Meet the enemy – Jeep, Truck & 4x4 Death Wobble
Chances are if you have it, you KNOW you have it, because it’s almost killed you and everyone around you on the road, and your reading this article for a reason. But for the novices… it’s when you’re driving your Jeep or lifted truck and the steering wheel starts jerking violently side to side, usually after a bump in the road or during stopping, and causes your 4x4 to become non drivable until you slow down.
What Causes Death Wobble?
There are a LOT of potential causes. Asking on the internet will give you a wild range of answers from keyboard mechanics. What’s the truth? There are root causes, secondary causes and then things that break from death wobble. But they all must be repaired before it can be fixed.
- Improper Alignment: Lifted vehicles need adjusted alignment values, factory recommended settings are no longer acceptable, you need a lot more caster to control those 100b tires. Other things in this category include improperly centered axles and improper toe.
- Altered Steering Values: For example those aftermarket wheels with a custom offset you just in
stalled look great! But they also just threw off your scrub radius. What’s that? It’s the center of rotation where the imaginary line that can be drawn through your ball joints hits the ground. Custom offsets and larger tires can throw these values way off, leading to improper tracking at high speeds, a lot of un-needed steering and premature fatigue and failure of front end compotnents.
- Tire Balance: Offroading is hard on tires. Chunks of rubber get ripped off. Mud and dirt get stuck everywhere. This all throws off your tire balance, and static (lead weight) wheel balancers can not compensate, and left unchecked will continually get worse. Over time this constant vibration can wear out steering and suspension parts, and death wobble results.
- Broken Parts and Trail Damage: If you offroad, you will break stuff. If you drive on-road stuff will wear out. The most common issues leading to jeep death wobble are worn out ball joints, tie rod ends, a damaged or loose track bar (panhard bar), or a worn out sector shaft bearing in your steering box.
How Do I Fix Death Wobble?
Inspect your suspension and steering components AND where they mount to.
Begin by inspecting all your steering components and front end suspension items for wear or fatigue, check mounting locations for damage, then verify that all suspension and steering parts are properly torqued down, including:
- Tie Rod Ends
- Drag Link Ends
- Sway Bar Ends
- Steering Box Mounts
- Pitman Arm Nut
- Control Arm Bushings & Mounts
- Ball Joints
- Front Axle Hubs
- Track Bar Ends
- Steering box sector shaft play (this is what your pitman arm bolts to any side to side and its bad)
TIP Have a buddy wiggle the steering wheel left to right while you watch all the ball joints, rod ends, and suspension bushings. A rod end is bad if it has ANY in out motion, rotational is fine. A ball joint is bad if you can grab the top of the bottom of the tire – push and pull and see side to side or up down movement. A rubber suspension bushing will have a small amount of give, but it should NOT be excessive.
If you can’t find it… bring it to us to inspect and replace whatever is broken. (Ya it’s a shameless self plug, but we really are good at doing this)
Get a PROPER alignment.
Factory alignment spec’s are NOT sufficient for gigantic tires. You can use factory specs for TOE and for CAMBER, but you need to dial in more positive CASTER for big meat. Do this, and you will be MUCH happier with your rigs road manners. It will track better, have much better high speed manners and the steering will be more responsive.
If you need more caster than your axle or suspension links can provide, you can try using adjustable control arms. cam bolts or adjustable ball joints. The ball joints and cam bolts can lack the strength for off-roaders, the “proper” fix is adjustable control arms, welding spring perches on properly (for our leaf spring guys), and if you need more than your driveshaft angles can tolerate… the only way to fix it is cutting and turning your knuckles.
For example I run 3.25 degrees on my 37″ MTR’s and I can 1 thumb drive at 85 mph. JK’s want values in the 5 degree + range. TJ’s 7+.
Tire balance, cupping, and/or uneven wear.
After you do ALL of the above if you still have death wobble… try rotating the tires front to rear. If that fails to fix it, try borrowing a known good set of tires. If that corrects the issue, time for new tires, you could have one out of round or a broken belt.
My preference is to combat this issue LONG before it starts by keeping up on your balance and rotation. If you offroad a lot. you can also try using an active wheel balancer. This will help combat mud stuck in the wheels, or imbalance due to trail damage. Personally we love Centramatics, or Counteract Beads. People have also run airsoft bb’s with reasonable success, but there are issues with this method and TPMS sensors.
Alternately you can also get a lifetime balance and rotate at most tire shops… just use it… frequently… until they groan every time they see you pull up… so make sure to bring donuts.
If your shop says to put on more or stronger steering stabilizers to solve the problem… leave. A properly set up front end does not need them, and they are just help with harmonic vibrations. Repeat after me “Steering stabilizers are NOT a cure for Death Wobble.”
Bring it to OCD Offroad Shop in Virginia!!!
Seriously, bring it here. We are experts in fixing and preventing death wobble on lifted Jeeps & 4x4’s. Appointments start at $75 and we will examine your whole steering and suspension, and you whats broken and how to go about fixing it. Just CONTACT US to set up an appointment or give us a call at 703-856-5519.
But if you’re not local to NOVA you can go through this checklist yourself or show it to your local shop.