Autoweek explains: What is the 'death wobble'?

Solid-axle front suspension components.

The “Death Wobble”: you probably have heard that phrase before. It’s sometimes associated with the Jeep Wrangler, but it really can occur on any car with a solid front axle.

The inappropriately named death wobble — as far as we know, no one’s ever died from it — is basically a violent and rapid oscillation in a truck’s steering components that ultimately makes your steering wheel whip from side to side. It often starts off slow and builds and builds, and it can be scary if you don’t know what’s going on; it can feel like someone’s trying to rip the wheel from your hands.

If it occurs, you don’t want to let go of the wheel, but you don’t want to grip it tightly either. Hold it as steady as you can, slow down safely and pull over.

The wobble usually occurs at mid to higher speeds and usually is initiated by a bump in the road, though some folks have said a hard brake stomp will do it too. It can happen on cars with stock suspension, but seems to be more common on lifted cars.

FCA states that the wobble has been linked to “poorly installed or maintained aftermarket equipment, damaged or worn steering components and incorrect tire pressure.” Extreme Terrain (which, incidentally would be happy to sell you aftermarket Jeep parts) has a great breakdown of the phenomenon and generally agrees with FCA’s assesment,.

But it doesn’t just occur on modded Jeeps, and it also isn’t restricted to any model or year range. Jalopnik’s resident Jeep enthusiast David Tracy experienced the wobble in both his 1992 Jeep Cherokee and his 1948 Willys CJ-2A.

There are a number of components that need to be looked at after a death wobble. The general rule is that if you see something worn out in your suspension, it should be replaced. Extreme Terrain also notes that some drivers have “fixed” the problem with steering stabilizers —  basically a shock for your steering system — but that only masks the original fault.

To cure the wobble, you want to start by looking at the track bar (which provides lateral stabilization of the front axle) and its two anchoring points. The bar absorbs a ton of force that gets transfered to the frame; even if it’s in acceptable condition, the frame mount bolt can be the culprit. If you do get a wobble, and any of those mounting points are loose, the bolt holes could be enlarged, meaning that mounting point would need to be replaced as well as the mounting hardware.

Ball joints should be the next thing to check after a wobble. If the ball joint boot is broken and there’s no grease, you probably need a replacement. If the boot is intact, but there is movement between the joint and steering knuckle, it still needs to be replaced. Allowable ball joint play is in the millimeters, according to Extreme Terrain.

If that checks out, the tie-rod ends come next. To check that you have to lift the wheel and wiggle it, while a helper watches the tie-rod end and tie-rod. If there’s any play in the rod or the end, that could be the problem.

After tie rods there are the control arms and wheel bearings to check, along with the wheels, tires and alignment. Extreme Terrain also posits tests and fixes for all these things, which you can take a deeper dive into here. And check out a video of what it looks like inside and outside the vehicle here.

Again, the so-called death wobble is a problem that can crop up in any vehicle with a solid front axle. It’s one of the joys of owing a Jeep or other live axle-equipped truck, and it’s something dedicated Jeepers have known about for generations. With the growing popularity of the Wrangler as a daily driver and family-hauler, however, it was only a matter of time before it started catching owners off-guard.

The only surefire way to eliminate the possibility of the wobble would be to switch to independent front suspension (as the Mercedes-Benz G-class did recently), but that would dramatically change the character of the Wrangler. Instead, we’re urging you to make sure your suspension and steering components are up to spec — and if you do add a lift kit and other aftermarket parts, make sure they’re installed correctly.

Source: Read Full Article