Mass Media Targets Jeep

Anybody who has been around a Jeep, or pretty much anything 4WD with a solid front axle, knows about the “death wobble” and has probably experienced it on many occasions. Looks like this TV station has found out about it, gotten bored, and is having a feeding frenzy over it, pressing Chrysler Group to recall all their vehicles because the track bar can wear out over time and present itself in this manner. Thoughts?

Could someone at the station have been blown off by a dealer when they complained? The track bar on beam type front axles should be inspected at every scheduled service and replaced or repaired whenever wear is indicated. And the “death wobble” can be experienced on many 2WD vehicles.

Anyone that experiences this problem should report it to the NHTSA here:

Apparently, there are thousands of people with this problem. They should at least get the track bars replaced with ones known to mitigate the shaking. If (when) Chrysler is forced to replace the track bars with better designed units, these people will get some or all of their money back. I assume that they now know that replacing the track bars will fix the issue and it seems worth $200 to $400 to get sae again.

I experienced a similar problem with a 1976 Mercury Capri GT. Ford was so cheap that hey put inferior struts on the car that caused the front end to shake between 35 MPH and 45 MPH. The issue could be reduced a lot by aligning the front end, but the only real fix was to replace the struts. I mentioned this to a couple of friends who also owned Capri GTs, and they said that they and everyone they know had it. One friend raced them and had 4 GTs that did it before he replace the struts with racing struts.

Rod Knox: this could be the case. One of the anchors indicated that they had a 2007 JK Unlimited that had the “death wobble” issue. The issue is very common with solid axle 4X4’s but I too have seen it in other cars. I once had an early '90s FWD Grand Prix in the shop that did it. The struts were completely shot on that car, presumably what was to blame. The owner junked the car over it.

jtsanders: when Chrysler redesigned the Grand Cherokee for the 1999 model year, they also redesigned the track bar, replacing the ball-in-socket joint at the crossmember with a bushing. Chrysler may not have done this on the Wrangler due to concerns with how it would perform off road. This is just a theory of mine and I don’t know for sure if this is the reasoning behind keeping the ball-and-socket on the Wrangler or not.

One thing that might help is if more people knew how to properly inspect the track bar for wear. It is not apparent during a routine “raise it up and shake it down” inspection. Chrysler could also eliminate the problem and attract more soccer moms by doing away with the solid front axle and replacing it with IFS, but then the purists would have a fit. It still puzzles me why someone would buy a Jeep Wrangler to drive their kids back and forth to school. I thought that’s what minivans were for.

I’ve owned many Jeeps and consider them safe and reliable vehicles when used as intended. I would never advise anyone to buy a Jeep Wrangler for extensive highway driving. They seem to make me uncomfortable at speeds above 55 mph when operating properly on good roads. And as for the wobble and solid front axles, most mechanics who are familiar with them put a large pry bar on the front axle and lean on it heavily while looking closely at the track bar. Weak track bars can cause vague steering, lurching when turning and the wobble. And for many years the links were just rods with rubber bushings on the ends which could be pressed out and replaced. It was a very common problem on 4X4s and 2 wheel drives with I beam front axles. And also, if the caster is too close to vertical wobbling is worse.

I had a Wrangler as a rental car once. While I had no wobble, I never knew it existed. And I was on a 70 MPH highway for about 45 minutes to my destination. For the casual user like me, this front end wobble could be a big problem. At lest I know about it now.

BTW, how do the aftermarket track bars work so that they don’t wobble?

My Dad has a 1997 Jeep Wrangler and its not a comfortable ride down the interstate. My Dad’s 2009 Dodge Pickup handles on the highway a lot better. When he had the soft shell or whatever you want to call it on his jeep, if we drove down the highway it felt as if I was in the Cabin of an airplane ascending over 20,000 feet up in there, the only difference was my ears didn’t pop! The Jeep Wranglers are fun to drive off road, that is if you know how to drive off road without flipping it over, but its definitely not the ideal family car!

Using the pry bar is one way to check the joint on the track bar. Another way is to have the vehicle on the ground and have an assistant turn the wheel back and forth between ten and two while observing the joint. You will see any slop in it that way, and it’s easy to see why a loose joint will cause the oscillation that is the “death wobble”. When checking for wear this way, any slop whatsoever warrants replacement, in my opinion.

As for why the aftermarket track bars eliminate the death wobble, it’s the same reason a new one will eliminate the condition. When the slop from the worn parts is gone, there is no way for the oscillation to start in the first place. The difference with the aftermarket parts is that they are much larger and heavier, therefore they last much longer. The one shown in the video is an adjustable length track bar that is normally installed with a drop pitman arm to accommodate a significant suspension lift. Once you lift it so high, you need a drop pitman arm and adjustable track bar in order to maintain proper alignment. In this way, the presentation of the story is somewhat misleading. You don’t need an expensive adjustable track bar to fix the “death wobble” problem.

So, the wobble will return with an aftermarket track bar, too. Is there a difference in time for wobble to return for a heavy duty aftermarket track bar vs. a standard Jeep replacement?

It surprised me to find this discussion. But, the surprise is that I am not alone. I have assumed it was an alignment or tire problem. But, it happened on my 1997 Wrangler, more frequently than on my 2007 Unlimited. I noticed it for the first time this past week while on the expressway at about 60 mph. Not a huge wobble, but enough to notice. I’m going to pay closer attention. And hope that JEEP/Chrysler attends to this flaw sooner than later. Chrysler does not need to have this on their record, for sure.

I don’t think this should be considered a design flaw. It’s caused by parts wearing out, which happens with any vehicle as it ages. This issue is also not exclusive to Jeep vehicles, as myself and others noted earlier in the thread, although Jeep vehicles are among very few still made with a solid front axle. It’s also not new, as solid front axle vehicles from decades ago were also susceptible to this condition. I wouldn’t count on them doing away with the solid front axle anytime soon, especially with the Wrangler. IFS may make the Wrangler more appealing to the soccer mom types, but it would be sacrilegious to the off-road enthusiasts to do this, and it would not be nearly as capable off-road as it is with a solid front axle.

As for how long it would take for a good aftermarket track bar to wear out, it may never wear out if you get a good one. Some of those dwarf the original and consequently last a very long time. OEM replacements may wear out in less than 100k miles.

The mileage of the Jeeps is not reported, though I suspect that it is much less than 100,000 miles. It actually seems to be more like 30,000 than 100,000. This does seem to me to be a design flaw.

The life of steering parts is relative to the stresses they receive, Tight turns at low speeds stress the system while cruising along gives little stress. With power steering drivers are able to slam steering and suspension components and think nothing of it. Everyone should try parallel parking an old pickup with manual steering.

Flexible Flyers…Even motorcycles can do it… I’ve heard it described as a “resonant harmonic in the steering system”…

My opinion is that it’s a media generated frenzy and that’s not unheard of. In the animated TV show The Simpsons the news anchor grabs the lady by the arm and asked her to step over in front of a burning house for the interview; much like real life. :slight_smile:

Jeeps would also wobble due to a worn out steering dampener; just like the old air-cooled VW Super Beetles.

Back in the 80s Subaru had a speed wobble issue but it was a design flaw, no doubt about it. The problem was due to a defective pinion spring in the steering rack and new cars suffered this problem. What was disgusting about this fault is that Subaru whitewashed it without leaving a paper trail; which would lead to a Recall of course.

An old Harley Shovelhead bagger I used to own would go into a speed wobble now and then if the saddlebags were overloaded.

This is all news to me. My '02 Wrangler has 217,000 miles on it, and I had a '98 before that, and I have never–once–experienced any wobble at any speed under any condition. I drive extensively on the highway as well, and while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s somewhat barbaric (which I actually kind of like in a weird sort of way), I’ve never felt like it’s unstable or unsafe on the highway. For better or worse, the majority of my front end is factory original, but the track bar, ball joints, etc. are all still tight. It hasn’t seen an alignment rack in years, but the Jeep drives straight ahead and all four tires wear evenly. The tires and wheels are aftermarket. I bought the Jeep new, and it’s never been in an accident or ditched. So, am I the exception?

All the Jeeps shown in the interviews are JK Wranglers, which were made from 2007 model year to present, and two of the model years mentioned were '07s. For one, a model year was not mentioned. The closest mention of mileage was the male owner who was being interviewed, who said the dealership stated he needed tires, and he said, “there is no reason my vehicle should be unstable when I have 20k miles on a set of tires rated to go 50k miles”. From that, we can infer he is on at least his second set of tires on that Jeep, which would presumably put his mileage between 50k miles and 90k miles. I don’t think it’s unusual for a front end component to be worn in five years. I have seen bad ball joints and tie rod ends on newer vehicles than that, even on Asian makes. The people interviewed seemed to be dealing with an ignorant service department, which certainly doesn’t help quell the feeding frenzy when the dealer service department doesn’t know how to fix it.

CCCommander35: your Jeeps probably receive above average care, which helps a lot. Incidentally, I have never experienced the “death wobble” in any kind of Wrangler, only in ZJ’s and XJ’s, and the aforementioned Grand Prix.

Yup, well the early YouTube videos they showed were '03-06 TJs, but the owners they interviewed were definitely JK owners. And the news anchor has an '07. Out of curiosity I poked around some of the Jeep forums and found a fair number of posts about the death wobble, but it seems that simply keeping after the track bar, ball joints, and steering stabilizer will eliminate it. So, it definitely implies that whatever dealer they’re using doesn’t have the wherewithal to inspect parts for wear.

I have seen a lot of people who will “check the front end” by simply raising the vehicle up on the lift and shaking the wheels by grabbing them at 3 and 9 o’clock then at 6 and 12 o’clock and leave it at that. On the Jeeps, that will pinpoint problems in the ball joints, tie rod ends, pitman arm, and idler arm, but definitely not the track bar. In fact, on most cars, this vague and incomplete inspection method will not pick up on any ball joint problems. Many FWD cars need to have the lower control arm pried down on to detect looseness (pre-Ford 500 Ford Tauruses come to mind) and most 2WD trucks need the suspension loaded for ball joint looseness to be detectable. For those, I usually jack up the truck by the lower control arm and stick a long pry bar under the tire and pry up while observing the ball joints for looseness. It would serve these people well to get away from the dealership and get their Jeeps in the hands of someone who knows what the hell they’re doing. Too many of those guys can’t figure anything out unless they have a scantool or TSB telling them what to do.

As for the cause of the “death wobble”, watch what it’s doing in the videos and tell me what the most likely cause of that type of looseness and oscillation could be. The only thing I could see causing that, based on the design, is excessive play in the track bar joint where it attaches to the chassis of the vehicle. Other loose or worn parts can and will exacerbate the condition, but the overwhelming majority of the time it’s caused by a worn track bar. A healthy steering stabilizer will soak up any remaining harmonics and maybe even hide the effects of minor track bar wear.

One of the reasons I asked so many questions is that my youngest daughter will need a car next autumn for an internship at school. If I can find someone with an unwanted car, like a Wrangler with death wobble, it might be for sale at a discount. I’m always looking for a bargain, and this might be an option. I just need to know whether OEM parts are satisfactory or if I need to go with high end aftermarket parts.