The Jeep death wobble strikes at random.
One minute you’re driving down the highway in your Wrangler JK when you hit a bump. Suddenly, your Jeep becomes a shaking, wobbling mess.
Jeep drivers have said that it felt like the tires were coming off right there in the road. Experiencing death wobble can be a harrowing event, to say the least, but it helps to understand what causes it and what you can do to fix it.
What Is Death Wobble?
Death Wobble is a term coined by Jeep owners that means the front axle and steering components begin oscillating back-and-forth.
Typically, death wobble only strikes at higher speeds, and it usually has some kind of trigger.
What may have seemed like a perfectly normal bump in the road (a trivial obstacle for a vehicle renowned for its ability to travel off-road) seems to trigger a total catastrophe.
Though Jeep owners get the credit for the name “Death Wobble” it’s an affliction that can strike any solid front axle vehicle. These vehicles have a harder time simply hitting a bump and absorbing the shock, and thus any suspension problem is immediately noticeable. There are a variety of possibilities when it comes to what actually causes this to occur but typically includes loose or damaged front suspension/steering components.
The reality of death wobble, of course, is much more mundane than the name might lead you to believe. Yes, it is an issue, and yes, it can feel terrifying, but despite its terrifying name it rarely leads to any kind of catastrophe.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found only two accidents caused by death wobble between 2005-2010 despite close to 400 reports.
Keep your cool, and neither you nor your Jeep should die from the death wobble.
Which Jeeps are Affected?
Unfortunately, there aren't any Jeeps that seem to be immune to the death wobble. Every model from every year has reported death wobble incidents. Even if you leave your Wrangler “stock” you aren’t actually protected against the death wobble. Since the overall construction of the Jeep Wrangler hasn't really changed much over the years, it makes sense that the death wobble would continue to affect Wranglers, even the new JL and JK! At the end of the day, the death wobble comes for all.
What To Do When You Experience Death Wobble
This is a “when” and not an “if.” It’s best to prepare for the eventuality of death wobble happening at some point.
Keep a light grip on the steering wheel. As it shakes, it may be tempting to clamp down and hold on, but this can hurt your hands and won’t stop the wobble.
Slow down. Death wobble typically occurs at faster speeds, so slowing down sometimes helps reduce the wobbling.
Finally, the only thing you can really do is stop and pull over. It’s the safest option until you find out what’s causing the death wobble and address it.
How To Fix Jeep Death Wobble
Jeep death wobble is caused by damage to steering or suspension components. Fortunately, many of these you can see yourself without taking your Jeep to a shop.
First off, get under your Jeep and make sure nothing is bent or broken. Then, check some of these suspension and steering components for excessive damage or excessive wear to source the cause of your Jeep’s death wobble:
- All Bushings
- Front Track Bar
- Steering Stabilizer
- Drag Link
- Steering Knuckles
- Ball Joints
- Upper and Lower Control Arms
Front Track Bar
The first thing you should check is the front track bar. A loose or damaged front track bar is responsible for the majority of death wobbles.
Do a visual inspection of the mounting points and bushings and use a torque wrench to make sure that the bolts are at about 125 lbs/ft.
To check your ball joints, use a jack to lift your front wheel and then try to move the wheel with your hands. The amount of “give” should tell you whether or not the ball joint is bad. If bad, they will need to be replaced.
If it’s not your track bar or your ball joints, then you should check your tie rod. If you already jacked up your front tire to look at the ball joints, you’re in the perfect position to look at the tie rods.
Get a friend to move the wheel back and forth while you look at the tie rods. If the ends wiggle while the rod stays stationary then it’s time to consider replacement.
Worn wheel bearings can cause death wobbles. With your front tire still elevated, grab the tire at top and bottom and wiggle. If you feel a movement inside, or hear a clunking noise, then it’s probably a bad wheel bearing.
On top of those potential causes for your Jeep’s death wobble, other causes could include a poor alignment or improperly balanced tires.
One of these or a combination of multiple could be causing the infamous death wobble on your Jeep. Don’t fret, though! Work your way down the list and you’ll surely be able to find the cause and fix it.
The Side Effects Of Death Wobble
Another important factor to keep in mind is that if your Jeep has experienced death wobble and you may have fixed the cause, it is imperative that you check all of the other front suspension components. This is due to the fact that the violent oscillation that happens when death wobble occurs can cause other suspension and steering components to come loose - which will only exacerbate the issue.
For example, if the death wobble was sourced to a blown bushing in the front track bar, you could get that replaced and tightened back up properly. But depending on how bad the death wobble was, or how long it was left ignored, other bushings could have been damaged or bolts loosened. A loose bolt in a situation like this could be detrimental because it could oblong the mounting hole, thus never allowing a secure fit without repair.
Sources: NHTSA | Image/Media Credits: Project-JK.com, Rare Parts Inc.