Jeep Death Wobble
“Death Wobble” is the dangerous front end vibration that starts when one tire hits a groove or bump in the pavement somewhere around 40-50mph.
Death Wobble is quite possibly the worst downside to having a coil-sprung front suspension on a vehicle with a track bar. Jeep vehicles affected by this design are the 1984 - 2001 Jeep Cherokees, the 1993 and newer Jeep Grand Cherokees, and the 1997 and newer Jeep Wranglers.
Death Wobble can be extremely difficult to diagnose and fix because it is actually caused by “play” in the entire steering system as a whole, not by just one component. To diagnose and fix Death Wobble correctly, you or your mechanic needs to look for play everywhere in the steering and front suspension system. It’s very time consuming to find a Death Wobble fix, and can be downright dangerous while you are doing test drives.
First, start with an overall visual inspection. Spend awhile under the front end, visually inspecting each one of the steering components for shiny spots on steel, rubber, or polyurethane. Typically this shows that suspension components are moving around when they are not supposed to be. Pay CAREFUL attention to the track bar. The Track Bar is often the culprit. And, if any of your bolts are even the least bit loose, Death Wobble will appear, so check for looseness everywhere.
Here are some other steering components to check over for looseness or improper movement:
• Tie Rod ends (all four)
• Upper and Lower Ball joints
• Track Bar mounting bracket bolts
• Track Bar bushings
• Steering Box bolts
• Steering stabilizer
If you need replacement parts, check out our site DriveOffroad.com or request our free Jeep Parts Catalog.
If everything appears to be “normal” on the underside of your Jeep or Truck, and you’ve verified the bolt tightness on both ends of the track bar, the next thing to do is to start with a front end alignment, making sure that caster is set correctly as well as toe-in.
If your Jeep has a lifted suspension system, and the caster is not within factory specs, there are ways to bring the caster back within limits.
If your lifted suspension system has adjustable upper control arms, their length can be adjusted to provide the proper caster. Another method is to install adjustable offset upper ball joints.
While leaf sprung jeeps usually don’t deal with Death Wobble, tapered degree shims can be installed under the leaf springs to adjust the caster.
By the way, DO NOT let the alignment shop talk you into a four-wheel alignment. This is only useful on vehicles with independent rear suspension and since there are no adjustment points in the rear of a live-axle vehicle, you’re merely paying for a service that won’t help your problem.
Furthermore, if you have a lifted vehicle, make sure that the alignment shop knows the special specifications for lifted vehicles, and that they do NOT set it to the “default/stock” settings.
A good quality alignment shop familiar with lifted 4WD vehicles will know these settings.
If you are now certain that the front end alignment is set correctly, and that you have not replaced ANY other front end components recently (including tires or wheels) that may have caused the oscillation to begin, focus your efforts on the front track bar.
||The original factory track bar is completely ineffective in managing Death Wobble because it was designed to work with stock-sized tires and suspension. If you have more than 2 or 3 inches of lift, you have changed the angle of the track bar beyond its design limits. In addition, it will be too short and will push the axle out to the driver’s side.
Keep in mind, that another alignment is necessary after replacing ANY front end components, especially if Death Wobble still remains.
The next thing to check is your steering stabilizer. It is recommended that you replace the steering stabilizer at the same time as any other worn components that you find under the front end, as this “combination punch” is usually more effective than the change caused by each of the parts alone.
Death Wobble shakes EVERYTHING, and loosens up other components at the same time. I’ve found that replacing the stabilizer by itself often times doesn’t eliminate death wobble directly, but that it often helps with some other poor handling characteristics which cause Death Wobble (such as wandering) and a new one seems to tighten up the entire steering system.
Buy the stiffest steering stabilizer you can find. The weight and balance of your tires will overwhelm a weak stabilizer.
One last thing that can cause Death Wobble are worn hub bearings. If there is a little play in them, they MAY cause Death Wobble as well. Worn hub bearings are the most expensive to replace, and probably the least likely to be the ROOT of the problem.