It happens all of a sudden, when you least expect it, and it’s terrifying. You’ll be rolling along on the open highway, about to ford some railroad tracks or bracing to go over a speed bump — and next thing you know, your rig feels like it’s about to burst apart.
“Death wobble” — the surprisingly violent sensation that affects almost any vehicle with a solid axle — strikes hard and fast, leaving uninitiated drivers rattled and ready to sell their Jeep as soon as possible. Not to be confused with a slight vibration in your steering wheel, this uncontrollable shaking is caused by more than a simple tire imbalance. Read on to discover what causes death wobble, more than a one death wobble fix and how AutoAnything can help.
The causes of death wobble
- More than likely, the problem can be traced back to the track bar. Whether the bar itself has loosened or warped over time or its bushing has worn down, it won’t take much elbow grease to right this particular wrong. Simply re-tighten the front track bar bolt to a rating of about 125 ft lbs, and you’ll be back on track.
- If that’s not it, look to your ball joints. Unfortunately, OE ball joints with plastic components tend to give out quicker than those without — especially on applications with larger tires on wheels with less backspacing. Because of their molecular composition, these heat-sensitive parts could very well have melted off. To prevent this the next time around, have them removed prior to welding C-gussets onto your front axle.
- The third possibility is that your tires have become unbalanced. Given all the off-roading you do, your gut instinct may have been to jump to this conclusion but it’s actually not as common as the above causes. Nevertheless, tires in this condition put undue strain on your suspension and if you don’t deal with them right away, things are likely to come undone down below. You’ll almost be able to trace a path to your destruction by the bolts you leave behind.
Fixing death wobble
Get your tires balanced
Unbalanced tires — especially the oversized off-roaders you favor — may be an indirect prompt to death wobble, if not an outright cause. It may take a couple of trips to the garage to smooth everything out, but it’s well worth the time and elbow-grease. If left unbalanced, you’ll have a harder time of detecting the true cause.
Set your caster
From shopping carts to your hardworking rock-crawler — a wonky caster ruins all hope of a smooth, straight ride. Lifting a Jeep goes a long way toward fixing death wobble, but make sure to set as close to the factory +4.2° as you can. That way, you avoid any jarring driveline vibrations that may manifest.
Remove your steering stabilizer
Without the stabilizer, death wobble will occur more frequently and predictably. By removing this front axle-dampening component, you should be able to more easily determine the source of the problem and whether or not you’ve successfully eliminated it.
Check your front track bar
Oftentimes, re-tightening your track bar bolts to 125-130 ft lbs of torque will get the job done. Examine your axle, frame and bushings very closely for any undue wear-and-tear. Be aware that if your rig’s equipped with a relocation bracket, its extra height can act as a lever and after enough miles, cause your factory mounts to falter. Check those mounts, while you’re at it, for wallowing of the bolt holes. If there are signs of wallowing, have a plate or washer welded on, or install a brand-new bolt altogether to pick up the slack. While diameter may be of a top priority in other areas, torque is what matters most here.
Check your ball-joints
Use a dial indicator to measure the play in your ball-joints. There are two types you need to be aware of — radial (lateral) shifting and axial (up-and-down) shifting. Radial movement shouldn’t exceed 1.5mm and axial shouldn’t exceed 1.25mm. Being off by just a hair in your measurement could make or break you, so be diligent and measure as accurately as possible.
Tighten those bolts
Re-torqueing any nuts or bolts that may have worked loose during your last violent episode enables you to find and fix the source of the problem.