Jeep Grand Cherokee Scanned P1281 Fault CodeAugust 15, 2009 9:01 am Apprentice Tech, DIY, How To Auto Repair, Jeep, Service Writer
2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0 Liter Engine with a P1281 Code.
This automotive repair article is on a specific check engine light code for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. When scanned with an automotive scan tool, a P1281 fault code was retrieved. The code has to do with the engine not reaching operating temperature within a certain length of time after the vehicle has been started. For the catalytic converter to operate at it’s best the engine needs to reach it’s normal operating temp. The cooling system’s thermostat normally stays closed when the engine is cold, allowing the motor to warm up quickly. That’s why the trick of removing the thermostat to let the car run cooler, like back in the 1970’s (prior to on-board computers) doesn’t work well anymore.
Back to repairing this specific vehicle. In most cases, a P1281 fault code like the one that caused this CEL (Check Engine Light) to come on; means that the thermostat is either stuck open, or that it has simply fallen apart. In either case it is no longer capable of closing and it cannot stop the flow of anti-freeze throughout the cooling system. This keeps the engine from reaching the normal temperature range within the expected time-frame. When the optimal range is not obtained, the fuel mixture will be too rich, the fuel doesn’t burn as well and catalytic converters aren’t as efficient. Other things can even be affected like the transmission shift points. Shift points may take longer to reach, making the engine wind out more to warm it up sooner. This thermostat is an easy one to change. As can be seen in the image above, the thermostat came out in pieces. Before installing a new thermostat, the old gasket material must be cleaned one of two ways. 1. With a gasket scraper (old school). or 2. A roloc type scotch grinding disc and a 90 degree die grinder. Most gaskets for this application have self adhesive backings to help hold them in place. If the gasket doesn’t have adhesive, a little 3M glue can be used to hold everything in place until the bolts can be secured. One mistake made by beginners and by professional techs that get into too much of a hurry, is to allow the replacement t-stat to fall out of the recess while installing it. If the thermostat housing is tightened up with the thermostat out of position, the housing can be cracked easily. Other than that, it is a pretty straight forward job. After replacing the thermostat, a Lisle coolant funnel can be used to help burp the air out of the cooling system and fill the over-flow reservoir. Once that is done it’s time to clear the code with a scan tool or code reader.
Question: Is there anything else that could throw a P1281 fault code?
Answer: In most cases it will be due to a bad thermostat, but yes. A faulty temperature sending unit could possibly fool the computer into thinking that the engine did not warm up properly. They have this one worked out pretty well though. The computer is likely to get suspicious of an engine that has been running 20 minutes and still hasn’t reached normal operating temperature.
More about suspected false readings from gauges.
When I suspected a false temperature reading, I would always check with my Genisys scan tool and monitor the data screen. Sometimes there will be two sensors, one for the gauge and one for the computer. I would compare the reading on the data screen and the temperature on the car’s gauge. These readings should be about the same, so if there is a huge difference in the readings then, one is most likely faulty or the gauge itself could be reading inaccurately.
Question: I’m a service writer and many times when I try to get a thermostat covered under an aftermarket warranty the claim is denied. What is the best way to describe the cause and correction to have the best chance of getting this covered?
Answer: I would write this up the following way to provide the information the warranty company needs to make their decision.
Concern: Customer states the CEL (Check Engine Light) is on.
Cause: Scanned P1281, thermostat malfunction indicated. Engine takes too long to reach operating temperature. Verified the thermostat is stuck in the open position – vehicle has no impact damage or aftermarket modifications.
Correction: Installed replacement t-stat and replenished coolant. Cleared code and retested to verify repair and correct concern.