TJ Wrangler vs YJ

TJ Wrangler vs YJ

Last Updated June 14, 2023 | Andrew Boyle

The YJ and the TJ Jeep Wranglers have several obvious differences that make it clear they're from two separate generations. There are also several less noticeable differences that affect how these two early Wranglers perform on and off the trail.


YJ Wrangler crawling over rocks

The YJ was the first Wrangler model to be made after the original CJ Jeeps. The Wrangler Jeeps were introduced because of the CJ-7 Jeep's limited appeal. While still a capable vehicle, the CJ-7 lacked all of the creature comforts that were becoming the norm at the time.

So, in 1986, Jeep introduced the YJ Jeep, the first Wrangler. Tweaking the Wrangler so it drove smoothly and performed better on roads in addition to trails helped it appeal to more people. The YJ succeeded in pushing Jeep into the mainstream. YJ Jeeps were sold from 1986 to 1995.

The TJ was the second-ever Wrangler model to be sold. It was produced from 1996 to 2006. Visually, the TJ took a step back, borrowing many of the design cues of the original CJ Jeep, returning to the old circular headlights and traditional windshield wipers. For all intents and purposes, the TJ exemplifies the typical Wrangler look. In terms of broad performance differences, the TJ recouped some of the lost off-roading abilities of the YJ by raising the vehicle a tad and swapping leaf springs for a coil spring- suspension system. Aside from these performance tweaks, the YJ and TJ Wrangler shared many of the same engine, transmission, and axle options until 2003.

The first Rubicon was released in 2003, and is when the TJ began to seriously diverge from the YJ. There were a variety of trim options on the YJ Wrangler, but they primarily differ in terms of interior amenities and design options. But the Rubicon offered true off-road performance, and has since been offered on every Wrangler and even the Jeep Gladiator.

YJ vs TJ: Exterior Comparison

TJ and YJ Exterior Comparison

The YJ and TJ are probably two of the easiest Wrangler models to tell apart based on appearance. The square headlights of the YJ are a dead giveaway. There are additional exterior differences, however. Every Wrangler generation has a slightly different grille. On the YJ, the grille slots are a bit taller than the TJ, and the grille has a slight bend to it.

The turn signal lights on the YJ are located directly beneath the headlights, while they are located to the left and right of the headlights on the TJ. Finally, the windshield wipers on the YJ rest right on the windshield as opposed to laying flat by the hood. The hood of the YJ also has a distinct shape. Unlike the TJ, it more aggressively tapers toward the grille.

TJ and YJ Grille Comparison

YJ vs TJ Wrangler: Engine Options

The transition from YJ to TJ was a bit slow at first, with the TJ carrying over the 2.5-liter straight 4 and the 4-liter inline 6 engines at first. In 2002, these would be replaced by a DOHC 2.4-liter.

Wrangler YJ Engine Options
EngineHorsepowerTorque (lb.-ft.)
2.5 L AMC straight-four engine(fuel injected) 121 hp 135 lb-ft
2.5 L AMC straight-four engine (multi-port injection) 130 hp 139 lb-ft
4.2 L AMC straight-six engine 112 hp 210 lb-ft
4.0 L AMC straight-six engine 190 hp 220 lb-ft
Wrangler TJ Engine Options
EngineHorsepowerTorque (lb.-ft.)
2.4 L PowerTech I4 (Post-2003) 147 hp 165 lb-ft
2.5 L PowerTech I4 120 hp 140 lb-ft
4.0 L PowerTech I6 190 hp 235 lb-ft

One thing to be wary of is that these Wrangler models did change a fair amount through their lifespan. While they may all look the same, there can be some huge differences between two YJs and two TJs based on their specific year of creation. For example, any YJ made before 1993 would lack anti-lock brakes.

YJ and TJ Wrangler Transmissions and Gearing

There are a lot of transmission options on both the YJ and the TJ. Given the nature of Wrangler drivers, it’s basically assumed that each successive Jeep model will come with the option of a manual, as well as an automatic. As can be seen below, at this point in the Wrangler life cycle, the majority of transmissions available were indeed manual.

Wrangler YJ Transmission Options
TransmissionAutomatic or Manual
3-Speed TorqueFlite TF904 Automatic
3-Speed TorqueFlite TF999 Automatic
5-Speed Aisin AX-5 Manual
5-Speed Aisin AX-15 Manual
5-Speed Peugeot BA-10/5 Manual
Wrangler TJ Transmission Options
TransmissionAutomatic or Manual
3-Speed TorqueFlite 30RH Automatic
3-Speed TorqueFlite 32RH Automatic
4-Speed Ultradive 42RLE Automatic
5-Speed Aisin AX-5 Manual
5-Speed Aisin AX-15 Manual
5-Speed New Venture Gear NV3550 Manual
5-Speed New Venture Gear NV1500 Manual
6-Speed Chrysler NSG370 Manual

YJ and TJ Wrangler Dimensions

Overall, the sizes of the TJ and the YJ don't differ by that much. Because of the modularity of any Wrangler, the range of the dimensions of both the TJ and the YJ can deviate a bit. For example, a soft top will be lighter than a hard top, and engine and transmission options affect weight as well.

Dimensions and Other Specs
Wheelbase 93.4" 93.4"
Length 151.9-153" 151.2-154.9"
Width 66" 68.3"
Height 69.6-72" 70.2-71.1"
Curb Weight 2,855-3,241 lbs. 3,092-3,857 lbs.

TJ vs YJ: Off-Roading

TJ Wrangler Fording River

The Wrangler's off-roading capabilities have always been noteworthy. While they have gotten better over the years, stock Wranglers can outperform most 4X4 vehicles on the trails.

YJ Wranglers came with a Dana 30 front axle and a Dana 35 rear axle, while the TJ came with a Dana 30 front axle and a Dana 35c in the rear. The TJ Rubicon came with the option of having Dana 44 front and rear axles.

One of the more significant differences between the YJ and the TJ has to do with the frame and suspension. Compared to the YJ, the TJ’s frame was given a 100 percent increase in torsional stiffness. The frame was an additional 15 percent stiffer with an additional 8-inch lift. Even more important than that, the TJ used a four-corner quadra-coil suspension in lieu of the YJ's leaf springs.

Now that the JL is out on the market today, both the TJ and the YJ have become classics. YJ's tend to be cheaper than JKs, which makes them a great entry point. Since the Jeep aftermarket community is one of the absolute best, you'll be able to easily fix and modify your Jeep to your liking.

Newsletter Sign-Up

Sources: YJ or TJ??, Wrangler Forum | History, Jeep | The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Story-Nearly Cancelled, MotorTrend

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.