What Is Death Wobble & How To Fix It

  • “Death wobble” manifests as the steering wheel violently moving back and forth under your hands.
  • Vehicles that utilize a track bar with solid front axle are more likely to develop a death wobble.
  • To eliminate the effect, you need to determine which parts of your vehicle’s suspension are causing the issue.

Despite its frightening name, “death wobble” isn’t a deadly problem. While frightening when encountered, it can be safely managed until you’re able to pull over. There’s also no need to fret about your vehicle is on its last legs — a death wobble is actually an easy problem to solve if you understand the cause.

Now that we’ve laid your fears to rest, let’s talk about what a death wobble actually is: the rapid, violent oscillation of the steering wheel. Since the problem starts small and gradually grows worse, you may not notice it at first. However, it becomes apparent at higher speeds and may happen suddenly, which can be a terrifying experience for drivers.

If you encounter the dreaded death wobble, what should you do? The best approach is to get a jack, jack it up and take a good close look at your suspension.

What Causes Death Wobble?

The core issue that leads to death wobble is damaged or poor quality steering components. Incorrect installation of these components can also be a factor. Castor, Camber, toe and Ackerman settings can also contribute to the problem.

These problems tend to go unnoticed until an event causes the death wobble. This may be a sudden, hard application of the breaks or a bump in the road.

What Type of Vehicles Face This Issue?

This issue is fairly common among a particular type of vehicle: ones with a solid front axle. This design is most commonly associated with Jeeps and 4 wheel drive trucks, but there are many other models that can have it.

The death wobble may surface more often in vehicles that have been modified — this involves making changes or additions to vehicle design. Fans of off-roading may mod their vehicles for easier/faster driving over rough terrain. A common example is lifted vehicles, which allow for greater clearance over rocks and debris. It’s important to note that the death wobble can strike even if you’ve never made any significant modifications to your truck or Jeep.

After any modifications to the steering geometry, check your Castor, Camber and check your toe in/out. If you have modified your steering knuckles, higher, lower or longer, you will need to make sure that your Ackerman effect (the ratio of turn in your left to right tire) is still there. You should also check your “bump steer” as well. To check your bump steer, cycle each tire up and down through its travel making sure that the wheel is not steering you in a different direction as it travels up and down.

Steering geometry is best checked with a string. Just move the position of the string as you cycle the wheel and adjust it to the place that gives you the desired results and build your mount to that position.

How Can You Properly Handle, Diagnose, and Fix Death Wobble?

Experiencing death wobble for the first time can be eye opening — it feels as if the steering wheel is about to jerk out of your hands. The good news is, there’s an easy way to mitigate the issue until you can fully address it–just slow down.

How Do You Properly Handle the Issue?

First, let’s talk about what you should do when death wobble hits. You absolutely must remain calm and maintain clear thinking, as difficult as it may be. Since you’re reading this article, you already know the name of what you’re experiencing and that it doesn’t mean your car is about to break down. Keeping that in mind may help you shake off the initial surprise.

Next, you need to get off the road. Gradually slow down until you can control the vehicle, then pull over. Fight the urge to stomp on the brake, as this may have triggered the wobble in the first place. Don’t try to wrestle with the steering wheel, either — hold it firmly, but not in an overly tight grip as you guide your vehicle to a smooth stop.

How To Diagnose the Problem?

There are several components that could be the cause of the death wobble, so you’ll need to check each to determine which is the culprit. In some cases, there may be more than one issue.

The first step is to jack up your vehicle, as you’ll need to take a look at the suspension. One wheel at a time is a good way to start. Once you’re able to access the underside of your truck or Jeep, you should check the track bar mounts, along with all the frontend bushings for play and ware.

Also a loose bolt on the track bar is the number one reason for death wobble. However, tightening bolts doesn’t always do the trick; if they’re damaged, the track bar could still move even when secured. If the track bar moves after bolt tightening, it’s time to inspect and replace and or adjust the following components:

  • Bolts
  • Joints
  • Bushings
  • Castor
  • Chamber
  • Toe
  • Steering Dampener
  • Shock Absorbers
  • Springs/ Coil / Leaf
  • Scalloped or Worn out Tires
  • Lose Lug Nuts
  • Wheel Bearings

Check the tie rods. In some cases, they may be bent or damaged. If the tie rod itself looks alright, you need to examine the ends.

Tie rods have rubber boots on the ends; these small pieces can become damaged or lost over time. If you notice such issues, it’s time for replacements. The same goes if you notice damage to actual tie rod ends.

Ball joints are a big culprit when it comes to death wobble. These small components are metal surrounded by a lubricant-filled rubber boot. It’s usually easy to see if there’s been damage to the metal or the boot. Should you notice any, it’s time for a replacement.

Shock Absorbers can cause wheel hop that can lead to wobble, if your shocks are not sufficiently dampening your wheel, you will need to replace or rebuild them or re-valve them for more dampening. Look for oil leakage from shocks, and if need be replace.

Steering Dampener may not be working, check for leaks and or worn mounting. It there is no Steering Dampener consider installing one. A good Steering Dampener is often a cure all solution.

Wheel bearings don’t typically cause what we consider the “death wobble,” but they can create severe vibration, which may be mistaken for death wobble by those who’ve never experienced it before. If you notice intense vibration, but the steering wheel isn’t necessarily jerking in your hands, the wheel bearings may be to blame.

To see if they’re the problem. Jack up an individual tire, then with your hands on the very bottom and the very top of the tire, check for play. You should have no more that a 1/16″ of play at the top and bottom of your tire. The tire should easily spin. Disc brake pads will to a small extent keep the tire from moving, make sure you push and pull long and hard enough to over come any resistance from the disc brake pads

While you have the tire up, just rotate your hands from top and bottom of the tire to the sides and then check the steering components for any worn parts. If you can move the wheel easily and there is a noise associated with the move, you have a worn steering component, locate and replace.

How Do You Fix the Death Wobble?

Once you’ve figured out what’s causing the death wobble, you can go about fixing it. In most cases, this requires replacing a damaged or worn parts, getting a proper front end and or rear end alignment and or adding a steering dampener to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Do you have a worn suspension or other vehicle parts that need replacing? Then you should check out First Over All Off-Road Shock Technology. We offer a variety of components in our online shop, including aftermarket and OEM options. To learn more or to check out our selection, visit us online or call 855-362-7469.

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