Death Wobble

The dreaded death wobble, anyone who has had a vehicle with a solid front axle is likely to have experienced the death wobble at one point or another. Of course in the Jeep world every product from the 1980s-late 90s had a solid front axle, so as a Jeep specialty shop we have been battling death wobble since we opened over 20 years ago. This blog post will explain what the wobble is, how to fix it, and the reasons why it happens.

Cherokee with death wobble

What is Death Wobble?

Death wobble is a severe vibration or shake induced by hitting a bump at speed. It will literally feel like the front wheels have separated from the vehicle and your out of control. The only way to get the vibration to stop is to slow down almost to a stop. It is not a slight vibration or shake in the steering wheel it is a violent experience that will rip the steering wheel away from your hands.

Why does it happen?

When you have worn out steering and suspension components the front axle can get out of square with the body and frame of the Jeep. This misalignment forces the front differential to skip or hop along the road until the vehicle slows down enough to allow the front axle to realign. It is typically induced by hitting a bump, but can happen without a bump to start it.

Solid Axle on a TJ Wrangler.

This is not an issue on vehicles with independent front suspension, only on vehicles with solid front axles. A solid front axle is a solid beam from one wheel to the other, As you can see in the picture each wheel is bolted onto the front axle. Therefore what ever happens to one wheel will have an effect on the other wheel. For example when the Drivers front wheel goes over a bump the force of the wheel going up will push down on the Passenger front wheel. The suspension and steering components that attach to the solid axle must be tight and within a specific geometry to maintain a smooth transition.

On vehicles with independent front suspensions what happens to one wheel is handled independently from the other wheel. It is a way better suspension option for on road vehicles, high performance applications, etc, but it does suffer off road when articulation and traction are key.

Causes of Death wobble.

There is typically not one smoking gun when it comes to death wobble, It can be caused a slight play in several components, or one completely failed component. If not addressed it can put additional stress and cause premature wear on other steering/suspension components. The list below is of components to check for excessive movement when diagnosing death wobble.

  • Ball Joints
  • Control arms
  • Axle housing bushings
  • Sway bar links
  • Wheel bearings
  • Tie rod ends
  • Drag link
  • Track Bar
  • Steering gear box
  • Alignment
  • Shocks
  • Springs
  • Axle U joints
  • Pitman arm
  • Tire wear / Balance
  • Steering Dampener

What to do if you have Death Wobble?

As mentioned above it usually is not one component that causes the wobble, so a thorough inspection must be made to find out which components are the cause. If you take your vehicle into a shop with death wobble make sure you ask up front for a guarantee. Dont spend thousands of dollars without a guarantee that your death wobble will be gone. Ask for Pictures and videos of failed components and ask for your old parts back. If you are in the east TN area and need to have your death wobble repaired call us at 865-691-3400.

— Joshua Shook Sr.

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