1998 Jeep Wrangler does not plow as well as before

I have been plowing my own 1/2 mile steep driveway with a Jeep and a Snoway plow for the past 8 years. It used to plow great- even uphill without chains.

Since a big storm on March 1, 2011, when I replaced the clutch (by an unknown mechanic), it doesn’t have the same “power”. Now I use chains all the time, plow only downhill, and it still gets stuck behind a bank of snow! Before, it used to keep moving forward, stack the snow, and climb up it, if I pushed enough. Now, it fails to push even a small stack of snow, and the wheels spin if I push hard. Before, if I pushed hard, I’d smell the clutch. Now, no smell and wheels spin.
My regular mechanic thinks it was a bad clutch job and it needs to be replaced. but I can’t see how. Gears don’t slip. No smell. Is it engine power output? Could it be anything with 4WD differential?

I used to be very confident with my Jeep on this hill- looked forward to blizzards, even. Now, I dread them.
Jeep has 200,000 miles on it now. Can this wrangler be fixed? Should I get another Wrangler? Should I forget about plowing with Jeeps?

Do both front and back wheels spin? Maybe your 4 wheel drive isn’t engaged. The only other things I can think of are a dragging brake or worn tires. A remote possibility, a binding differential. Your clutch can’t be the problem, a tired engine can’t be the problem. Both would result in less wheelspin, not more.

Not knowing much about any specific thing about 4WDs I imagine that something is keeping the transfer case from going into lock. I’m thinking that this could cause a rear wheel to lose traction and when that one regains it, a front wheel loses it. Odd way to express things but I think something is preventing the transfer case from locking.

If you mess with the linkage, do it on level ground with a rear wheel chocked.

Thanks oldtimer. I doubt it’s the worn wheels because I have chains on. The wheels spin diagonally, so, yes, 4 wheel is engaged.
Looks more & more like something with transfer case or something else with differential.

Do you notice a change in the rpm vs previous? if so the clutch could be slipping.

Thanks barky. I don’t recall rpm difference. Wish i had observed. maybe i will push it in low gear and see how high it gets.

If your jeep has 200k mikes the motor could very well have lost some of it’s compression. . But, if your wheels are spinning, you need more traction and more weight. There is nothing like weight in the rear in the form of tube sand when plowing…When I need to move snow, I pile everything that isn’t tied down into the rear to offset the plow weight. Wranglers have poor balance to begin with.

Comment by dagosa made me think. Is it possible you need new shocks? Bad shocks letting the front end dip down thus taking traction off the back. Just a wild hair thought.

It doesn’t sound like a clutch problem. Not the engine clutch anyway. To me it sounds like a problem with how the power is transferred to the wheels. Either the transfer case differential or the rear differential. The power is probably going to the wheels with the least amount of traction, which is causing all the spinning. And that’s not supposed to happen if you have on your truck – I’m assuming – limited slip (locking) differential capability.

hmmm … well I guess the first thing I’d do is make sure all the fluid levels are up to spec in both the differentials. It may be that as part of the clutch job the mechanic had to drain the transfer case. Maybe he didn’t put the right fluid back in. Limited slips require the correct fluid, and often there’s an additive you have to add too. I have to add this to my 4x4 Ford truck to get the limited slip to work correctly, when I change the differential fluid.

One time on my Ford truck I had to remove the differential and install new differential clutches, so that’s another possibility I guess. I can’t remember exactly why I did this … lol … I think it wasn’t the wheels were slipping though, I think it was there was too much play causing a thunk when I shifted.

You should also verify nothing is binding up, the drive-line, or especially one of the brakes for example, as a binding brake on one side can cause this problem. Sometimes an older flexible brake tube will collapse and cause the brake to bind. The differential gets confused when a brake is binding.

This reminds of the time my brother in law got stuck in his truck, his wasn’t a limited slip, so one wheel was spinning. The other was on solid ground but that wheel got no power to it. Nobody was there to help, so he crawled underneath and somehow disabled the emergency brake, just to the side that wasn’t slipping. So then when he pulled the emergency brake, it would only engage on the side that was slipping. By doing that, and tweaking the emergency brake as he gunned the engine, he was able to force the power to the wheel that was on solid ground and got unstuck.

Very interesting George. The part about power going to “wheels with least amount of traction” is just what it feels like when I’m stuck and watch the wrong wheel spin uselessly. very interesting.
Gotta run this theory by my mechanic.

p.s. Shocks also help to keep wheels on the ground. When I changed mine I found I had better traction on snow, especially if the snow was packed and not smooth. allowing the wheels to bounce. just enough to allow spinning to start.

Is there any way to test this Jeep and compare it to other Jeeps? Just to see if it is true that it does not push with power.

Looks like back in '98, a limited slip on the rear was optional. If you don’t have it, then it’s open diffs at both ends. It sounds to me as though you weren’t spinning your wheels before the clutch job because the clutch was slipping (hence the burning clutch smell), so not all the power was getting to the wheels. Now that it is, the lack of traction is causing wheelspin. (As mentioned, in an open differential, the wheel with less traction gets power and spins.)

It’s also possible that your Jeep has the limited slip option, and that is no longer working properly. Assuming that’s not the case, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Use 4-low, if you’re not already. The low range gear in the transfer case lets you move slower with the clutch out without stalling. Of course, the torque to the wheels is multiplied, so be gentle on the throttle to avoid wheelspin.

  2. Use snow tires, if you’re not already. This is the best change you can make for increasing traction in this situation. I’ve got a Wrangler Rubicon, and the mud tires that come with are lousy on plowed roads (though pretty decent in deep snow).

  3. Put some sand or salt in the driveway.

Really though (and you hinted at this at the end of your first post), a Jeep isn’t the best plow vehicle. The snowplows around here tend to be 3/4-ton 4x4 pickups. They’ve got big tires, heavy duty transmissions, and of course lots of weight. If you’re going to use a Jeep, I’d definitely have locking differentials, and probably an automatic transmission so you don’t have to worry about riding the clutch.

@Strickerje: I’d hate to give up on Jeep for plowing. It used to do wo well, and I can use the short turn radius and maneuverability on my driveway (which 3/4 ton trucks don’t have).

I did the old test: drove the Jeep right up to an oak tree, put it in 4th gear, slowly let the clutch go, and the car stalled. Meaning clutch is good.
I think it’s the lost compression in the engine that comes with old age. Also, the fact that this Jeep did not have limited slip differential is a big factor.

If you have wheelspin, more engine power won’t help.

@oldtimer 11 so it’s the lack of limited slip differential?

It could also be anything binding up anywhere in the drivetrain or brakes.It could also be broken spring leaves letting the axle twist or broken motor or transmission mounts, or in one car I saw a cracked frame letting the rear axle drift back on one side and applying the emergency brake by itself. Don.t forget, I can’t see or drive your car or put it up on a lift.

I may be missing something but, does your jeep have a limited slip or locking rear differential ? It it does and is now failing, you definitely won’t get th traction you had . Otherwise, if it never had and power is going to both front and rear, my money is still on weight distribution or suspension problem. When i plow snow, weight distribution is a huge factor in moving snow, especially up hill. You need weight on the down hill side.The other is traction on ice under the snow.

If you suspect low compression, you can have your mechanic check for that. I’ve heard it’s an easy test, though I don’t really know what’s involved.

You’re right, the turning radius is a big plus for the Jeep. No need to give up on it then… you can add lockers, which will give you all the traction you need. (Probably only the rear really needs it.)

@strickerje I think locking the differential sounds like the logical thing to do. It doesn’t make sense the way it is now sending torque to the wheel with the least traction.
What is still nagging at me is how well the same Jeep used to perform before. It could be something else broken. But locks will definitely help.
Thanks a million everybody. I learned a lot.