by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor
It can happen in an instant. You are cruising down the highway and hit a bump or pothole and then, suddenly, your Jeep’s entire front end is shaking so bad you think the thing just might fall apart.
It is called the death wobble. In reality, though, there are no records of anyone actually dying from the issue. However, you may feel like you are dead inside after it happens.
Normally, controlled braking to a stop will relieve the wobble and get you on your way. But one New Jersey woman believes that isn’t enough, and has filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles—claiming the automaker “delivered a defectively designed and/or manufactured front axle and damping system”, and knowingly mislead the public about the issue.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Clair Reynolds in Detroit’s District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, also seeks class-action status for all 2015-2018 Wranglers.
"Rather than address it — or disclose its possibility and/or warn drivers at the point of sale — FCA simply claims in a news article that the 'Death Wobble' is not a 'safety issue' and that it 'can happen with any vehicle that has a solid front axle (rather than an independent front suspension), such as the Wrangler,'” the suit claims.
FCA said in a statement that it has not been served with the lawsuit and cannot comment on its allegations at this time. "We note, however, that any manufacturer vehicle equipped with a solid axle can experience steering system vibration and, if experienced, it is routinely corrected.”
Reynolds said in the suit that FCA merely offers a ‘Band-Aid’ fix in the form of a new steering stabilizer if the Wrangler is still under warranty. Instead, the suit alleges, problems with the vehicle’s steering system ultimately return and are usually only remedied by substantial repairs to the suspension.
Reynolds also said in the filing that FCA replaced her steering stabilizer three times within six months, but the vehicle’s front end still shook during highway driving.
Death wobble can have many causes, and sometimes is tough to diagnose, but usually can be traced to a loose, damaged, or worn component in the Jeep’s steering and suspension system. For a further look at the issue, as well as its causes and cures, check out our comprehensive death wobble article.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, it has never issued a recall for death wobble, but has been aware of the issue since before 2012. However, studies have found death wobble difficult to replicate and only two crashes could be blamed on the problem during 2005-10 model years—the last time a study was performed.
Chrysler did issue a Technical Service Bulletin back in 2012 warning drivers of its solid axle vehicles that steering systems needed to be kept in good working condition, but also did not issue any sort of recall.
The lawsuit seeks damages for affected drivers in the form of a buyback program that requires FCA to pay drivers for defective vehicles and compensation for the loss of value to the vehicles. It also wants drivers to be provided with replacement vehicles while their repairs are pending.
It also seeks punitive damages for “FCA’s knowing fraud that put drivers and members of the public nationwide at risk.”