examining potential defects. If it contains a temperature-to-resistance chart, use that guide to assist you with necessary tests.

Otherwise, you can use a digital multimeter to get the Ohm reading and check that against OEM-recommended values. If the reading does not change with the temperature, either repair the damaged wiring or replace the CTS sensor right away.

8. Verify the calibration of the CTS sensor and thermostat opening temperature.

Although often optional, verifying the calibration of the CTS sensor and thermostat opening temperature can help diagnose code P0128. An infrared device or thermocouple can help you accomplish this. However, make sure that the diagnostic procedures in your service manual recommend this step.

9. Use an IR sensor to measure the thermostat housing temperature.

Start your Jeep, allow it to warm up, and wait for the water to flow through the thermostat to the radiator. Once you see this, measure the thermostat housing temperature using an IR sensor.

Ideally, the housing registered temperature should be 192–195 °F (88–90.5 °C). Any value lower than this would indicate a faulty thermostat and an immediate replacement of that part.

10. Compare the coolant and IR sensor temp readings.

Utilizing your diagnostic tool once again, get a temp reading of the coolant sensor and compare it with that on your IR sensor. If your readout shows cooler on the scanner than on the IR sensor, you may have a potential issue with the CTS circuit. Otherwise, a CTS sensor replacement is warranted.

11. Test all associated wiring, connectors, and relays.

If you have yet to close in on the problem source, then repeat testing all associated wiring, connectors, and relays. Adhere to instructions in the manual, especially when recording OEM values for currents and resistances. I suggest using a high-spec digital multimeter for this final step to guarantee precise and reliable readings.

12. Test drive your Jeep.

Finally, take your Jeep for a road test to ensure the P0128 engine code has been completely resolved and the power mill reaches the proper operating temperature with no issues. By this time, you should have eradicated all potential triggers of code P0128, which should translate to a successful test drive.

However, if the fault code persists, consult a professional. Also, brace yourself for repair expenses, as you may have more serious issues to deal with than your Jeep’s coolant system.

For additional pointers on diagnosing and fixing error code P0128, refer to the “A Few Notes” section in my other article.

Repair Costs for P0128 Jeep Code

The cost of repairing the P0128 Jeep engine code may vary depending on the root cause, the model of your Jeep, and labor rates in your area. Nonetheless, here are rough estimates of repairs depending on the impacted component or problem source identified:

System Repairs (Parts & Labor)

ComponentEstimated Cost
Gas Cap$10 — $80
Coolant$20 — $200
EVAP hoses$70 — $250
Vent Control Valve$100 — $300
Purge Control Valve$100 — $300
Other Faulty Sensors$100 — $350
Fuel Tank$100 — $1,300
CTS Sensor$150 — $430
Charcoal Canister$150 — $600
Radiator$150 — $1,200
Thermostat$200 — $350
Heater Core$200 — $1,400
Engine Block$600 — $7,000
PCM or ECM$800 — $2,000

Generally, you can expect minor repairs to range from $100 to $300 (and even cheaper if you are mechanically savvy). But if the issue involves more intricate problems like engine coolant leaks or extensive wiring damage, expect your repair expenses to skyrocket — especially if outsourcing the task to a qualified technician.

Conclusion — P0128 Jeep Code Guide

The P0128 Jeep code can be a frustrating issue for Jeep owners. But with a systematic approach and proper diagnosis, underlying issues can be resolved effectively. By understanding the meaning, symptoms, and potential culprits behind this error, you can promptly address the problem. 

Couple this preparedness with regular maintenance and timely repairs, and you are guaranteed many more years of unforgettable outdoor experiences — with your Jeep running smoothly and efficiently.