So your Jeep decided to start throwing a fit and began violently shaking on the road. In kids we call this a tantrum but in your Jeep we call it Death Wobble. While serious and important to deal with promptly, death wobble causes are easily identifiable with a large crowd of support from people who’ve “been there before.”
What is death wobble and why does it happen? Death wobble is a problem occurring in the suspension or steering of your vehicle due to broken or worn out parts such as track bars, control arms, ball joints, etc. It is often triggered by hitting a bump or reaching higher speeds. Often, alterations to a vehicles stock suspension or steering will introduce this problem.
However that does not mean a stock car, SUV, or truck cannot have this issue from worn or broken parts. Because of the extensive modifications known to exist in the Jeep Wrangler world, the term death wobble is most often associated within the Wrangler or Jeep family community.
Nailing down the specific component or cause of a vehicle’s death wobble can take some time and general knowledge of what you are looking at. However, with the details and schematics outlined below, you should be able to nail down the source of the issue and have a confident path forward to a solution.
Prime Suspects that Cause Death Wobble
As stated earlier, due to the extensive aftermarket upgrades known to the Jeep community and off road enthusiasts, alterations to stock suspension are common and prevalent.
A vehicles suspension is a vital part to how the car handles and operates both on and off road and requires a detailed knowledge of what you are doing when you change or alter it. While suspension is known for giving a Jeep lift primarily, the functions of a vehicles suspension are much more in depth and should be understood before any changes are made.
Death Wobble occurs when your vehicle’s suspension becomes incapable of absorbing the vibrations caused by driving. Each component serves a purpose and works together to ensure that your Jeep can safely absorb and disperse bumps and vibrations whether on or off road.
If one piece is faulty or installed incorrectly, the vibrations can be amplified and cause your vehicle to shake and wobble uncontrollably. This is why often times, a drastic bump or pot hole in the road can start the wobble out of nowhere and also why speed can only amplify the issue. The safest thing to do is to pull over and stop driving if you suddenly feel your vehicle violently shaking.
After getting your Jeep safely home or to a convenient location, the first step to resolving your death wobble will involve you making a thorough visual inspection of your suspension and steering components. You want to look for loose or broken parts and ensure everything is connected properly. Below is a list of the main suspension and steering components you will want to check and inspect for damage:
- Lower Control Arms
- Upper Control Arms
- Tie Rod/Drag Link
- Track Bar
- Suspension Bushings
- Steering Knuckles
- Pitman Arm
While it is most like not the cause of your issue, unbalanced tires can amplify a death wobble. So always make sure you have your tires rotated and balanced per the suggested frequency of your vehicle.
Death Wobble or Something Else?
Before attempting to resolve or fix any problem, it’s important to properly diagnose the issue you are having. Especially when it comes to working on cars, there are several problems that display similar symptoms but require much different methods of correction.
With that in mind, one common mistake people make is confusing death wobble with bump steer when the two are truly very different. Both have to do with the suspension of your vehicle and or incorrectly attempting to lift or change that suspension.
Bump steer is what happens when you are driving along, hit a bump or something similar, and your Jeep changes direction similar to driving through a bump and having someone yank on your steering wheel. It isn’t an oscillation that turns violent like death wobble.
While bump steer is not necessarily as dangerous and urgent as death wobble, any problem you are experiencing with your suspension or steering needs to be addressed.
Ultimately, to solve this issue, you need to get underneath your Jeep and inspect your steering components, looking for bent or broken components. Try checking that your track bar and drag link are as parallel as possible. Chances are, if they aren’t, that is causing your bump steer.
How to Inspect Your Suspension and Steering Components
Knowing the different components that might be causing your death wobble doesn’t help if you don’t know what you are looking for when inspecting these pieces.
We’ll start with looking at the upper and lower control arms. Ultimately, these are pretty easy to inspect as what you are looking for is to make sure there are no obvious bends or cracks in them.
Also, be sure to look at the bushings and make sure they are good shape and not worn or loose. Whether or not this is your issue, switching out your bushings is always a cheap upgrade and worth doing at some point.
When checking your tie rod/drag link, lift one tire at a time off the ground with a jack. Find someone to wiggle the tire back and forth. If the tie rod doesn’t move, but the ends seem to wiggle, your tie rod ends are worn out and need replacement.
Be sure to inspect the rubber boots for cracks and wear and see if those need replacing. If the actual tie rod is bent then that is a for sure replacement. This might not be the cause of the death wobble but it can make it worse and lead to other problems.
Your Jeeps track bar is a piece that is designed to take a lot of abuse. The first thing you want to check is for loose bolt connections. Track bar bolts require around 125 lb/ft torque. If it is noticeably loose, then immediately have it torqued to spec if it hasn’t yet caused damage to the bolt hole.
If the bolt hole has become distorted, it would be good to invest in a new track bar. Aftermarket track bars are known to be substantially tougher than factory bars, so be sure to check for bends or distortions in your track bar.
Checking the knuckles or ball joints for damage is essential. Ball joints connect the steering knuckle to the axle. Sometime ball joint boots get damaged and cause the grease to leak out. If this is the case, there is probably some movement in the ball joint and in which case it needs to be replaced.
With your Pitman arm and suspension bushings, you want to look for loose play, cracks, and any sign of excessive wear. Your bushings are a cheap fix and are worth replacing regardless.
Can I Fix Death Wobble at Home by Myself?
When it comes down to it, whether or not your can fix your death wobble at home by yourself comes down to you. If you are comfortable around cars and familiar with what you are doing, most of these fixes can be done by yourself. It never hurts to have a friends help however.
Owning a Jeep tends to turn people into mechanics. If you have never dealt with cars before but want to learn, then I suggest having someone you trust help you out and show you how to do what they are doing. In this case you can start to learn the components and become more comfortable performing your own work.
Can Bad Alignment Cause Death Wobble?
Yes, alignment is what allows your car to travel in a straight line if you were to let go of the wheel (Don’t attempt this. Always keep your hands on the wheel). If your vehicle is not properly aligned you can experience severe vibrations and driving issues.
What Causes Steering Wheel to Shake While Driving?
A shaky steering wheel can have many sources. However, a few quick checks include properly balanced tires, brake rotors, and linkage connections.