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After 4 wheeling the other day I realized I had the dreaded death wobble. I think it's worth mentioning that I am a college student, and I don't really have ideal conditions to work on my jeep, but I have most of the tools that I need.

So far I have replaced my stock track-bar bushing with a Poly MOOG bushing, but that did not fix the problem.

Today, I just got my tires aligned, since they have been pretty out of alignment for a while now. Getting the tires aligned fixed my alignment problem, but not my death wobble. Dealer said that the "tie rod ends" looked OK. I'm not sure what that means really, but at least that is one suspect we can eliminate.

What should I do next? It seems like replacing the steering stabilizer might be a good next step, but before I dish out $40 to $80 on a stabilizer, I want to make sure there isn't a cheaper solution that I should try first.

I realize this problem can be caused by a variety of different things, but I'm new to the area I'm living in, and there's no mechanics/dealerships I trust to troubleshoot this for me so I would really appreciate if y'all could help me get this fixed.

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Can you explain exactly what the "death wobble " is. –  mikes Feb 2 at 21:18
    
Tie rods connect the steering gear to the wheels. There's a picture of the relevant parts for a Wrangler: kevinsoffroad.com/how-to-fix-your-own-death-wobble –  Josh Caswell Feb 3 at 0:50
    
If all of your hard parts (answer by Paulster2) are good is likely a tire balance problem (answer by Ehryk), It is not uncommon to knock off wheel weights or take a chunk out of a tire while out four wheeling. As Ehryk mentions, this tends to be most notable at specific speeds. As you have been to the dealer and they did not point out a specific high dollar item that was clearly damaged Ehryk, probably has your answer. –  James Jenkins Mar 16 at 0:00
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2 Answers

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I pulled some information from another site (jeepz.com). It looks fairly exhaustive in what should be done to fix the dreaded death wobble. I originally thought the death wobble was only due to a bad wheel bearing, but it appears there is much more to it. I am going to pull what it says on the jeepz.com website. Here is what the site says about what exactly is "death wobble" or DW for short (so everyone has a clue):

Death Wobble is the shaking that happens when the front end components of your Jeep end up reacting to, or fighting each other - the end result is a violent shaking of the wheel, the Jeep itself shaking like crazy, and you eventually needing new pair of shorts. Death wobble is most commonly seen in Jeeps that have just been lifted, but can also be found in stock Jeeps.

There are two aspects that contribute to make death wobble. First something to begins to wobble, like a tire imbalance or hitting a pothole or bump in the road. The second aspect is generally a loose or worn part that allows the minor wobble to escalate into full-blown death wobble.

Toe-in, caster setting, and tire balance all help contribute to the beginning of a wobble. Loose/worn parts like the front track bar, steering, and control arm bushings contribute to the second phase, when the wobble is exaggerated into DW.

Before you go replacing parts, here is something you should look at doing:

Start with the cheapest option first, which is tightening up all the loose components on your Jeep. Here are the common torque specs for a Wrangler:

Ft. Lbs. (max - min)

Shock Absorber Upper Nut 23 - 17

Shock Absorber Lower Nut 28 - 25

Suspension Arm Lower Axle Bracket Nut 176 - 130

Suspension Arm Lower Frame Bracket Nut 176 - 130

Suspension Arm Upper Axle Bracket Nut 81 - 60

Suspension Arm Upper Frame Bracket Bolt 81 - 60

Stabilizer Bar Retainer Bolts 61 - 45

Stabilizer Bar Link Upper Nut 61 - 45

Stabilizer Bar Link Lower Bolt 102 - 75

Trackbar Ball Stud Nut 81 - 60

Track Bar Axle Bracket Bolt 47 - 40

Hub/Bearing Bolts 102 - 75

Hub/Bearing Axle Nut 237 - 175

Jounce Cup Bolt 42 - 31

CAUTION: Suspension components with rubber/urethane bushings (except stabilizer bar) should be tightened with the vehicle at normal ride height. It is important to have the springs supporting the weight of the vehicle when the fasteners are torqued. If springs are not at their normal ride position, vehicle ride comfort could be affected and premature bushing wear may occur.

What follows now are the ten reasons their site suggests can cause (or exacerbates) DW:

DW - Cause 1 - Alignment

Front Alignment - an out of align suspension can contribute to death wobble. If you've recently installed a lift kit then you'll need to either get an alignment or do one yourself.. If you get it aligned, make sure you go to a shop that can (and will) adjust your caster, either by caster bolts or via adjustable control arms (note that several years of Wranglers do not have caster bolts from the factory, and will need to be upgraded).

DW - Cause 2 - Tires

Unbalanced tires - unbalanced tires will exacerbate death wobble. Try moving your front tires to the back and see if there is a difference, if there is then pay to have them balanced. If a tire/wheel requires more than 6 ounces of total balance weights you should probably not run it on the front of your Jeep (move to the rear axle).

The reason tire balance plays a role in death wobble is that something needs to start the wobble, and an unbalanced tire that hits a bump will normally be enough to put the front suspension in motion.

Tire damage - In addition to balancing, you should verify that your tires are round, and don't have any warping. Put front end up on jack stands. Spin both tires to check for excessive wheel/tire runout or damage.

Inflation - verify that your tires are running at the correct pressure. Over-inflation can cause problems.

DW - Cause 3 - Caster Angle

Caster Angle - When you install longer coil springs or spacers on your Jeep, the tire will be pushed down, away from the Jeep, but the control arms will tend to pull the axle back. The fix for this is to move the axle forward slightly, either via cam bolts or adjustable control arms.

Cam bolts are adjustable bolts that were installed on earlier TJs that allow you to easily dial in your caster angle. If your Jeep doesn't have cam bolts, they can normally be purchased at the dealership. If you have a larger lift than cam bolts can accommodate for, you will want to look into longer upper or lower (or both) control arms.

The larger your tires are, the less caster you'll generally need. It's been reported that Jeeps running 35 inch tires do well with 5 - 5.5* of caster, but as with everything your mileage may vary

DW - Cause 4 - Track Bar

Trackbar - Check to see if your axle is out of center (if the axle sticks out farther on the driver side than the passenger). This is caused by a trackbar that is too short. Also check that your trackbar is tight, and the mount holes have not "wobbled out". Verify that your track bar bushings are good, and don't have any slop in them.

DW - Cause 5 - Control Arm Bushings

Control arm bushings - Check to make sure that your control arm bushings are not worn out. These rubber bushings will often get enlarged and allow for slop in the suspension system. Remove an upper control arm and inspect the bushing, looking for cracked and worn rubber, replace and do the same for a lower control arm. Skip this step if you are getting new control arms.

DW - Cause 6 - Control Arms

Adjustable control arms - if the cam bolts were not enough to return the proper axle angle or your control arms are too short for your lift, you may need new adjustable control arms. This is really just an extension of number 3, caster angle. Longer control arms will push your axle farther forward than stock control arms, allowing you to increase your caster angle. An added benefit of new control arms is that you"ll get fresh new bushings as well.

DW - Cause 7 - Steering Stabilizer

A worn out stabilizer seldom causes the problem, but it does add to it. Replacing the stabilizer will help dampen any vibrations - make no mistake though, just because the stabilizer has reduced vibrations that you feel, the vibrations are still present in your suspension system, and will ultimately surface again.

DW - Cause 8 - Warped Rotors

While it's not common, warped rotors can start your death wobble in motion. If you don't have anti-lock brakes, drive down the interstate and press the brakes in order to stop quickly, if your rotors are warped, you'll feel the pedal fluctuate. Note that anti-lock brakes will mask the pulsating feeling.

DW - Cause 9 - Worn Tie-Rod Ends

A worn or bent tie-rod end will allow more play in your steering system, and can cause death wobble. A good method to check for slop in your tie rod is to jack up the front of your Jeep, grasp a front tire at the 9 and 3 o'clock position and wiggle the tire. Have a friend watch the tie rod for any movement.

DW - Cause 10 - Worn Wheel Bearings

Worn wheel bearing will contribute to Death Wobble as well. Lift your front axle up, and grasp your tire at the 12 and 6 o'clock positions and attempt to wiggle your tire. If you feel any movement then you've likely got worn wheel bearings and they should be replaced.

Hopefully you'll find your answer here somewhere.

(NOTE: Please remember, this is pulled from the Jeepz website.)

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Wow. Thank you so much for all the info. I selected this as best answer because it is so thorough and detailed. I will go through this in order, and let you know which, if any of these, fix the problem. –  Keegan McCarthy Feb 3 at 0:42
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«CAUTION: Suspension components with rubber/urethane bushings (except stabilizer bar) should be tightened with the vehicle at normal ride height.» means the car should be on its wheels, not jack stands, when those are tightened? Or something else? –  Josh Caswell Feb 3 at 0:52
    
Yes, should be on the ground for best results. If all corners are on jack stands or up on a lift (drive on type) with the vehicle level, it will work as well. –  Paulster2 Feb 3 at 1:27
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I have struggled with the Death Wobble in my 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. It would only happen at EXACTLY 45 MPH, but once it started it would continue +/- 20 MPH. Once past 45, it would not start unless I hit a bump.

If I replaced the steering stabilizer ($40 on eBay), then it would subside for ~2-3 months, but always return.

Things I tried that didn't help:

  • Front end alignment
  • Track Bar adjustment
  • Replacing ball joints
  • Replacing tie rod ends

Eventually I got new tires and it hasn't happened since, but I suspect that if I let them wear unevenly again the wobble would return. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you have the same issue you're going to be out $800+. My tires weren't entirely worn out, but they were worn unevenly and I don't think there's a way to fix that once they're messed up enough.

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+1 but you likely could have gotten similar results by balancing the tires, much cheaper than new ones. Though extreme off road tires are really hard to balance for the highway. –  James Jenkins Mar 16 at 0:02
    
I did re-balance the tires, twice. Neither time helped (forgot to list it). –  Ehryk Mar 16 at 19:39
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