- Death wobble is a rapid oscillation of various steering system components that causes the steering wheel to move from side to side. It usually happens at highway speeds and comes out of nowhere.
- Modified suspension systems are prone to a death wobble, and anything bent or broken in the suspension and steering system can also result in a death wobble. Other causes of death wobble include worn tie rod ends, loose ball joints, and a damaged steering gear box.
- Death wobble is an extremely dangerous occurrence that increases your risk of getting into an accident. You can prevent death wobble by maintaining your vehicle well. The death wobble can happen to any type of vehicle, but there are reports claiming that it’s more likely to occur in Jeeps and 4x4s.
Imagine going on a road trip only to notice something odd with your vehicle’s handling.
Some might ignore this symptom if it only pops up once or twice. However, if you’re a responsible car owner, you’d be taking your vehicle to the nearest repair shop because this could easily turn out to be a death wobble.
What Is a Death Wobble?
Death wobble is a rapid oscillation of various steering system components that causes the steering wheel to move from side to side. The death wobble usually happens at highway speeds and comes out of nowhere.
A death wobble can be triggered when going over bumps or potholes, but there are a number of faulty parts in the steering and suspension system that can create the same issue.
You’re more likely to experience a death wobble when vibrations and other unusual movements can be felt through the dashboard and seats. This phenomenon also lasts for more than two seconds.
What Causes Death Wobble?
Modified suspension systems are prone to a death wobble, especially when these changes didn’t account for vehicle geometry and alignment.
Anything bent or broken in the suspension and steering system can also result in a death wobble. Here are some of the parts that could cause this problem.
Worn Tie Rod Ends
Tie rod ends connect the steering linkage to the steering knuckles and other components.
Outer tie rod ends are usually the first to wear out in a typical steering gear and parallelogram linkage followed by the inner tie rod ball-and-socket joints. This can happen within the first 60,000 miles (or more) a vehicle is driven.
Loose Ball Joints
Driving conditions, lubrication, and vehicle weight typically affect the service life of ball joints. Unfortunately, even with proper maintenance, ball joints can fail and create looseness in the suspension.
Loose ball joints can result in loud popping or squeaking noises, shimmy-type vibrations in the steering wheel, vehicle wandering, and excessive play in the steering wheel.
Damaged Steering Gear Box
The steering gear box transmits input from the driver to the steering linkage, which turns the wheels. Over time, the gear box can develop leaks and the case can crack, resulting in increased steering effort and excessive play in the steering wheel.
Damaged Track Bar
A damaged track bar might be unable to hold the axles in place, causing your vehicle to crab walk down the highway or make it difficult to control. You might also want to check the track bar ball joint for any existing issues.
Loose Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings let the wheels rotate while supporting the weight of the entire vehicle. They also control the positioning and rolling resistance of the wheels.
Wheel bearings can wear out after some time. This can result in unusual noises (humming, rumbling, growling, and grinding) at certain speeds, roughness and excessive play in the steering wheel, and pulling during braking.
Shock absorbers dampen and control the motion of the springs, preventing the vehicle from bouncing after hitting bumps.
Shocks are wear-and-tear components that need replacement after some time. Ride harshness, bottoming out on rough roads, and extended vehicle movement after driving on dips and rises are symptoms you need to watch out for.
Worn Control Arm Bushings
Control arm bushings let one end of the control arm pivot so that the axle or steering knuckle can travel vertically.
Once these bushings fail, you might notice a shimmy-type vibration from the steering wheel, which can quickly turn into a death wobble if left unaddressed.
Leaking or Bent Steering Damper
A steering damper works the same way as a shock absorber一it absorbs and dampens sudden motions in the steering linkage.
A broken steering damper can also result in a vibrating steering wheel.
Pitman Arm and Idler Arm
The pitman arm attaches the steering wheel to the steering gear and is most likely to fail after some time. The same goes with the idler arm, which sits on the other side of the vehicle from the pitman arm. Both parts can cause the death wobble.
The pitman arm attaches the steering wheel to the steering gear and is most likely to fail after some time.–Anthony Harlin, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician
Is Death Wobble Dangerous?
Death wobble is an extremely dangerous occurrence that increases your risk of getting into an accident.
It’s essentially an unsettling shimmy that can make you feel like you’re about to lose control of the steering wheel, which is already enough reason to panic.
If you feel like you’re experiencing a death wobble, it’s important to have a firm grip on the steering wheel. Try your best to slow down and pull over before coming to a complete stop.
You should also avoid making sudden movements like turning sharply or slamming on the brakes. Doing so can cause your vehicle to flip.
How to Prevent Death Wobble
Nothing beats a well-maintained vehicle. If you’re up to date on your vehicle’s maintenance tasks and check-ups, you’re less likely to experience a death wobble.
Jeeps and 4x4s: The Death Wobble Preys
The death wobble can happen to any type of vehicle, but there are reports claiming that it’s more likely to occur in Jeeps and 4x4s.
A case update in 2020 revealed that there were approximately 192,000 affected owners, and the number is expected to grow even more.
According to a statement by the US operating arm of FCA Stellantis, the death wobble isn’t a safety problem because there haven’t been any reports of related deaths and severe injuries.
Jeep representatives argued that the death wobble isn’t unique to their vehicles and that it could happen to models that have a solid front axle vehicle.
As of 2023, the class-action lawsuit might be nearing a settlement that includes warranty extensions and reimbursements.
Jeep limited warranties cover three years or 36,000 miles. According to the new proposition, affected models will be given an eight-year or 90,000-mile warranty that covers replacement parts and labor fees associated with a failed front suspension damper.
The proposed agreement will also result in FCA Stellantis-US paying attorney fees for plaintiffs that can cost up to $3.95M and $4,000 each for six class representatives.
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