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"Jeep Cherokee Troubleshooting – Death Wobble"

October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge

Death wobbleHow to eliminate Jeep death wobble

One of the scariest problems that occurs on Jeep Cherokees is know as death wobble.  Death Wobble is when the front tires start to shake violently.  Think of a shopping cart wheel that flutters and having two of them on the front of your Jeep.

Death wobble is very common on lifted Jeeps but can occur on stock vehicle as well.  The root cause is the instability of the inverted Y steering linkage on the Jeep. 

When every thing is working well, this type of steering and suspension works very well.  However, when things go wrong, the shake can be very scary and can potentially damaging.

The axle is located side to side by the track bar.  The joint on the frame end is made like a tie rod and is susceptible to damage due to corrosion and over extension.  Just a very sight amount of wear in this joint can allow the axle to move side to side and can lead to the death wobble shake.

Another base cause of death wobble is the caster angle.  The caster angle changes slightly when the XJ Cherokee is lifted due to the unequal length control arms.  This angle can be corrected with shims.  Very often death wobble can be eliminated by altering the caster angle.  More or less caster than the factory recommended settings may be required for your suspension so you may have to experiment.

Worn or soft control arm bushings can lead to caster angle changes and therefore lead to death wobble.  Replacing worn bushings are retrofitting polyurethane bushings can correct your steering angles and sometimes eliminate the death wobble.

Sometimes the source of death wobble can be very elusive.  Some cases have been reported where the mount for the track bar has become slightly lose either due to loose bolts or metal fatigue and death wobble occurs.  This one can be particularly hard to find as every thing may look fine in a visual inspection of the suspension. 

To check the track bar and it mounting points, have an assistant move the steering wheel back and forth while you observe the track bar and its mounting points.  Also, by placing a finger on the tire and on the fender flare note any side to side movement of the axle when the wheels are turned.  Often you can feel the axle body of the truck move slightly before the wheel starts to turn if there is wear in the track bar or is mounts.

Another possible source of difficulty are the steering box bolts.  The bolts that pass through the steering box and secure it to the frame also pass through an aluminum spacer.  Often this spacer corrodes and keeps the bolts form turning.  Even if they feel tight with a wrench, they may not be holding the box tight to the frame.  Also, this area of the frame is highly stressed by off road driving and larger tires and can break.  Any looseness in the steering box mounts can contribute to death wobble.

 If all else fails in trying to correct a death wobble situation, you can try replacing the steering stabilizer.  However, in doing so you are only masking the problem not curing it.

 In an emergency situation where you must drive a XJ that is experiencing death wobble there are a few tricks that you can try.  The first is to toe out the steering by adjusting the tie rod.  This will wear the tires but will also put pressure on the suspension and keep it in place so it does not shake making the Jeep drivable.  Reducing the air pressure in the tires to trail levels can also eliminate death wobble although I am not sure why.

 Death wobble can be a very scary problem and can be very frustrating to solve.  Often it is only intermittent and happens at the most inopportune times.  If these common solutions do not cure your death wobble see my blog for a more thorough list of things to check. More Death Wobble tips


Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009