Jeeping 102 – Death Wobble

It takes all of 5 minutes of perusing off-road forums or Facebook pages to find someone complaining about the infamous death wobble. I’ve seen folks ranting and raving about how Jeep needs to solve this problem and how it’s a major safety issue. Yes, it’s a safety issue, but no, Jeep doesn’t need to solve it. It’s what happens when a solid axle vehicle (part of what makes a Jeep the most capable off-road vehicle made) goes out of specifications due to wear or damage.

The reason I’ve picked this topic for this week is because this cantankerous common malady has come back once again to plague Lil’ Bruiser. It’s just started, but if left unchecked, can become a major problem. Death wobble (DW) is technically defined as “an uncontrolled self-perpetuating oscillation”. I define it as one of the scariest experiences had while driving, but if you take it step-by-step, fixing DW is not that hard.

death wobble 2

Step one, get a partner to help you, lay under the vehicle, and have your partner see-saw the steering wheel slowly back and forth. Watch closely at the steering components to see if something moves that shouldn’t. Pay special attention to the track bar ends, as these are one of the most common sources of DW. Next check the tie rod ends, the ball joints, the drag links, the steering box, the wheel bearings, the tire balance, and the alignment. You can visibly see wear on some of these items, others will need the expertise of a mechanic.

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HUGE DISCLAIMER!!! The source of death wobble is NEVER the steering stabilizer. A Jeep with all its components in good condition and in proper adjustment can run just fine without one. The steering stabilizer simply absorbs and covers what wobble does occur. This is why a new stabilizer can make DW disappear for a time but the new stabilizer will wear out quickly and the problem will return shortly.

death wobble 1

As for my problem, the upper end (frame side) of the track bar seems to have a wallowed out bolt hole and the bushing appears to be worn out and allowing movement. Only time and troubleshooting will tell if this is the true source of the issue. Death wobble can be a tricky problem, but by taking things step by step and using some good old common sense, it can be diagnosed and fixed properly.

7 thoughts on “Jeeping 102 – Death Wobble

  1. I think the main issue is that ‘regular mechanics’ don’t know too much about the death wobble, and usually try to throw a stabilizer at the problem. That’s what happened to me at least before taking my TJ to a 4WD shop. Drag link was my issue – and I’ll agree… at 70mph… DW one of the scariest experiences ever!

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  2. Great info,my friend! Thankfully my old (and much missed) XJ didn’t suffer DW,but we all know it was only a matter of time…..LOL 🙂

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