Identifying death wobbles and how to fix them

Harry Jeeper and the Deathly Wobbles

The story of Jeep Wrangler’s death wobbles is long and complicated and even FIA’s latest Jeep Wrangler JL is not spared from it. This is due to the fact that the Jeep Wrangler uses a solid front axle with its 5-link (4 control arms and a track bar) suspension setup. That means, both front wheels are directly connected through the front axle, this includes the steering components also. Now, if your steering and suspension components are not 100% in order, uneven road conditions such as bumps and ruts can cause rapid oscillating in your steering components which results in fast, heavy and almost violent shaking of your Jeep. But worry not, you can usually easily regain control by letting your Wrangler slow down to a much slower speed.

How do you know you’ve got death wobbles?

Death wobbles are usually set off by bumps, potholes or ruts in the road. They most likely happen at a speed of around or above 60 km/h. It’s often enough for one wheel to go through a pothole or bump to start off the wild shakes. If that happens, hold your steering wheel firmly with both hands and keep going straight.

Don’t stress! Yes, your Jeep feels it’s falling apart (it’s not) and someone outside of the car would see the front tyres dancing the samba. But the plan of action is to keep your cool, let your Jeep slow down (don’t brake too harsh) until the shaking stops. To gain back the control of your Jeep is a matter of speed and usually, it only takes a few seconds until it all goes back to normal again. Now that you know, you got a problem, take it easy on the way home and try to avoid to hit any bumps or potholes or simply slow down if you can. Once you’re home It’s time to inspect what’s going on.

How to identify what causes your death wobbles

So, you suspect you got the deadly wobbles. Alright, here are some things to check or rule out that help you to identify what causes them in your case. As stated earlier, the Jeep Wrangler uses a 5-link suspension setup. Yet in total there are easily more than 20 places (links, joints, bolts) where the suspension parts are linked to getter. And if only one of them is not tight as a nun, you get in trouble.

An important thing to do when checking the frontend is to keep your Jeep on the ground. Don’t use a hoist or jack up the front end because this will change the geometry (ie. the axle will be off-centre), puts the wrong parts under load and will just give you false positives. So keep the tyres on the floor, please.
  1. The first thing to check is probably the track bar. The factory trackbar and its mounts are often the culprits. Get a friend to sit behind the wheel and to steer repeatedly left and right. Climb under the Jeep’s front and watch closely where the trackbar is connected to the frame. The trackbar should remain in place. Can you see any movement? What’s the bushing doing? Any movement indicates that there’s definitely a problem. Perhaps the bushing needs replacement. You might find that it is not easy to get a replacement bushing in Australia and the bushing size for the trackbar is different (and we found inconsistent) for different Jeep Wrangler model years. It’s definitely worth to replace the track bar as a whole with a heavy-duty adjustable track bar (ie. Teraflex, Synergy) which seems nearly twice in size and weight.
  2. The trackbar mount is wallowed out? If you tried to tighten up the trackbar at its body mount and it still keeps moving you might have a wallowed out (oval) mounting hole. Manufacturers such as Rough Country, Synergy or Teraflex have trackbar brackets to help you out.
  3. Ball joints can also absolutely contribute to death wobbles. First, check if the rubber boot of each ball joint is in good order and filled with grease. Checks out? Get a pry bar and place it between the floor and your tyre. Now push up the tyre a few times. Can you see any movement between the ball joint and the steering knuckle? If so, they need to replace your ball joints. You will see that a small movement with a mounted wheel will turn into a much bigger movement once the wheel is off.
  4. Tie-rod ends that have a play can also be a big contributing factor to death wobbles. It’s easy to check them. Jack up one of your front wheels so it’s off the ground. Have a friend check out the tie-rod end for the wheel that has been lifted. Put each of your hands on either the right or left-hand side of the wheel and then start to wiggle and shake it. If your friend can see that your tie-rod is moving back and front, yet the tie-rod bar itself is not moving, then you know that your tie-rod end needs replacement. You have to test this with both sides of your front end.
  5. Uneven worn or old tyres can also very much contribute to death wobble issues. A compound that has hardened too much over time can easily set off death wobbles if other steering components are not up to spec.
  6. Worn out steering stabilisers are known to suddenly cause death wobbles. The steering stabiliser is most likely not the real culprit here but instead would likely have masked underlying issues when it was working correctly still.

We hoped this can help you in identifying and fixing your death wobble issues. This is a work-in-progress article and we will keep updating it on a regular basis to also cover Jeep Wrangler JL death wobble issues.

Image sources: (Main image)