What is the Death Wobble in Trucks and Jeeps?
There’s not much worse than a death wobble. Imagine loading up your travel trailer for a weekend camping trip and hitting the road with high hopes. Suddenly, the steering wheel jumps in your hand!
Your truck has been seemingly taken over by demonic possession, and you have no control. Where did this come from, and, more importantly, how do you stop it from happening again?
Let’s dig in!
What is a Death Wobble?
You’ll know a death wobble when you feel it. The violent shaking usually occurs when the truck is accelerating between 50 to 70 miles per hour. The steering wheel will be almost impossible to control as the shaking is continuous until you slow way down.
The steering system is actually turning back and forth without your consent. You might liken it to driving a vehicle at high speed with four flat tires over a rutted dirt road.
What Causes the Wobble?
Any single issue or a combination of problems with the vehicle can cause a death wobble. The culprit might be tire imbalance, bad alignment, worn shocks, loose bolts, or any component related to steering and suspension. Often drivers and their mechanics must go through a process of elimination to find the exact cause and fix it.
The wobble usually occurs at higher speeds after hitting a bump in the road. And it can generally be attributed to all of the play in a truck’s steering system, not one specific component.
Look for worn idler arms, tie rods, ball joints, or even the center steering link. Replacing any worn or loose parts may end your nightmare.
Which Vehicles Are Common Victims of Death Wobble?
The death wobble can occur in any vehicle that has a solid front axle and coil spring suspension. Today’s models with this setup include Dodge Ram and Ford F250 and F350 trucks, and most Jeep models.
Lifted trucks have increased death wobble incidents. Their larger tires are harder on tie rods, track bars, and steering components.
How Do You Fix the Wobble (and how much does it cost?)
Because many issues can cause a death wobble, drivers must narrow down which truck components cause the problem. Many truck manufacturers immediately replace the steering damper as a start for diagnosis. If that doesn’t improve the situation, a mechanic should look for worn-out suspension and steering parts, like tie rod bushings and control arms.
Alignment can also be a culprit and is easily and inexpensively fixed. Check tire balance on each of the front tires, and a look at steering linkages may reveal problems, as well.
You may want to start with simple and less expensive solutions, such as front-end alignment and tire balancing. If fixing those issues doesn’t solve the death wobble, have a mechanic check your car. Ask them to go through the suspension components to see if anything’s wearing out.
And finally, have them look at the steering linkage for signs of deterioration.
Cost is relative, depending upon what needs fixing. Obviously, balancing tires can be done quickly, and the cost should be included in the purchase price of each tire. But if your solution includes replacing tie rods or steering linkage, you will most likely need to bring along your piggy bank.
The best way to keep replacement costs down is to follow a preventative program. Have your mechanic check to ensure suspension and steering components are in good shape before you hit the road.
Prevention Steps to Avoid the Death Wobble
The most comprehensive way to avoid a death wobble is to keep your truck in good shape. When purchasing new tires, make sure they’re properly balanced.
Have the front end aligned any time you notice the vehicle tracking left or right, and replace shocks and struts when needed. Whenever your truck is on a rack, have your mechanic check the steering linkage and suspension for signs of wear and tear.
Keep in mind that the death wobble actually wears down steering and suspension components quicker than normal. Have those parts replaced immediately. Then get the front end aligned so those same parts won’t be overworked in the future.
The Death Wobble Isn’t So Deadly
Although its name leads us to think otherwise, a death wobble has not been attributed to any road deaths. Though experiencing one might have you seeing your life flash before your very eyes!
They’re scary, but knowing what causes them and how to fix the problem should give you some peace of mind. And remember, if a death wobble threatens to end your camping journey, immediately slow down and take the trip at a slower pace.
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