The Last Car In The U.S. Without Standard Air Conditioning — The Jeep Wrangler — Finally Gives Up The Fight Against Refrigerant


It is the end of an era. The Jeep Wrangler JL — the final holdout against the tyranny of condensers, compressors, driers, evaporators, and R1234yf refrigerant — will come from the factory with standard air conditioning for the first time in the model’s 35 year history. The JL was the last vehicle in the U.S. not to come with AC standard; now that it does, you might think the price has jumped up. But actually, the base model with AC is cheaper.

I always admired the fact that you could get a Jeep Wrangler without air conditioning. It’s a convertible, after all, so just drop the top and let convection do its thing. Also, the Wrangler being an off-roader, there’s value in keeping complexity down so there’s less to damage on the trails — I myself have always wanted a Wrangler with manual locks, manual windows, and a manual transmission. I’d even have liked one without AC, but only if I could find one used, since buying a new car without AC is a terrible idea (as you’ll have a hard time selling it if you ever needed to). But the days of AC-less Wranglers are over.

The problem is that the Wrangler hasn’t really been “cheap” for a while now, and that became obvious when the Bronco — which comes with quite a few more standard options (including AC) — came out. So Jeep is now making some adjustments.

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Check out the list of 2023 Wrangler standard features above. Included in it: Air conditioning. The 2022 model shows just a heater:

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Actually, 2022 and older Wranglers came standard with “Air Conditioning Bypass.” That’s the name Jeep came up with for “not AC.” I find that hilarious:

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Check out the price on that base 2022 model with AC shown above: $32,985. The 2023 model with AC comes in almost $1,000 cheaper, which is a rarity to see in an era when cars just seem to get pricier and pricier:

Screen Shot 2022 06 30 At 3.12.21 Pm[AC]

To be sure, the only reason the base Wrangler is now a better value is likely that Jeep wants to 1. Reduce manufacturing complexity and 2. Keep that base price (that’s the price that gets advertised) competitive with Bronco while offering similar standard content. This is the beauty of competition, folks! (It’s worth noting that higher trim level Wranglers have gotten pricier, but again, that’s because higher trim levels aren’t advertised as much as the base price is).

I myself would want that now-cheaper AC-equipped base model, so this is a nice change. Is it enough to sway me to pull the trigger on a vehicle I helped engineer? I don’t know; it seems like a bad idea financially. Owning old cars like I do means I drive my cars for, essentially, just the cost of operation (gas, mostly). I’ve lost no money due to depreciation, and even if I factor in the cost of repairs, I come out ahead. Buying a new car would mean losing $10,000 after seven or eight years of ownership on depreciation alone; I can’t seem to come to terms with that.

Maybe I should stop being such a cheap bastard and grow up a little. Or maybe I need to buy a Nash Metropolitan.

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79 Responses

    1. Pretty sure those start higher than a Wrangler. $35-45K for no A/C would be ridiculous. Jeep only got away with it for so long because they had their market segment to themselves. The little Japanese off roaders went away for some reason (regulations or politics I assume, people seemed to like them), the Land Rover-Cruisers were getting expensive and the Hummer was too damn big until it died.

  1. Thanks for the memory of my grandfather, whose Buick Sedans from Garber Buick (Guy Garber was picked personally by Durant to represent Buick) in Saginaw always came with the “radio delete” option. Loved that “plate” where the radio should have been.

  2. Forgot to add:

    I have a ’13 JKU hard top and I recently swapped out the Freedom Top panels on it for a Bestop Twill Sunrider for Hardtop (bit of a mouthful). Not cheap, but worth every penny. Although I do have AC in my Jeep, I actually prefer to use the Sunrider instead of AC on days below 98°…apparently that’s the arbitrary cutoff. If I didn’t have AC, I’m not sure I’d mind, although it’s nice for defrost in the winter.

  3. There is only one place in the lower 48 where you can live without A/C, and that’s Eureka. Every summer day starts at about 50 and gets up to about 65. The all-time high is 84.
    Ironically, it’s also the most inaccessible place in the lower 48.

    1. Eureka? I lived in Eureka Ca and since on the ocean it was pretty decent year round. It didn’t really need AC but was nice. Not impossible to get there but 8 hours north of Frisco so awhile. Also Brattleboro VT does not need AC either.

    2. technically speaking we can all live without AC. though to be honest most of us would not want to anymore and the new crop of younguns would revolt if they had to be driven around in a sweat box like many of us did.

      1. Yeah, my old man never used it even when he had it. “Crack the window”, he’d say, AS IF.
        Of course, summers aren’t what they used to be. I remember you took a sweater if you were out at night, as it almost always got down into the 50’s. I see the SCOTUS just ensured that we’ll never see those summers again.

          1. There was a pretty common school of thought well into the tail end of the last century that you didn’t run the A/C in the city because the car would overheat and too much drag on the drivetrain. A lady I worked with in the late 80s said hubby had a rule you didn’t run the A/C in the city.

            1. Funny thing is, the city’s exactly where you want A/C – slow/stopped traffic means you don’t get nearly as much out of having the windows down, and what you do get is tailpipe fumes.

              This is largely new to me, though. My mum rarely used the A/C when I was a kid, and I’ve only owned two cars (of several) in which it worked. Heck, my old Saab’s clutch takeup was tricky enough (for me) that it would stall if you tried a hill start with the compressor engaged, so even that wasn’t much good for cool air in the city.

  4. “I’ve lost no money due to depreciation, and even if I factor in the cost of repairs, I come out ahead.”

    David, I’m not the first person to tell you this, but there is no world in which maintaining a dozen shitheaps is cheaper than depreciation + maintenance on the model year 2023 iteration of those shitheaps.

    You know the expression “time is time and miles are miles.” Your mileage-related wear is the same regardless of how many vehicles you own. But time is nothing to fuck with. Tires are toast after 5-7 years regardless of how many miles they have; dry rot doesn’t care. Same with every other rubber component. Engines get weird issues after sitting for long stretches. Rust joins Death and Taxes in the pantheon of inexorability.

    More importantly: parts may be cheap and depreciation is minimal, but you know, better than anyone else, the cost of your time. It’s not free, it’s not infinite, and it currently gets dumped into maintaining a fleet. You don’t deserve this, and neither do your Jeeps. You deserve some semblance of a life, and your Jeeps deserve to be driven more regularly than you can drive any one of them.

    Buy the new Jeep you helped bring into the world and enjoy your life. Roll up to cars & coffee and explain to anyone who dares ask about all the cooling system’s quirks and features. Go on a date forchrissakes. Or a happy hour. Or to the UK to investigate Welsh microcars.

    I love your writing and your escapades of wrenching on all your old cars. But at this point, I feel like an accomplice to your unhappiness. I can’t do it.


    1. I love classic steel and irons as much as anyone here, but I have to agree.

      Older cars (Jeeps) are SOULFUL. But they don’t age like a fine wine. You can keep ’em running but, after awhile, maintaining and driving them just wears a person down. I’ve had a 1993 YJ with the AMC 4 cylinder, rag top, and an empty AC bracket. Driving it was an experience all its own, visceral and free. I had a 1995 YJ, a much nicer example, no AC either and it was wonderful.

      But my JKU, it’s nicer and easier to drive, although the tradeoff is a bit of that soul. That said, I’m sure it would be a lot of fun on the trails (no trails in ND). The technology and refinement isn’t just for road manners, it helps off road too. And it’s a lot easier to find replacement parts if you bang it up. I think I’d die inside a little if I dinged up that ’95 YJ.

      As I get older, the words of the poster above resonate more and more. You only get one ride, you might as well enjoy a calculated risk or two.

    2. Came here to say something similar.

      DT, we love you buddy. We love your articles about shit boxes. We love the lengths you’ll go to keep them running. And we love that you refuse to give up on them. But dude, you GOTTA make a change.

      1. Unhappy was probably not the best word choice. You have somewhere between dozens and millions of fans, travel the world routinely, and mostly do what you love. That’s happiness.

        But you’ve also written about how the constant wrenching has taken its toll on your health, both physical and in some ways mental. And based on what you’ve written, it seems to make you happy…but at this point, it gets in the way of the things that might make you fulfilled.

        Fulfillment =/= happiness.

        1. No no, you’re right, Daaan. I’m blessed to have achieved my two childhood dreams: Work at Chrysler on the Wrangler, become a leading writer for a giant automotive publication. And now, to have my own site (which admittedly is still a work in progress) — it’s all fulfilled me career-wise in ways I cannot even measure. If you told my young self who spent his time mudding in the Missouri River flood plains of Leavenworth, Kansas, and who knew absolutely nobody associated with the auto industry, that I’d have done what I’ve done by now, I bet I’d cheer louder than XJ with a hole in its exhaust manifold. Then I’d probably say: “Okay, now watch me hit this giant mud pit.” (I’d get stuck).

          But — and I didn’t realize it until recently — that all came at great sacrifice. I put my whole life into cars, because that’s all I ever wanted to do. You couldn’t have stopped me if you tried. Thanks to COVID and some other stuff, sometime around 2020 I started seeing gaps that I didn’t see before, and I cannot unsee them.

          I want the old DT back who just wants to wrench 24/7, buy shitboxes, and remain oblivious to the world. But he’s gone. New DT is gonna struggle with some kind of transition, though it’s not clear where it’ll end up. All I know is that I’m gonna give this website everything I have, though it’s no longer to fulfill any personal goals, it’s about you readers (thousands of whom kept asking Jason and me to build this site), its about Jason (who’s an excellent friend and who I really want to see happy and successful), and it’s about Beau (who put his faith in me).

          1. Welcome to real adulthood, where you realize there is more you want to do in the world than you have time to do it. I was the same way when I was younger (except computers instead of cars). I don’t exactly regret my 20s, but my priorities have definitely changed.

          2. All the love and respect in the world to you, DT. Good luck with the existential crisis. They’re not necessarily fun, but they’re highly necessary. And they sure beat waking up at age 65 with regrets after letting the inertia of your life take control.

          3. You’re an awesome dude, and sometimes I feel bad for being part of a community that may be enabling you in things you’d like to keep in check. I think it’s great that you’re questioning yourself – everyone should question themselves every once in a while – and preparing for personal transformation.

            That being said, I think some people definitely exaggerate with how much shit they give you about your lifestyle in public comments on articles you wrote for their personal enjoyment. It feels paternalist at best and self-righteous concern trolling at worst.

            You should always be trying to self-improve and make changes to things that block your constant transformation into someone better, but I don’t think personal growth means a sudden, radical change that turns you into something you’re not. It means gradual transformation and working to keep bad habits in check, and I think you’re on the right path, even if you sometimes take one Cherokee-sized step forward and two UTE-sized steps back.

            Re: getting a new Wrangler. You shouldn’t buy one. Stellantis should have given you one already, both as a thank-you gift for all the free publicity to the Jeep brand and because of the fact that you actually helped engineer their cash cow.

    3. Maintaining a dozen shitboxes might not beat depreciation and repairs on a new car, but maintaining one or two old that you really like easily beats the costs on a new vehicle. Just pair it down to one keeper and one project (per continent) at a time.

    4. “There is no world in which maintaining a dozen shitheaps is cheaper than depreciation + maintenance on the model year 2023 iteration of those shitheaps.”

      There is! It’s called Detroit.

      I buy tires for $15 apiece!

      The time thing is fair, but in terms of dollars spent when you factor in cars I’ve sold for a profit, I’ve basically driven for 8 years without spending a dime.

      But yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time on them, so that’s fair.

      1. The time thing. I sometimes read people vehemently state they make “xx” an hour, if their return for working on a car doesn’t equal or exceed that amount or you can pay somebody less than “your time is worth” you shouldn’t bother doing it.

        Life is not a financial equation. Maybe if I was a professional mechanic or I could bill out for my time no matter what I did that would make sense. But I work on vehicles in large part because I like it and enjoy the challenge and sense of accomplishment, I assume you do too.

        Lastly, your car adventures are complimentary and adjacent to your paying the bills work, kind of the automotive equivalent of the Kardashians. Creating a brand, allowing your misadventures to be experienced vicariously through others, presumably and hopefully without the early career bump start of a leaked sex tape.

      2. Also in Detroit, everyone can get a discount on a new car through someone. Wranglers are pretty much the best car you can buy if you hate depreciation. I bought and sold one and it didn’t cost me anything even after taxes, insurance, fuel, new windshield, etc… The best car investment I ever made and I spent exactly 0 time fixing it. Every now and then it is just nice to own, use, and enjoy something because sometimes you just don’t have time for BS like overtorqued lug nuts. A wise man once told me that everyone eventually realizes they only have time for one hobby. Having said that, I guess your job is literally making the worst possible car purchases and writing about them for us to enjoy…so I’m not sure that counts as a hobby.

      1. My understanding is that the cars sold by Austin were badged simply as Metropolitans, as was the case for the later US-market cars. The only Metropolitan I’ve seen with an Austin badge was one that had a later ’80s-era emblem affixed to it by the owner (speaking as the owner of two ’80s-era Austins myself).

  5. “even if I factor in the cost of repairs, I come out ahead.”
    Do you factor in the value of your time? I know you often enjoy wrenching, but that does not mean you haven’t sunk a lot of hours into the repairs.

    1. I’ve tried to figure that out when doing repairs and maintenance on my work vehicle but unless it’s cutting into the time I’d usually be working by breaking down and having to miss work to fix it then it’s difficult to quantify. I can’t just assume my time is worth the equivalent of an actual mechanic with a fully equipped shop. Nor can I pretend to myself that I would honestly be working my regular job evenings and weekends unless I was dead broke, needed money for something big or was on a deadline. So I can’t just say my time is worth shop rates because I’m not a professional in that field and I can’t just assume I should make the same as I could in an equivalent amount of time doing what I am professionally qualified to do because I’m unlikely to decide to go to work in my spare time, which is when I do maintenance and minor repairs.

      This is all just how I think about it in my head so if there’s a way I can get the government to deduct $150 an hour from my taxes for working on my truck in my yard on a Saturday I’m all ears.

      1. I don’t consider my time spent doing these sorts of things at shop rate or at my normal hourly, but I try to factor in something reasonable. After all, any time I spend doing repairs is time I am not able to spend elsewhere. Whether your free time is worth $10 or $30 or $5 is up to you, but you should recognize time as a cost.
        I also use that mindset when considering basic maintenance. An oil change costs me $X plus longer than Valvoline will take, plus I need to dispose of the oil. So I am willing to pay them $X+Y to avoid the hassle. (For an oil change, I have found that if I watch for a coupon, I usually actually pay less than I would spend on oil and a filter, but I would pay more if necessary.)

        1. Another thing I always remember when reading about DT’s shadetree misadventures is that I enjoy wrenching a fair amount, but I do it in Southern California. Most days I have a sunny, warm driveway, but I also have the option of clearing my drums out of the way and parking inside my air-conditioned garage for the job if it’s too hot outside. When I see DT combing through a snowy junkyard, or shivering on the ground in his driveway, or trying not to let the sketchy furnace in his garage burn the place down while he tries to keep his fingertips intact and frostbite-free, I start thinking he needs to raise his own hourly rate quite a bit to keep the wrenching halfway enjoyable.

          1. Valvoline is pretty good, at least the one I go to. I won’t go to Jiffy Lube. They use a bunch of similar-looking nozzles and get things mixed up (and pay like shit, almost ensuring no one is going to be too careful). A friend ended up with a blown engine from them mixing up the coolant and oil nozzles somehow.

  6. I’m wondering if A/C is mandatory on the Wrangler in Canada. If the delete option still exists north of the border, eliminating A/C from US cars doesn’t really streamline much, if they’re still building A/C delete units for Canada

  7. The Wrangler is an odd duck in the market today. They sell quite a lot of them. I looked at a new 4 door on the lot a little while ago. The sticker was $46K and it still had manual roll up windows. I’m not against manual windows but for $46K, I expect something for my money.

  8. A lack of A/C story. We moved to Phoenix AZ. My spouses car was in Seattle, so I flew up there and drove it down to Phoenix. Since the Nisssan Pulsar was purchase in Seattle, it had no A/C. My spouse was working for Motorola Corporate headquarters as an internal auditor, so wearing of suits was expected. We only lived about 4 miles from work, but due to traffic, it took about 45 minutes to get there.
    Now imagine the scenario. Black Nissan Pulsar (with a severely raked windshield), no A/C, in a suit, in the summer, in Phoenix. Not a pleasant scenario whatsoever.
    So, the next weekend we went car shopping. It was a 114 degree F day. At each dealer we got inside, sat down and cooled off for 20 minutes before letting a sales person talk to us. We spent all day doing that. FInally at about 5 pm, we were in the Nissan dealer and set a deal to trade in the Pulsar for a 340 ZX, with A/C. We traded the ZX for a Subaru wagon a couple of years later after learning we were having twins.

  9. Honestly the lack of an AC delete option kills the Jeep Wrangler for me, and with that probably all new cars. I was hoping that Jeep would have put into mass production the first version of the Jeep Wrangler Magneto by now but instead they decided to do a one off ~$800K ultra high horsepower electric SEMA mobile. With AC now mandatory my interest for the Jeep Wrangler Magneto has disappeared, and the MPG of the regular Jeep Wrangler was too low for me to even consider getting one.

    I don’t particularly like Land Rover Defenders (not referring to the new Land Rover Pretender) but one thing they did right was that you open the fresh air vents and you can see through them, no fan needed to force cooling air on you, they’re just a vent.

    If properly designed an automobile doesn’t need AC (provided your commute isn’t bumper to bumper traffic and you can wear the proper clothing). Proper ventilation, shade, and speed is all you need.

    I hate the heat, and I love AC, but having recently replaced the alternator belt on my 94 Toyota Pickup I’ll tell you the less belts and less BS the better. Had to take off the top radiator hose and remove every belt to get access to the alternator belt to replace it and that was no fun. The whole time I was thinking ‘Well if I didn’t have power steering that would be one less belt to take off and replace, and if I didn’t have AC that would be even one less belt to replace, and if I didn’t have a radiator I wouldn’t have to remove the top radiator hose to replace said belts, etc.’ I did all of this only to realize that the timing belt in my truck is 28 years old and has never been replaced, so all of the work I did has to come off to get at the timing belt, all of the coolant has to be drained from the engine and radiator and the radiator has to be removed to just get access to the timing belt…

    I don’t need power steering, I don’t need a water pump, I don’t need AC (in my car), what I need is reliable, lightweight, simple, easy to maintain non human powered transportation. If you want something with all of the above made today you’re basically stuck with a motorcycle or scooter.

    Honestly either I’m going to get an Air Cooled Pinzgauer or I’m going to do an air cooled engine swap on a Vanagon Syncro for my next car. I’m done with liquid cooled BS. Since you can’t even get a new electric car with full air cooling for everything, let alone a new ICE car it looks like I’m done with new cars as well.

    As much as I’d love to DD a Kommandeurswagen, Kübelwagen, or Schwimmwagen (find me another car with an air cooled engine and cable brakes made after the 20s I dare you) even if I had the money to get one of those I’d have an extremely hard time driving one of them like I do most of my cars, and if one were to get into a fender bender it would definitely kill a part of my soul, so that basically leaves the Pinzgauer and the Air Cooled Vanagon Syncro swap as my only two car options.

    In the meanwhile it looks like I’m getting a motorcycle.

    1. (since I cannot edit) I forgot the 4WD/AWD bit in the last paragraph. What I meant to say was:

      (find me another car with an air cooled engine, 4WD or AWD, and cable brakes made after the 20s I dare you)

  10. I would never own any type of convertible roofed vehicle without a/c. In fact I probably would never own a vehicle without a/c now, seeing as I’m an old man who likes his comfort.
    But three years with a non a/c base Miata NC convinced me of it’s necessity as every time it rained the damn thing would fog up. And in the UK it rains a lot. We also buy more convertibles than anywhere else in Europe. Go figure.

  11. Ah, air conditioning. Something my fat ass can’t drive without during these sweltering humidity-filled Kentucky summers. My old ‘95 S10 that was our “third vehicle” got parked when its A/C quit. The compressor, already a replacement unit, sounded like a small airplane trying to take off. So, I knew it wasn’t long for this world. Soon after, all the refrigerant was gone and I got hot air blown in my face. Temporary fixes via AutoZone “recharge kits” never lasted long. The truck itself wasn’t worth the fix of a new system, so I got lucky in that I found someone to buy the truck and I just got rid of it.

    Found something else to tinker with as a third vehicle. My ‘90 Pontiac Sunbird. Thankfully, its original owner, an elderly lady, was very meticulous with maintenance and had its entire A/C system taken out and converted to R134a in late 2017. It is almost *too* cold and I love it.

    Best part? I take the car to car shows and cruise-ins (Because when’s the last time you saw a mint condition Pontiac Sunbird?) and sit in cool comfort when in traffic while leaving. Meanwhile, the dudes in their hopped up muscle cars sit and sweat.

  12. Depreciation only matters if you sell it. What are the odds you would sell your first new vehicle, the one you helped develop? Besides, very few vehicles depreciate less than Wranglers.

    Buy a new Wrangler. You really should own one vehicle that you can take on a date with a normal person. And that normal person will be happy it has AC.

  13. I think you need to find a Jeep to resto-mod. A nice up-to-date engine and transmission combo with just enough sensors and computers to make it work without making diagnostics require expensive equipment, bulletproof all the systems you can, do the body work right or pay someone to do it and then, when it’s all done, you’ll have a Jeep with the heart of a young Olympian but the wisdom and soul of an old man who’s seen it all. With the features you want and nothing you don’t. Sell your fleet off to make it happen and when this Jeep is done pack it up and drive somewhere out of Michigan. No preference on my part but anywhere that it won’t rot into the ground if you dare to drive it during winter. South, West, even a sea coast is better. It’s a very toxic environment up there for those old-timers and their thin sheet metal.

  14. The Ford Racing, er Ford Performance catalog offers an “a/c delete” package for Mustangs…it’s a replacement pulley mounted on a bolt-in pedestal.

    I’ve always wondered how many of them Ford sells, and if they’re bought exclusively for off-street racecars, or if there are actually people who removed their air conditioning system b/c stoplight drag racing and whathaveyou.

  15. Fun fact: My UPS driver is complaining about the transition from the multi-manufacturer “Package Cars” we all know to RAM delivery vehicles. The RAM rigs come equipped from the factory with A/C. UPS requires them to REMOVE THE A/C before sending them to be used!?! I’m sure it saves a few pennies. The RAMs are tiny vehicles and the drivers have to literally surf themselves over packages to get to the ones needed. And again, no AC! For the record, I live in f**king Arizona!

  16. My 2000 Wrangler is all manual except it does actually have A/C and I’m happy about it because even with the top off when it’s a really hot midwestern summer day with full humidity there’s only so much you can get from wind cooling, especially in stop and go traffic.

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