Blog
Photography By: 
FCA

by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor


Severe steering vibration is certainly no fun when you are driving around in your Jeep Wrangler JL—especially if it seemingly comes out of nowhere and causes you to feel like you are losing control of the vehicle.

So if you are one of the ‘lucky’ ones who has experienced this issue, commonly called “death wobble”, then definitely keep an eye on your mailbox over the next few weeks.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recently announced they have determined a ‘fix’ for the steering vibration issue plaguing some JL Wrangler drivers, and Friday began mailing out notifications to customers.

The company plans to install new, stronger, steering dampeners in affected vehicles to hopefully eliminate that excessive road vibration.

”This rarely occurring phenomenon is not peculiar to any one vehicle and is not a safety issue. FCA US strongly objects to any insinuation otherwise,” the automaker said in a statement. “There is no loss of steering or braking — two key functions that help ensure vehicle safety. The steering-system design associated with this condition affords unique capability that is greatly valued by our customers, and the market."

The remedy comes at a time when FCA is facing a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit which claims the automaker “delivered a defectively designed and/or manufactured front axle and damping system" on the Wrangler, and knowingly mislead the public about the issue. The lawsuit also states that steering dampeners are nothing more than ‘Band-Aids’ that only mask—and not solve—the issue.

FCA is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

Mark Chernoby, FCA’s Chief Technical Officer, told the Detroit Free Press that front end vibrations are not unique to Wrangler, and can happen to any solid front axle vehicle. He also said the complaints about "death wobble" only represented about 2% of the approximately 370,000 new Wrangler JLs built as of June. Chernoby did not dismiss the concerns, saying “any steering type vibration will make people concerned for sure.”

The Wrangler uses this type of axle primarily because it provides better articulation in off-road situations than does an independent suspension, and better protection for the drivetrain when it strikes rocks and other hard obstacles.


"Death Wobble" generally occurs in these solid-axle vehicles when a tire catches a groove, pothole, or some other bump in the road when traveling at higher speeds, and Chernoby said there are two ways to stop the vibration once it starts: Slow down or speed up.

“If you bang (the front end) with that frequency it’ll just sit there and (vibrate) forever. It won’t slow down, it won’t dissipate, and that’s essentially what we’re talking about here with the vibration in the new Wrangler,” Chernoby said. "When you hit a bump in the road, if everything is just right, this suspension can set off that resonance and what we started seeing is as soon as it got cold this past fall, early winter, we started seeing complaints."

Cherboby said FCA engineers found the issue had to do with air getting into the original damper on the front suspension of the Wrangler JL during cold temperatures, when oil becomes "thick like molasses" and air bubbles take a long time to get out of the oil.

"We were losing the damping on some of these parts," he said.

While installing a new stabilizer may improve a vehicle's ride, many in the aftermarket Jeep industry definitely recommend checking other steering components should 'death wobble' become a problem. Things like the vehicle's track bar, tie rod and tie rod ends, ball joints, upper and lower control arms, all bushings and wheel bearings should all be examined for wear, damage or missing parts.

It is also important to note that, while the term “death wobble” can certainly invoke some anxiety in drivers, there has never been a fatality attributed to the problem, nor a recall issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, NHTSA last did a study on the 2005-10 model year Jeeps and found only two crashes blamed on “death wobble”, with just one listed as causing some sort of non-fatal injury. In contrast, Jeep sold 542,134 Wranglers during that time frame.

FCA says its mailing campaign to Wrangler JL owners is called a customer satisfaction note — not a safety recall. Customers should receive a letter in the mail telling them they can go to a dealership and get the new damper free of charge. FCA said Wranglers not yet sold have already been receiving the new part.

Top Jeep Articles

Reference
What Do The Color Differences In Optima Batteries Mean?
  • Matt Konkle
  • September 20, 2019
While you may know Optima batteries are superior to traditional versions, understanding the color differences can really help you find the exact one for your needs.
Blog
Replacing Your Jeep Hood Hold Downs
  • Eric Ammerman
  • September 18, 2019
Swapping out those old, rusty, or worn out latches can change the look of your Jeep's front end, while also helping eliminate pesky hood flutter.
Blog
FCA Issues Recall On Certain 2020 Jeep Gladiators For Driveshaft Issue
  • Matt Konkle
  • September 12, 2019
Nearly 3,500 Gladiators were installed without grease in a crucial rear driveshaft part, leading to new recall.
IMAGE GALLERY
September 2019 Jeeps & Java
  • Matt Konkle
  • September 10, 2019

New faces, familiar faces. We saw them all Sunday morning at our Jeeps and Java event in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Blog
FCA Says Jeep Gladiator Buyers Outpacing Wrangler Owners In Accessory Purchases
  • Matt Konkle
  • August 30, 2019
Jeep's newest truck sees an average of $1,000 of accessories added per vehicle so far in 2019.
IMAGE GALLERY
2019 Great Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
  • Matt Konkle
  • August 29, 2019

Blog
'Fastest Woman On Four Wheels' Jessi Combs Killed In Land Speed Crash
  • Matt Konkle
  • August 28, 2019
Legendary racer, television personality, builder and fabricator died Tuesday while attempting to break her own land speed record.
Blog
Autotrader Names Jeep Wrangler A Top Vehicle To Own For Dog Lovers
  • Matt Konkle
  • August 26, 2019
Citing things like cargo area, safety and convenience features, and its open cab, the website says the Wrangler is the perfect vehicle for your and your dog's outdoor adventures.
Blog
Nearly 10K Jeeps To Attend 7th Annual Great Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion
  • Matt Konkle
  • August 21, 2019
This weekend's 7th annual Great Smoky Mountain Jeep Invasion event in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is expected to draw more than 16,000 people, as well as 9000-plus Jeeps.