The Jeep Death Wobble Explained

Wrangler owners should be acquainted with what's known as the “death wobble.” One minute you're driving down the highway when you hit a bump. Before you know it, your Wrangler in Canada becomes a shaking, wobbling liability and you're panicking about what to do.

Essentially, the “death wobble” a rapid oscillating in your steering components and results in your steering wheel moving very quickly from side to side. The term was coined by Jeep owners, and it specifically refers to when the front axle and steering components begin shifting back and forth aggressively, often while driving. Most often the death wobble strikes at higher speeds, and it usually has a trigger, such as running over a pothole. Despite the dramatic name, the reality is a lot less severe than it sounds.

Even though Jeep owners experience this phenomenon the most often, it's a problem inherent to all solid axle vehicles and can certainly make for some extremely tense driving if it surprises you on a highway, or in extreme weather conditions. One of the common myths about death wobble is that it doesn't happen to stock Jeeps, only ones that have been lifted. This is not true, however for the purposes of this guide we'll explain how Jeep owners can prevent it. 

What to Do in the Event of a Death Wobble

First and foremost, the safest thing to do is pull over. It's important not to let go of the steering wheel but maintain a light grip. The sudden, harsh steering wheel movements can cause damage to your fingers if you have a tight misplaced grip. Try to stay in the lane while slowing down, and in most situations if you slow down enough the wobble will stop. Other times coming to a complete stop is necessary. If you try to pull over while you are wobbling at a high speed it can be very dangerous and you could lose control.

If you carry a set of tools with you, your next move should be to check for any loose suspension bolts. Even if they weren't the cause, a case of the shakes can easily upset things. Sometimes tightening everything down can at least get you home for a proper garage diagnosis.

Preventative Measures for Death Wobbles

First, ensure the suspension and steering component bolts are tightened. Any looseness increases the likelihood of a death wobble scenario. This is an easy one that can be checked regularly.

After the bolts are firmly tight, turn your attention to the factory track bar. This is specifically designed to absorb force and keep the axle in place. However, over time the constant exerted force can warm the frame’s side bolt hole causing it to become loose and track bar bushings to wear out.

How can you test this? It helps to have a second pair of eyes. Turn the motor off but keep the vehicle in the “on” position so you can still use the steering wheel. Either you or your partner move the steering wheel and examine the axle beneath the car. The track bar ought to stay locked in place when you attempt to move it. If you see any sort of play in the track bar, you know there's a problem.

Next on the list are the tie rod and tie rod ends. This part of your Jeep is uniquely responsible for shaky driving. For this part you're going to need a jack to elevate the Jeep\s front end and instruct your partner start twisting the tires back and forth. You don't need to get under the vehicle for this part.

If the tie rod remains fixed in place yet  the ends wiggle slightly, you're looking at a replacement. Plus, if the tie rod itself is distorted – especially common for off-roading or particularly bumpy excursions – then definitely consider replacing it ASAP.

While you have it elevated, be sure to check the wheel bearings at the same time. Grab the tire with both hands and wiggle it around. If you can detect any sort of movement, the wheel bearings may very well be worn down and will need to be replaced.

Next, ball joints. Ball joints are a component of the front suspension of a car that allow your front wheels to move up and down independently and turn left or right together. If you discover the boots are damaged and you can visually notice grease leaking, you'll know a replacement is necessary. 

If you've already got the jeep jacked up to check the tie rods, you can similarly inspect the ball joints by applying pressure against the tire with a pry bar. Look for any movement or give in the joint, and if so then replace it.

Now you will be turning your attention to the control arms, and the control arm bushings. Once again, you will need to have the Jeep jacked up to get under the vehicle for a visual inspection. The function of the control arm is to guide the up-and-down movement of the Jeep's suspension, so what you are looking for is any cracks or fractures in the arm which can occur over time. A compromised control arm leads to excessive vibration and creates an overall jarring driving experience.

The bushings are the rubber pieces visible around the arm, and these can wear out over time as well. Even if the arm looks fine, swollen or damaged bushings can prevent it from working properly.

Lastly, this section is for the performance enthusiasts and customization pros. When installing suspension lifts or specialized suspension kits, be sure to schedule a front end alignment This will require an expert on 4×4 off-road vehicles to ensure it is done correctly, especially since Jeeps do not have an independent rear-end suspension.

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