As a popular brand of large, imposing SUVs that have genuine off-road capabilities, Jeep has serviced the needs of enthusiasts for decades with vehicles that truly embody the sense of adventure. Jeep enthusiasts swear by the rugged, functional, and sturdy vehicles that can take all manners of weather and terrain and remain undeterred. However, there are certain recurring issues that have also left Jeep owners curious and concerned.
While issues with cars are common, especially with SUVs being used off-road, there is one Jeep problem that has become so famous as to have achieved cult status.
Yes, we are talking about what is known in the Jeep customer circle as the “death wobble”. The term has been fondly coined by Jeep owners themselves to describe a situation where the car starts to wobble violently at high speeds completely at random.
Also affecting most Dodge/Chrysler/Ram models with a truck frame, the “death wobble” is a much-talked-about problem that has been around for almost a decade. Jeep owners are very much familiar with this issue.
So, what is this mysterious “death wobble”? Let us take a closer look at what it entails, how to prevent it, and what you can do when you experience it for the first time.
While faced mostly by Jeep Wrangler owners, wobbling at high speeds can theoretically affect any vehicle that has a solid front axle design. However, since most vehicles on the market do not use this kind of suspension setup, common perception usually links the problem with Jeep Wranglers.
To understand the wobble issue, you need to understand what triggers it. Typically, this issue only happens at speeds higher than about 45mph. In most cases, it also involves a situation where the suspension is at work, like hitting a pothole or bump on the road when you are at those speeds. Usually, after such an event, the steering components along with the front axle start wobbling uncontrollably.
The wobble can become so aggressive that you might feel like the front end of your Jeep is moving around on the road. It might feel like your steering wheel is moving quickly side to side, making it exceptionally difficult to control the vehicle. The only practical way to deal with this would be to slow down, often to a complete stop, before the wobbling subsides.
No Jeep owner is exempt, but this occurrence is not automatic either. Nonetheless, the Jeep is still an impressive vehicle and with some adjustments you can eliminate this from occurring.
Experiencing this wobble accompanied with the feeling of losing control of the vehicle can be emotionally straining for many drivers. However, the solution is to keep calm, hold your nerve, and start slowing down the vehicle until the problem disappears. It might be necessary to come to a complete stop at times.
To better deal with this situation, you need to understand what causes it. Along with the solid front axle design, it is also dependent on the height of your Jeep. In most cases, this complaint comes from drivers who have kept their Jeep at stock height. However, it can also happen if you have made modifications to the car to increase its height and ground clearance.
For vehicles that have been modified for increased height, the problem may arise from an issue with the drive shaft. With a misaligned drive shaft, the angle of the drive shaft between the front axle and the transfer case can put more strain than usual on the universal joints. As a result, the universal joints no longer run perfectly parallel to each other and lack synchronization. This can result in excessive vibration and cause wobble.
In vehicles that are stock height, one culprit can be the track bar in the front which is often held in place by bolts and bushings that come loose over time. This can cause vibration and wobble in the vehicle.
The issue can also come from the steering column. The heart of the matter is that vibration resulting from normal driving at higher speeds is meant to be absorbed by the body of the vehicle. In some cases, the frequency of the vibration becomes too much for the vehicle body to handle, resulting in the “death wobble”.
Since it is the steering and suspension systems in Jeeps that usually cause wobbling at higher speeds, you can do a few things yourself to ensure that these components are in proper condition if you have already experienced the issue. You need to check the following components for wear and tear, damage, and bending:
- Steering knuckles
- Ball joints
- Control arms (both lower and upper)
- Drag link
- Steering stabilizer
- Front track bar
A visual inspection of the front track bar is a great place to start as a loose track bar is often the starting point for the wobble. You can take a close look at all mounting points and make use of a torque wrench to ensure that all the bolts are locked in place with the proper force.
Next, you can use a jack to gradually lift your car and rotate your wheels to check the amount of free play. This can tell you if your ball joints have gone bad. At the same time, you can move the wheels back and forth and check the tie rod for potential problems.
The wobble can also be caused by wheel bearings that have worn out over time. By placing your hands on opposite sides of the tire/wheel and applying a shimmying motion, you may experience a juddering movement or a noise, indicating it may be time to replace your wheel bearings. Problems in tire balancing and tire alignment can also contribute to the wobble and need to be eliminated from the equation.
It is important to remember that one or more of these problems can happen at one time and contribute to the “death wobble”. Use a simple process of elimination to arrive at the source of the problem and deal with it.
After being exposed to a class-action lawsuit regarding the “death wobble”, Jeep’s parent company Fiat Chrysler has offered an official fix for the issue. The company will replace the steering damper or stabilizer of all affected vehicles with an upgraded unit that is better equipped to handle the vibrations arising from the front suspension setup.
This repair would be provided free of cost to all Jeep Wrangler owners. However, many have expressed skepticism about the fix, calling it a temporary solution that might not permanently fix the problem in the future.
Many Jeep drivers have experienced the “death wobble” and described it as a harrowing, emotionally draining experience. Losing control of a vehicle can also create major safety issues. For these important reasons, you need to know exactly how to handle yourself and your vehicle should you encounter the wobble issue at any time.
Step one and the most important, stay calm and avoid any kind of panic. While this might be a natural reaction for some, knowing about the problem in detail can help you process it rationally and avoid a panic reaction. It is also important to remember that even if you feel that you are losing control of your vehicle, your vehicle is, in fact, still going straight and not veering off-course.
Step two, put a firm grip on the steering wheel to ensure that you maintain control of the car during the wobble. The grip should not be so firm as to injure your hand due to aggressive swaying of the wheel yet firm enough to maintain confident control.
Step three, slow down or stop the vehicle gradually and safely with a controlled braking maneuver. Do not act overly aggressive on the brakes as this can complicate the issue. Instead, gradually apply braking pressure and try to steer your car slowly towards the side of the road. Remember to watch out for other traffic on the road and do this safely. Once the wobble disappears, you can go about the rest of your journey like before.
It is also a prudent idea to try to prevent this from happening. To do this, you can avoid the higher speeds where this tends to happen as much as you can. It is also an effective idea to slow down before turns, potholes, and bumps on the road as these are the things known to exacerbate the issue.
The “death wobble” is a common and well-documented issue that thousands of Jeep owners have experienced over the last decade. However, when you understand the root cause of the problem, it is a fairly simple issue that can be avoided and fixed if you know what to do.
For the best results, have your Jeep thoroughly checked out by the experts at Texas Truck Accessories after you have experienced the wobble in order to eliminate the possibility of damage to other parts of the Jeep and make sure you conduct the necessary repairs.