Here’s how to survive and fix the Jeep’s Death Wobble

Death wobble can strike at any time and without warning. One moment you’re cruising down the highway in your Jeep Wrangler, and the next moment your vehicle starts shaking violently. From there, it’s all hands on deck to prevent your vehicle from spinning out of control. You may have heard of this strange circumstance, and if you own a Jeep Wrangler, you may have experienced it firsthand.

Once it occurs, this phenomenon can be dangerous, and encountering it can be extremely frustrating and unsafe for you and your vehicle.

In this article, we dive into all the potential causes of dead waves, what to do when it happens on the road, and how you can prevent it.

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What is Death Wobble?

Dead Wobble is a term coined by Jeeps and refers to the vibrations that start at the front axle due to a disturbance in the road, causing the entire Jeep to shake uncontrollably.

However, this should not be confused with a wheel alignment problem, which usually shakes part of the vehicle. Death wobble shakes the whole vehicle and in worse cases it can feel like the wheels are about to spin right away, or the whole vehicle is shaking itself apart.

So, what causes the Death Wobble?

Via: Jeep

Death wobble is very common when you are traveling at high speeds (more than 45 mph) and you hit a small bump in the highway. This disruption of the vehicle’s steady flow causes the vehicle to shake and wobble. It can be a scary experience, especially if you are experiencing it for the first time.

Some of the most common causes of death are improperly installed suspension parts or loose or damaged steering parts. Worn suspension components, such as the front track rod, upper/lower control arms and ball joints can also cause the phenomenon. In some cases, a damaged component can dislodge another and cause a chain reaction underneath, at the front axle area.

There is a misconception that deadlifts are more likely to occur on lifted or modified Jeep Wranglers. However, this is not the case. Death wobble can happen on any vehicle with similar character or suspension. Also Ford trucks.

Unfortunately, the Jeep Wrangler’s engineering is a gift and a curse. On the one hand, they pave the way for a great off-road experience, and on the other hand, they are prone to the death wave plague. And if you’re curious about which Jeep models are more likely to die, here’s your answer: all of them. Death wobble can potentially affect Jeeps of all model years. Since Jeep design hasn’t completely changed over the years, it makes sense that the death wobble wouldn’t spare anyone.

What to do when the Death Wobble happens on the road, and how to survive it

2018 jeep wrangler side view
Via: Jeep

When the deadlock hits and it feels like an earthquake is rippling through your Jeep, don’t panic. Lightly grip the steering wheel. It can be tempting to grip the steering wheel hard and try to steer yourself to safety, but doing so can hurt your hands and probably won’t stop the yaw, especially if you’re still driving at high speed.

After gripping the steering wheel, lightly press the brake pedal to slow down. As we mentioned earlier, death wobble is more imminent at high speeds, so slowing down will likely stop the wobble. And if it doesn’t stop the shaking right away, at least you’ll maintain more control of the vehicle, until you get to the safest option, which is to stop and pull over.

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Here’s how to prevent the death wave

2018 jeep wrangler rear view
Via: Jeep

We’ve listed a few causes of the dead swing, and the best part, fortunately for the Jeep owner, is that you can fix most of these problems yourself.

Since a majority of dead swing cases are caused by a loose or damaged front axle bar, this is the first place you want to check. Get under your Jeep and inspect the mounts. Here you want to make sure all the bolts are tight with a torque wrench.

Your second inspection point should be the tie rods. Normally, the tie rods should move in coordination with the movements of the wheel. Move the wheel while controlling the tie rods. If the rods do not move, be sure to replace them. Improper tie rods are very dangerous, and not just from a dead angle point of view. In worse cases, the wheel may even fall off the control unit. If this happens, the vehicle loses controllability.

Then check the wheel bearing, alignment and balance. First, raise the front of the vehicle or the entire car. With your hands at the top and bottom of the wheel, shake it. If there is a clunking sound, the wheel bearing is bad. Then you can work your way up to inspect the alignment.

Ball joints are also one of the main causes of dead wobble. Most Jeeps manufactured up to 2018 have upper and lower ball joints that act as part of the main links that connect the suspension to the vehicle’s frame. With the front wheel lifted, spin the wheel with your hands and check the feedback from your wheel. You will be able to determine if you need to replace the system.

In the third quarter of 2019, after facing numerous lawsuits, FCA, Jeep’s parent company, announced a fix for the Wrangler dead swing, which involved a redesigned steering damper. This change improved fluid velocity during compression cycles. While this hasn’t completely fixed the problem, newer Jeeps are less prone to die wobble than old ones.

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