I have heard this question asked many times. I’ve got a Jeep Wrangler TJ that’s getting death wobble between 35-55 mph when it hits a bump in the road. This situation can happen on any jeep that uses the standard front Jeep Dana axle and the five link suspension. I have had the same trouble with a Jeep Cherokee XJ, and with a Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ. The situation is not fun, and can be very dangerous. I warn you that you should have your jeep fixed immediately before driving it in an unsafe condition. Here is some information about what could need fixed or replaced, make sure your rig is fixed and inspected by a qualified person.
"Death Wobble" is a term used to describe an uncontrollable shaking of the front wheels. This is and can be a very dangerous and scary situation. You could lose control of the Jeep which could have terrible consequences. If your jeep has death wobble it should be taken care of immediately. When you experience Death Wobble you will know it, the front wheels on the Jeep will shake and move, and cause violent shaking back into the steering wheel. The best thing you can do when this happens is to slow down. In some cases I have had to hit the breaks and immediately slow to under 25 miles per hour. At this speed my Jeep was able to gain control and the shaking stops. Just yesterday I was coming home from work and I saw a nice bright yellow Jeep Cherokee XJ on the side of the road, it started to move and go on the freeway on ramp right in front of me. As this was my exit I slowed down and follow them. At he got up to speed, I saw him slam on the brakes, the exit split into two lanes and I move beside him. His front end was wobbling like a crazy drunken old soldier. Ugg, now I understand why he was on the side of the freeway stopped. I laughed and said sorry buddy I know what you are going through, and thought to my self I need to finish that article on death wobble for my web site.
What causes Death Wobble? This is the million dollar question. Something is wrong with the front end, it could be alignment, a worn ball joint, tie rod end, Steering shock, or a bad side effect to putting a larger suspension lift on you jeep. I will start to explain each of these but first I am going to add some dialog from my Jeep email list.
This question was asked about death wobble.
What causes Death Wobble. My friend has a newer TJ and is getting death wobble, this is what he has done so far.
He added a new lift (don’t know which brand). It’s aligned, all mounts are tightened and torqued to spec. Tie rod ends are good (no slop) and adjusted properly. All joints have been lubed. Tires are balanced.
I’m fresh out of ideas now that all that’s been double checked.
Here are the Answers and Suggestions?
Something's not right, obviously. Go back through those things and recheck them. My biggest problems have been with toe or with the axle not being centered under the vehicle (the front axle is closer to the rear axle on one side vs. the other--causing the rig to 'dogwalk' sort of with adjustable arms.
Death wobble sucks, but I've always found something that caused it. My wife's stock ZJ has had some mild issues for the past year or so that I've been chasing (she had a little accident at about 60 mph a few years ago---did a ZJ cartwheel in the snow at near the top of Daniel's summit in central Utah. I finally replaced all the lower control arms and had a tire out of balance. It's been good for the past couple months. I didn't realize the Jeep wasn't 'square' until I used some chalk to mark the where the center of the tire is on the driveway for each tire and started measuring to see what was out of square.
From my experience I have to say that something is loose even though they say all is tight. I ran 35" tires for years with no steering dampener and the only time I would get any wobble was when something associated with my front suspension or steering was working itself loose.
The caster is off, tip the front differential down in the back where the u joint connects.
Caster, vs. camber. Caster is the front/rear inclination of the ball joints or kingpins, camber is the angle of the wheel/tire sideways to the rig. (that make sense?) Picture a Ford TTB setup, they have radical camber change. Or a bent solid axle.
Caster makes your shopping cart wheels wobble as you push it around, like the death wobble we are discussing. Camber is like the back tires on a dune buggy or Volkswagen bug (bottom in, top out)
Bigger tires need less caster than smaller tires too, so the advise to lower the rear of the front differential is good advice.
What about the track bar. That's been a common source of trouble for me in the past. How many miles are on his TJ? If he jacks up one of the tires can he wiggle it by hand? I've had bad death wobble when my ball joints were going out. Similarly the unit bearing hub can wear and cause a looseness similar to a tie rod or ball joint going out.
I also say the caster is off. I fought this on a ZJ for a long time, replaced everything in site. Had to make the front lower control arms as long as I could, then get a new and super stiff steering stabilizer. Worked for a couple of years, then had to replace the stabilizer again.
Note a stabilizer is not a valid fix, you should find the real issue, but this worked for me.
As you can see, the front end is complicated with the axle, control arms, tie rod ends, caster, camber, track ball, ball joints, steering dampener, alignment, and the fact the axle can not be centered. When fighting a death wobble problem on your Jeep you need to consider all of these different parts and check them all for wear and proper adjustment.
One thing I have done is get under my jeep and spend a long time looking around, look at all the parts. You will notice everything is dirty and greasy and kind of faded. This is normal for a rig that see a lot of off road time. What you are specifically looking for are place the the metal is clean and shinny. Or the grease is cleared away from a join, If the metal is silver or shinny, then this means something if rubbing and polishing it. A direct indicator that it's near or if a worn out part. Even the smallest wear in a part or a loose bolt can cause a very noticeable wear mark. Look at the washers around bolts, especially your control arm bolts. On a TJ these seem to come loose and get worn more often than you want or would expect.
After a full inspection I hope you can find the issues and and take the proper action, if you are able to locate something wrong it will very very helpful when you go see your mechanic and try to explain the problems.
As a final note, hang in there, you can figure this out and get your Jeep working and running safely, thousands of people are driving lifted Jeeps without any issues or safety problem.