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Jeep Death Wobble: Everything You Need to Know for Wranglers and More!

lifted jeep wrangler that has issue with death wobble

If you have a Jeep, you have probably experienced what is known as the ‘Jeep death wobble.’ One minute you are on a sunset drive back home, and the next, your vehicle starts to shake uncontrollably.

If you have not experienced it, sadly, the rumors are true. Though it is rare, it has affected over 600 drivers in the past 20 years. The sensation is a violent and uncontrollable shaking of the steering wheel moving quickly that is frightening and overwhelming.

It feels like you can wreck at any second as vibrations move through the steering column, and the wobble has unfortunately made many people give up their Jeeps or trade in for other makes and models. Sadly, most people don’t know that this problem could follow you if you buy any 4×4 or truck that has solid axles.

The information below explores some of the causes of the jeep’s death wobble. Additionally, it outlines the steps you should take to survive the death wobble. Finally, you can learn what measures to take to fix it and if the manufacturer can help.

So, let’s start at the beginning by answering:

What Is the Death Wobble?

‘Death wobble’ is a phrase forged by Jeep owners because of how often it happened in Jeeps, particularly on the Jeep Wrangler. The death wobble is when your Jeep starts to shake uncontrollably. The vehicle shakes violently from the steering wheel to the tires. The steering wheel moves side to side, making the driver experience a loss of control.

Additionally, the wheels vibrate from side to side, violently shaking the car. This makes the vehicle hard to control. From an outsider’s perspective, the car looks like a shopping cart with a bad wheel.

The death wobble often occurs in Jeeps, trucks, and 4wd vehicles. It can happen at any speed but is most dangerous at highway speeds. Most drivers experience the death wobble at speeds above 40 miles per hour.

What Causes the Death Wobble?

The death wobble is caused by one or a combination of loose or damaged steering or suspension components. It could also be because you or an auto mechanic incorrectly installed the steering components or suspension system components such as the: tie rod ends, tie rods, wheel bearing, or an improper alignment.

The most common culprit is the process of modifying four-wheel-drive vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler JK. People add lift kits with taller and stronger springs plus aftermarket suspension components to make their entire vehicle look different from stock jeeps. These lift kits can make the vehicle easier to drive through rugged terrain but, unfortunately, causes the death wobble.

If your Jeep has been lifted or a lift kit added to your Jeep Wrangler it is also more likely to have death wobble because the suspension geometry has changed. This combined with the fact that the Jeep Wrangler comes with a solid front axle make it highly likely that you will experience death wobble in the near future.

straight axle on a lifted jeep wrangler that is having issues with death wobble

Other issues that cause the death wobble include:

●     Tire Balance and Pressure

Under inflation, over-inflation, and uneven air pressure in the tires can all trigger the death wobble. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to check tire pressure, so it is more common than you would think. Unbalanced tires are also a problem. Tires’ weight proportions change with wearing, and this makes them imbalanced. The imbalance triggers the death wobble when on the front wheels. Another cause could be unbalanced wheels so if you have your tires or wheels changed take them to a professional tire shop that can perform a dynamic balance on the set.

●     Alignment

Improper steering alignment can also cause the death wobble. Over time, the steering parts wear, causing them to bend, loosen, and even break. Modifications such as lift kits change the geometry of the front suspension which means that you need to take your vehicle to a local alignment shop. If your alignment is not correct it can, unfortunately, contribute to the death wobble, especially at higher speeds.

●     Front Track Bar

front track bar on Jeep that causes death wobble

One cannot overstate the importance of the track bar and its condition to the steering and suspension components. The track bar locates the front axle under the vehicle and established proper suspension geometry. It attaches to one end of the frame, opposite to the axle. This positioning makes it susceptible to significant loads during the steering and suspension cycle. Bolts, bushings, bracket welds, and mounting holes in the track bar can all sustain damage, causing them to vibrate and send these oscillations that become the death wobble.

●     Tie Rods and Tie Rod Ends

The tie rod connects the steering knuckles. It also transfers input from the drag link to the wheels. Switching to large off-road tires will increase stress on the factory tie rod. When the tie rod bends or wears, it causes the death wobble.

●     Ball Joints

worn tie rod ends and ball joints on jeep wrangler that causes death wobble

The ball joints are the privet between the steering wheel knuckles and the vehicle’s suspension. They also handle load and force from vehicle movement. Therefore, when the ball joints wear out, they cause violent and uncontrolled movement of the tires. Using larger wheels and tires can cause wrecked ball joints so if you choose these tires, get ball joint replacements too.

●     Steering Damper

The steering damper or steering stabilizer absorbs unwanted secondary vibrations that trigger the death wobble. When your damper wears out or receives force from larger wheels, it places unwanted pressure on your dampers, leading to the death wobble. However, it is necessary to note that it does not correct death wobbling, but is more of a band aid to the issue. But, check it regularly as part of your routine maintenance to ensure that it is not the problem as a bad steering damper can lead to more damaged steering components.

●     Excessive Wear

If you have been experiencing death wobble for any extended period of time you are at a higher risk of it occurring again. Excessive wear on the mounting bolts of any of the suspension components can be a cause as well as any bent or broken components. The mounting points also need to be checked to be sure they have not broken loose from the frame or have excessive wear. Worn shocks allow for shaking throughout the entire Jeep as well as a worn wheel bearing.

But the death wobble does not occur spontaneously. It requires a trigger such as hitting a bump or pothole. Additionally, the death wobble does not only affect Jeeps. It can affect other vehicles with a solid front axle vehicle. This is because solid font axle vehicles have a hard time absorbing the shock after hitting a bump.

The death wobble looks and feels terrifying because you can lose control of your vehicle. It’s an issue, but it rarely leads to catastrophe. No deaths have been reported due to the Jeep death wobble. However, there have been at least five injuries and a couple of accidents.

The violent shaking could trigger an anxiety or panic attack, making it hard to deescalate the situation. So, it is necessary to learn how to handle and fix the problem.

What Jeeps Have the Death Wobble?

Unfortunately, it seems that all Jeeps are susceptible to the death wobble. Every model from each year has reported incidents of the death wobble. The Jeep Wrangler is the most affected. And since the design has not changed in recent years, drivers still report incidents of the death wobble. However, modified Jeeps are more likely to experience the death wobble.

How Common Is the Jeep Death Wobble?

Because of its signature name, you may think that the wobble happens to Jeeps all the time. Additionally, the class-action suit against the company would further paint it as an occurrence that affects everyone with a Jeep. Luckily, this is not the case.

Despite its scary name, the Jeep death wobble does not occur as often as you think. Since the first reported case in 1995, there have been less than 700 people that have reported that they experience death wobble. It sounds like many reports, but it does not compare, considering how many Jeeps are on the road.

For example, 2020 records over 200,000 new Jeeps sold, meaning that there are millions on the road. Therefore, the Jeep death wobble is not as common. But just because it has never happened to you does not mean that it won’t.

The wobble has not been responsible to cause death yet. Despite its name, it has resulted in zero deaths. What’s even more surprising is that the wobble does not ruin the Jeep. The wobble happens because something needs fixing. And you have to correct it because it is a serious issue.

What to Do When the Death Wobble Occurs

First, you need to wrap your head around the fact that this is a ‘when’ instead of an ‘if’ situation. You need to prepare yourself for when the vehicle goes into a death wobble because it will likely happen.

When the wobble happens, the safest thing to do is slow down and pull over. Do not release the steering wheel because this could cause more uncontrolled movements and increase the chances of causing an accident if you do. Instead keep a light grip on the wheel while slowing decreasing your speed and you can survive the dreaded death wobble.

Note that the violent steering wheel movement may injure your fingers if you grip it too tightly. Therefore, lighten your grip. Also, put your hands in a learner’s position (10 and 2) as a misplaced grip can also injure your fingers.

Try to stay in the lane as you slowly decelerate. Slowing down will stop the wobble in most cases. However, if it does not, safely come to a complete stop to avoid causing an accident. Speeding up a little could also help because a change in speed often stops the wobble.

Do not try to pull over with a wobble at high speed. You will likely cause more damage and risk wrecking the car. Additionally, avoid moving into different lanes and other sudden movements. These motions can cause the vehicle to flip during the wobble.

How to Prevent the Death Wobble?

Now that you know what the death wobble is, you should prevent it. Luckily, you can do several things to lower the chances of getting caught in a death wobble.

Hire a professional and experienced mechanic

If you do not have any experience fixing vehicles, do not modify your car’s suspension parts and steering parts. Similarly, do not accept mechanical help unless it’s from someone with experience.

There are multiple things you can DIY on your vehicle, but this is not one of them. Therefore, if you need any modifications done, go to an experienced mechanic to handle the transition. Ensure that they understand your request and have accomplished it before.

Additionally, an experienced mechanic will help keep your car in excellent condition. A well-maintained vehicle is less likely to get into a death wobble. Therefore, ensure that your car receives servicing as regularly as recommended.

Likewise, if you notice anything weird or broken with your car, ensure that you visit your mechanic to fix it.

Always maintain proper tire pressure and balance.

One of the triggers of the death wobble jeep is a problem with the tires—specifically, unbalanced tire pressures, over-inflation, and under-inflation. Slow punctures or other underlying conditions in your tires can be a driver’s nightmare. Learn how to check tire pressure, then check your tire pressure regularly.

And while you are at the shop, get your tires balanced. As tires wear, their weight and proportions change. Uneven tread wear causes your tires to lose uniformity and shape, which can also be a cause.

Balancing and rotating tires during each oil change helps to gradually balance out uneven wear. Additionally, it helps with tire wear.

Align your wheels to keep a straight steering wheel.

And while the mechanic is focusing on the wheels, ask for wheel alignment. Wheel alignment does not necessarily put your Jeep Wrangler in a death wobble. However, it could amplify or trigger it when you hit a bump. Always ask your mechanic to align your wheels during servicing and inspection.

Inspect your suspension system to prevent death wobble jeep

As mentioned before, a fault in the suspension system can cause the death wobble. It especially occurs in the front track bar, drag link, and ball joints. It could also be the upper and lower control arms and suspension bushings.

Therefore, you should inspect your suspension system for signs of wear, damage, and other inconsistencies. If you notice anything bent or broken parts in your suspension system, go to your mechanic for replacements.

How Do You Fix Death Wobble on A Jeep Wrangler?

Fixing the issue on a Jeep requires the careful eye of a mechanic. This is because you first need to find out what caused the wobble, and as mentioned, it could be many things. However, you could rule out the simple stuff first. Death wobble typically occurs when you hit a bump so a temporary solution, until you get to a mechanic, is to avoid any bump that may be in the road if possible.

For example, check your front track bar and the adjoining components. Check for wear, bends, and other types of damage. Many times you will need replacements for worn-out suspension and steering components.

You can also check tire pressure. And if you cannot find the cause, visit your mechanic for diagnosis. Note when and how the wobble occurs because accurate information will help the mechanic identify the problem.

You can also ask your mechanic for a new steering stabilizer. It is not a lasting solution, but it can reduce the chances of the Jeep death wobble. If you have had any modifications done, let your mechanic check them to ensure they are not causing the vibrations and shaking of the steering wheel.

But as stated above, you may not have to give up your modifications. You just need replacements that can handle the new load.

Will Jeep Fix the Death Wobble For Free?

In 2019, the Detroit Free Press ran a report stating that Jeep will offer a Wrangler death wobble fix, free to Jeep owners. The company will replace the steering damper with a new component to mitigate vibrations from the front suspension, and potentially prevent the event from occurring.

This came after wrangler owners filed a class-action lawsuit against Jeep’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, claiming that the company knew about the issue but did not warn potential buyers. However, as stated, the steering damper may not cause the Jeep death wobble in every case. Therefore, vehicle owners may still face the problem if the cause is something else. Regardless you should contact your local dealer to find out if you could get this looked at for zero cost to you. Even in 2020 they are still being sued over this issue. [1]

Final Thought

Just because the Jeep death wobble has not killed anyone does not mean that you should postpone fixing your Jeep. It has caused numerous accidents, and it could land you in trouble too if the accident is deemed to be your fault. Therefore, you must find the culprit and get it fixed.

As for cost, expect to spend anywhere between $60 and $900 to remedy a Jeep death wobble. The price depends on the repairs or replacements you need. Additionally, conjoining replacements add to the cost.

After you resolve the issue, ensure that your mechanic checks the other suspension and steering components. This ensures that everything runs smoothly, and you are less susceptible to the Jeep death wobble.

Jeep drivers are passionate and devoted to the vehicles, so the death wobble comes as a shock too many owners. However, the name is just an incorrect interpretation, so you don’t have to give up your vehicle. Just keep your Jeep well-serviced to ensure that you are not contributing to the problem. If you still have a concern on if your Jeep is Safe to drive read this article to find out more about Jeep safety.

 

[1]https://www.classaction.org/news/fca-us-sued-again-over-alleged-death-wobble-defect-in-certain-jeep-vehicles

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