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Jeep TJ Wrangler 32RH Automatic Transmission Woes!!!

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I Can't believe that after owning my TJ for 4 years now, and being a member of numerious other forums that I am only just now finding this page and it's wealth of information. I Have searched around a bit, and while I have found a lot of useful info, I haven't quite seen what I'm after, so I figure that my best bet is to specifically ask, but 1st, Let me take tis opportunity to express my appreciation and respect. WOW!!!! I see a lot of questions, and a lot of great & knowledgable answers. KUDOS! Great job!

Now, as stated before, I stumbled across this page earlier today while on my way to pick up a used transmission for my Jeep. I wasn't sure how to tell by sight weather or not the trans in question was going to interchange with mine. I was able to find enough info here to forward to the seller in order to determine that his trans was not a replacement for mine, which in turn saved me a 1&1/2 hour drive, & $150.

As for the reason I'm interested in another trans??? Well... Let me give you as much history as possible.

2001 Jeep Wrangler, 4.0L, Auto, 60th anniv. "Extreme Edition" (I thought it was just stickers when I bought it, but after some research, I found that there is such a thing). This jeep Was in very clean shape. No signs of offroad use, or abuse. Showing only 88k miles

I bought this Jeep from a local dealership several years ago. Drove fine during test drives, and on the 60 mile drive home. The next day, (saturday) I got in and upon leaving my neighborhood, I realized that it didn't want to shift from 2nd gear. I moved the shifter from D to 2 then back to D which caused a very noticable slip accompanied by a very defined whining noise. I drove around a few miles to to troubleshoot further, Stopping a couple times to check fluid levels and throttle valve adjustment, but nothing seemed to remedy the problem. Monday I returned to the dealership with the Jeep and what follows is all the history I have on this transmission.

Previous owner traded for another vehicle. jeep was cleaned and put on the lot for sale. A potential buyer informed the salesman that it was not returning to 1st gear after stopping. Dealership had the transmission rebuilt at a local Transmission shop. Roughly a month later I buy the jeep and experience my problem. Jeep is returned to the same Transmission shop for repair. I was never told what was done, but a few days later It was returned to me and showed no problems for roughly 20k miles. 

During offroad use, I allowed water to come above the vent in the pump housing shortly before parking overnight. While checking fluids and other post offroad checks the next morning I discovered the bright pink transmission fluid. BUMMER!!! After speaking with a few local professionals, I removed the transmission and took it to a well known and competent Transmission builder in my area, who went through it and brought her back to life.

Roughly 5-8k miles later I found myself offroad again, but this time involved some fairly serious & technical trail riding for a stock TJ. MAN that thing surprised me that night! But, the next day, it was discovered that my transmission was not shifting properly. Holding gears too long between shifts, not downshifting at stops. not responding to throttle input. sometimes not shifting at all without manual shifts from the shifter. I didn't have the time or money to mess with it, so I parked it for a couple months. After sitting a while, I decided to see if it decided to fix itself, and took it for a drive. At first, I found that it was better, but some symptoms were still intermittent.  After 5-10 miles, they disapeared and the trans was functioning normally. I decided that my problem was quite possibly moisture in one of the connectors.

another 5-8k miles, and another offroad excursion much like the last, except this time there was some water. Before long I was noticing that it had stopped shifting into 3rd gear. Not seeing any signs of water in the fluid, I limped it home, where the lack of time, money and just a general feeling of disgust let it sit for Roughly a year before I decided to mess with it again.

Roughly one year later... I miss my jeep, i hate to see it just sitting around. So... I test drive it. the no shifting problem has improved, because now it will shift between the gears, but it takes some finagling between the throttle and the shifter to do so. I added a can of SEAFOAM, drove it 5-10 miles, changed the filter and cleaned the pan (there was some sediment and a little bit of stuff on the magnet), added fresh fluid, cleaned all the connectors. HEY HEY HEY!!!! We have a Jeep!!!!! working Great. No slipping, no whining, Great smooth shifts. I'm a happy jeeper.

4-5 tanks of gas later, the jeep has been sitting for about a week and a half. 10 mile drive to town, no problems. Next day, Gotta go to town again, but Jeep won't move forward or back. You can feel it drop into gear, but no movement aside from the initial pull of being in gear. input from the throttle results in a subtle whine. I as able to actually drive it onto the trailer using low range, and took it to the man who rebuilt it for me after the water ingress incident. I told him to check it out, and if go ahead if he found something that could be repaired while still in the jeep. I didn't wanna pay extra for R&R which I can do myself. 

He called me the next day to let me know that he could smell the burn as soon as he opened the pan, and found clutch material in the pan. He and I are both convinced that there is possibly a hairline fracture, or some other anomaly in either the case or valve body that is causing so many failures with this particular trans. As of right now we are sitting at 114k miles.  After Finding this site Earlier today while searching for a replacement trans, I was compelled to ask your opinion on this matter. Any info or opinions are much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

Gary Mckinney



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Hi, Gary, glad you have found our forums!  In answer to your question, if your shop is reputable and you've confirmed the burnt friction material in the pan, I can cast some light here.  You hint that you like adventurous four-wheeling, and the 30RH/32RH is notorious for dry-sumping the pan on steep climbs.  It's quite possible that the current damage is from operation with intermittent clutch apply pressures and lubrication within the unit.  

There are some deep-sump oil pan kits available, and if that includes a dropped pickup screen to lower the sump, you can cure the inherent starvation of this transmission on steep ascents and descents.  I highly recommend such an approach for your kind of 'wheeling.

Also, the water in the 32RH unit can be resolved by installing a hose bib at the transmission housing vent and using quality, oil-resistant hose to raise the vent to the top of the firewall.  (Use European/FI hose clamps to assure a good seal.)  I have done this on a variety of automatic transmissions and axle housings.  You still use a one-way check valve vent and make sure the transmission can vent properly.  The idea is to relieve pressure without drawing moisture or stream/creek water into the transmission. 

Note:  On occasions where a transmission is strictly an open vent tube without a check valve, I still extend the vent end to the firewall and simply loop a piece of tubing to emulate the OE factory shape that was previously at the case vent.

Then there is the issue of moisture and water on connections as you hint.  This can wreak havoc.  Be clear:  Grounds are just as important as positive leads on a 12VDC system.  Be sure ground leads are making good connections and do not create too much resistance—especially on circuits involving the transmission solenoids.  For waterproofing, I use dielectric grease at connections after making sure the contacts are clean and snug.  

Caution: Do not scrape electrical contacts with a sharp tool, knife or screwdriver.  Use electrical contact cleaner and if accessible, use ScotchBrite fine pad to remove any black oxidative coating.

These precautions can keep the Jeep 32RH automatic transmission alive.  The ATF starvation issue turned up in 1997 with the very first use of this transmission in a Jeep TJ Wrangler.  Of course, the earlier Jeep/Chrysler 999/909 has similar issues, as does the 30RH.  For additional insight while you have the transmission apart, you will find my article on RH/RE quirks helpful:


Pleased to discuss this further as you move through the rebuild...Sorry you've had to endure this long.


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Thank you for your input. Your assistance and Guidance is much appreciated!!!

I had my friend at the shop install a vent fitting during the water ingress rebuild, to which I attached a line running up the firewall. I didn't however use a check in it so I will definitely be doing that in the future.

As for the connectors... I Have a bit of experience working with high and low voltage electrical systems in a marine environment, so we are on the same wavelength there. They were sprayed with contact cleaner, blown out, I didn't see any specific trash or corrosion, so I coated the connectors with dielectric grease and reassembled everything. I believe were good in that dept.

As far as the deep sump and Pickup, well....  I'm concerned about the amount of time / miles between my last bit of wheeling (which wasn't quite so "adventurous". there was a bit of climbing, but nowhere near as strenuous as the previous excursion, although there was a little water / mud) & the final failure after the fluid / filter change. Do you think I was merely riding on borrowed time as I had already set in motion the wear of the friction material?

I feel that I can most likely save myself a few dollars (at least in the short term) by rebuilding this trans again with the upgrades and attention to the 32RH inherent problem areas, as long as I do in fact have a servicable case. Otherwise, it's my belief that I'll in fact be wasting that money by simply borrowing more time.

I do have the opportunity to swap my Jeep over to an AX15 for what seems to be a good price. A local Enthusiast is willing to sell a complete package (trans, PCM, harness, clutch system, driveshafts, & shifter) for $900.  As far as street driving, I would much rather have the manual, but I also feel that an automatic is a great asset offroad. I may go in this direction if it is determined that rebuilding my auto is futile. Once again, I value your opinion here. what are your thoughts? Are there any other pieces I need to have from the donor vehicle to swap to the manual?    Any input is greatly appreciated.

Gary Mckinney.

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Gary, the AX15 manual transmission swap would of course eliminate all 32RH issues.  That's an option...

If you have concerns about the case in the 32RH leaking or being porous, by all means test the castings for cracks and pressure loss while apart.  (This is actually easier to do before teardown by testing port pressures with the transmission still in the chassis and running.)  Cracks can be found with air pressure or vacuum.  Air pressure applied to capped passageways with the case submerged in a solution (even water will work here, watch for bubbles) can turn up fissures or leaks.  This is aluminum, so magnafluxing is not possible. 

If you do rebuild the 32RH again, also check all pressures once the unit is installed.  Line pressure, in particular, is adjustable at the valve body and should be checked and adjusted if necessary.  Low line pressure (either wrong adjustment or from fluid starvation) can also cause friction slippage and damage.  If all line and port pressures are normal, the clutch and band apply pressures should work well if the transmission is built properly.


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Awesome!!!, thanks man. The trans is still in my Jeep at the moment, so I will go have a talk with my trans guy and see what he has to say about testing in the chassis. Guess we'll go from there. I really appreciate your input, thanks again.

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  • 3 months later...

Just touching base on this one once again.  No one in my area seems to have the capability of testing, or being able to decipher results. So...Jeep has been sitting for a few months now while I've been occupied with other things. As of right now, I am in a position to get back to it and get this thing back on the road (or off the road as the case generally is with me). I am weighing options at this point. I went to the Sonnax website to try to price the needed upgrades, but they don't list a 32RH trans. I Know that this trans is SIMILAR to others, but I'm not sure exactly what parts will interchange for my application. can you shed some light on this? I would like to do all I can to this trans to ensure that I never have to deal with it again outside of the typical maintenance. Part #'s would be awesome unless there is one specific trans model that interchanges with the 32RH that I can order parts for (904? 999?). I am still considering the option of swapping to a manual transmission. I seem to have no trouble finding plenty of AX15 and NV3550 transmissions, but it tends to be just the trans. I have a feeling that I need more than just the trans. What all is needed / involved in this swap? pure speculation on my part, but I expect that a manual will be a bit different in size meaning that I will have to move my crossmember or maybe change to a different trans mount. Are the driveshafts the same length? Any guidance you can offer would be a big help.

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Hi, Gary...The valve body design is similar on all of the rear drive RE/RH transmissions, and some of the Sonnax valve body fixes even date to the 904/999 and the 727.

I would contact Sonnax by Email or phone and share what you would like to do.  If your aim is upgrading the accumulator piston, the valve body fixes and such, you can direct the Sonnax staff to my article at the magazine for a comparison with your needs.  They should be helpful and willing to make suggestions.

As for the manual transmission changeover, the issue here is the amount of pieces involved.  You would need a donor vehicle for a comparison.  Needed parts would include the clutch pedal and linkage, everything from a crankshaft pilot bushing, bellhousing, flywheel, clutch assembly, hydraulic clutch linkage, transmission, transmission mount, and so forth.  This can be done but requires close scrutiny of all parts that are different between the automatic and manual transmission chassis.  Location of the transfer case and drivelines should not be an issue, the engineers consider the overall engine-to-transfer case position when designing the stick and automatic models.  Transfer case spline input count in 2001 should not be an issue between stick and automatic transmissions.

The PCM might not be happy with the missing automatic transmission, you would need to follow up on whether incessant "codes" would be thrown with the electronic interface to the 32RH missing.  Good news is the floor console shifter, which means you do not have to swap out steering column pieces.  You would need the manual transmission console and shifter boot.

I would think it wise to work with the 32RH and get your transmission to function properly.  If you encounter issues while seeking a solution, post them here...Pressure gauges are not expensive, and you can run the pressure tests fairly easily if you'd like to pick it up there.  

Sometimes it's cost-effective to get a Jeep dealership diagnostic overview or at least have a talk with the dealership's powertrain/transmission expert.  Dealerships often have model and year specific insights that can be helpful for troubleshoot and solving problems.


Edited by Moses Ludel
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