Ratchet straps, custom latches, glued on glass, welded-on sheetmetal — the list of MacGyvered solutions to the second-generation Jeep Liberty’s disastrous Sky Slider roof problem is enormous. Why? Because after thousands of people purchased a cool fabric roof for their off-road vehicle, in short order they found themselves high and dry (OK, not dry), with no replacement parts anywhere to be found.
The second-generation Jeep Liberty, internally coded as the “KK,” arrived in 2008 as the successor to the first-generation Liberty, the controversial Cherokee XJ-replacing “KJ” (you know, the round one that always looks happy). The KK was a boxy, bankruptcy era, hard-plastic-filled, underpowered Jeep considered by most as mediocre at best. It was decent off-road, and did have a couple of neat special editions, plus it offered one whiz-bang feature that nobody else had: A fabric sliding roof called the Sky Slider. It was genuinely cool at first, but within a few years, that nifty feature would become a seemingly unsolvable headache for many people who regretted ever having ticked that option box.
The Sky Slider opened up nearly three-quarters of the KK’s roof area via a motorized canvas cover that slid back or forward and folded itself, accordion-style. It was cleverly engineered with an obstacle-detection system to prevent the mechanism from jamming, and multi-position adjustability so occupants could decide how much sky to…slide.
The feature looked great, but many who bought a KK Liberty with the fabric top would now tell you that it totally wasn’t worth it.
Click the video above to see Sky Slider in action (it’s just a six second scene). You’ll notice how it opens from the rear, though in the image before it opens from the front. It was clever — when it worked.
Why Did It Become So Problematic?
When I say the Sky Slider became problematic, I don’t mean the concept itself; it’s awesome. I wish more manufacturers offered a unique sunroof option like it. (I know Land Rover offers a similar canvas top on the current Defender — and knowing their brand reputation, say a few prayers that it doesn’t fail).
No, the primary problem that plagues these Sky Sliders is that they all eventually fail. And it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. They were simply not built to last.
The shocking videos above, posted by Ryan Nicolosi, whose Liberty was turned into a veritable rain forest due to Jeep’s faulty Sky Slider design, should drive home what the problem is.
The number of Jeep Liberty owners with broken Sky Slider roofs is astronomical. In fact, every single model year that Jeep offered the Liberty Sky Slider, 2008-2012, has loads of complaints from customers to the U.S. government’s vehicle safety organization, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). One owner writes that their Sky Slider just… fell off:
“Millions of people are experiencing this issue all around. It failed me right away! After on (sic) incident when I was driving on highway the Sky Slider just came off!!! It almost caused multply (sic) accidents!” reads the complaint from Brooklyn.
Another Liberty owner complains that their Sky Slider came off the tracks, wouldn’t close, leaked, and also almost fell off:
“Skyslider roof unhinges off track and leaks terribly. Almost blew off on highway while driving 65 mph. Cannot be put back on track,” the complaint from Poughkeepsie states.
Sky Sliders were even reportedly ailing Liberties that have under 50,000 miles on them — that’s pretty sad. This owner writes that theirs failed at 44,000 miles:
“The contact had to forcefully shut the roof after the cables disconnected from the guide rails with the convertible sun roof,” the complaint reads, before going on: “The contact called Rothrock Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, but the parts were too hard to obtain so they did not want to attempt to make any repairs.”
These complaints were only from the 2011 model year, but if you go through the other years, you’ll find similar ones detailing the same issues.
There’s also a Facebook group titled Jeep Sky Slider Roof Problems.” It documents the many issues Liberty owners have been facing with their Sky Sliders. The cover picture is a stained headliner, damaged by water leaking through the roof:
I’m not entirely sure how much it costs to repair or replace a headliner, but I imagine it’s not a cheap or easy job. Also, I’d be worried about mold or bacteria growing beneath the fabric. Not exactly the best thing to breathe in. At least you can open the sunroof for some air, oh wait…
Repair? Parts? Nope. Good Luck!
[Editor’s Note: I wanted to get an idea for how exactly Sky Slider roofs fail, so I did a little digging.
The video above shows the basic mechanical setup (just watch the 30 seconds starting where the clip above begins). There’s a pair of motors and some cable-driven transmissions that pull the fabric top (which is stiffened by some cross-bars) along a track. Various metal and plastic pins and levers are responsible for making sure the Sky Slider glides along the track and locks into place when open/shut.
As I understand, either parts of the track break, the motor fails, or — perhaps most common — the cable itself strips. No, it doesn’t break, it strips. How? Well, the cable is a special “flexible rack” style cable, meaning it acts as a rack (like a steering rack) while the electric motor spins a “pinion.” As the motor (forward or reverse, i.e. open or close) spins, it rotates its pinion gear, which rides along the cable.
I asked member of the aforementioned Jeep Sky Slider Roof Problems Facebook page, Jeepz Organics, to help me understand why these roofs fail, and he sent me the photo below showing the motors and controllers. The gear on the bottom left runs along an aforementioned cable (“flexible rack”):
Jeepz Organics also showed me these images below, which, though a bit dark, show the cables that pull the Sky Slider along the track; the cables are tripped, Jeepz Organics told me, and can thus no longer act as flexible racks that move the roof:
Here’s a screenshot of the cable all bunched up, causing the Sky Slider to fail:
I asked Jeepz Organics what exactly is going on. Here’s what they told me:
The cable is just a helix cable [representing] the length of top that a motor moves with a gear, and often times the cable strips out. It has to overcome way too much leverage to move the top from the rear to the front.The forces on that top are just too great while open for the under engineered track assy
What do you do when your Sky Slider fails? Do you place a brick on the accelerator of your Liberty and drive it into a lake? Do you scrap it? You can move to Yuma, Arizona, the driest city in the United States, and drive your Liberty around with a broken, but open Sky Slider without fearing any incoming rain.
Finding a replacement top for your Liberty will be, well, difficult. The part was discontinued by Chrysler, officially. Searching the part number 68055315AF brings you to Chrysler’s factory parts page where it’s currently unavailable and will be, well, forever.
I particularly like the excessive usage of exclamation marks after the “NOT FOR SALE” statement. It shows the dire situation at hand with the Sky Slider. Chrysler really wants you to know you’re flat out of luck.
So you can’t buy an OEM replacement top from Chrysler. But what about a secondary parts source? Another quick Google search brings you to MoparPartsGiant, which states about Sky Slider bits: “This part is discontinued.”
However, Chrysler Dodge Jeep of McKinney, Texas, seems to have an assembly in stock! It can be yours for $1320.90, discounted from the original price of $1985.00.
That’s right, a nearly $2,000 part for an old Jeep that’s maybe worth $7,000. Oh, don’t forget to throw in another $2,000-$3,000 in labor costs to install a new Sky Slider. That’s a lot for most individuals to spend on unnecessary features. Sky Slider Liberty owners seem to agree and have creatively developed temporary fixes and solutions, as I will now share.
Solutions (Sort Of)
Digging into Youtube, Reddit subthreads, Facebook Groups, and forums brings a handful of different methods Liberty owners have resorted to to “repair” their broken Sky Sliders. One man in Mexico had a bunch of parts custom-made out of aluminum:
One owner, The World as Seen by Tom on Youtube, installed window clamp screws into the runner of his Sky Slider, permanently securing the front of the top to the rails and frame of the roof.
Another solution is to buy a sheet of polycarbonate plastic and insert it into the rails where the old canvas top would have been. This eliminates the Sky Slider top entirely and is a much cheaper option. However, polycarbonate is still not cheap, costing around $500 depending on the sheet size. Additionally, now your Liberty has a giant fixed piece of thin glass without a shade. This is exactly what Liberty owner Brian Halbasch did on his daughter’s Jeep:
Some folks have used tinted glass as a solution. Leigh Hazelbaker, for example, posted these images of her Jeep’s new lid:
Leigh told The Autopian’s Editor-in-Chief David Tracy a bit about her situation:
Yes it’s a mind bender that Jeep knew of this issue, stopped producing the sky slider yet also stopped producing the parts. The dealer offered me no solutions and if it wasn’t for this FB page, I wouldn’t have found this workable solution. I hope you will be including the various solutions to the problem because at this point, that’s what really matters.
This job was apparently done by Liberty Auto Glass Plus out of Bailey, NC (talk about an appropriate name for a business — no, they don’t just do Jeep Liberties). Jerald Wilks also used this shop, and with nice results:
In case you don’t want to watch those long videos above, here’s a screengrab showing the dire situation — the Liberty owner had to buy an entire Jeep Liberty top section, chopped off at the pillars!:
Here’s a look at Liberty owner Dustin Glenn’s welding work (he tack welded it because thin sheetmetal gets too hot if he lays down a continuous bead, and thus can warp, so he alternates between various parts of the roof with small tacks until it’s completely welded). Presumably Glenn ground the welds nice and flat, then painted over top, though I don’t have an “after” photo:
But fixes get much, much more creative than that. The aforementioned user named Jeepz Organics installed some Jeep Wrangler-Style latches for their roof solution
The setup is rather elegant, with the entire latch mechanism attaching to the Sky Slider above the headliner, out of line of sight:
Perhaps less elegant, but still effective is this ratchet strap fix by Facebook page member Thomas Moore:
Then there’s Esau Gonzalez from Mexico, who had his broken Sky Slider parts custom-made out of what appears to be aluminum:
However, among the impressive MacGyvers is one true hero, and his name is Mikey Siddons, owner of A&B Upholstery in Baldwin, New York — a man who personally specializes in fixing the broken soft tops that plague these vehicles. He says that he has fixed “well over a hundred of these sky slider systems” and if parts are unavailable (hint, they are!) he “fabricates and modifies them to work with no problems.”
Although not particularly cheap, around $1,700, Sky Slider owners are extremely satisfied with the work that Mikey puts into their Jeeps. I found this Liberty owner who traveled all the way from Florida just to get her Sky Slider fixed. Now that’s dedication!
We’ve reached out to Mikey to learn more about what he does, but haven’t heard back. In any case, he seems to be, according to that Facebook group, the only outfit in the entire U.S. that can fix these Liberty Sky Sliders.
What a shame that Jeep designed this roof so poorly, and what a shame the brand discontinued a part that was inevitably going to break, abandoning all customers who have broken Sky Sliders that leak water into their vehicles. But ingenious fixes and heroes like Mikey turn this story into a positive one — a display of human resourcefulness.
My best advice? Skip buying a Liberty. Oh, and one with a Sky Slider too. It’s not worth the hassle. Buy yourself an old YJ Wrangler and take the top off of that. Although you might run into other problems … Just Empty Every Pocket, they say.
This story included reporting assistance by David Tracy.
- I May Have Trapped Jason In An Incidental ‘Cask of Amontillado’ Type Deal – Tales From The Slack
- The BMW M240ixDrive Is A Junior 6 Series That Doesn’t Need An M Badge To Be Great
- The Autopian Announces A New Membership Tier For The Cheap Bastards Among You: Cloth
- The Second-Generation Buick LaCrosse Marked A Rebirth For Buick: GM Hit Or Miss