Originally Posted by kirbycrain
Ok so this has to be what I am experiencing! I just bought a used Lj, it isnt lifted though... I havent gotten it in to check alignment and balancing yet--it is on my to do list this week. The thing is it doesnt seem to happen in any specific set of circumstances, and I bought it in Tulsa and drove straight to St. Louis at about 70-75mph with no troubles...a few days later it started. If it were something like balancing or alignment wouldnt it be more consistently happening? What should be my next step? Last night it happened around 45mph. Seems to be coming more frequently and at different speeds. I am a total jeep newb but I bought a Haynes and inspected front suspension with my lil virgin eyes. Nothing appears overly worn/leaky/broken.
Because my website is still under reconstruction so you cannot access this any other way, I will paste it into this forum once again. The article will educate you on the usual causes of DW and what to expect while repairing this problem.
The DW is one of the most aggravating problems you'll ever go through. Especially if you are not mechanically inclined, we recommend you don't try this yourself. Be warned though, finding someone really experienced and knowing
with this is not always easy.
There are a lot of very experienced techs who will actually give up on this repair because they don't understand and have the ability to think into the parts
that is required to see
the big picture.
Here is the article:
By Jerry Smith
The dreaded “Death Wobble”. If you have ever experienced one, we don’t have to tell you it’s one of the scariest experiences you’ll ever have. If you’re still a Death Wobble “virgin”, count your lucky stars!
What Is A Death Wobble?
You are driving down a street or even out on the open highway cruising along like usual. Your speed could be anywhere between 30 and 85 mph. Your vehicle hits a very small bump or depression. One so small, you never even saw it.
It could have been something as simple as where the pavement changes as you cross a bridge approach or departure. Nothing that looks sinister.
From out of nowhere, your steering wheel begins shaking violently back and forth so hard you can’t hold it still no matter how hard you try. You cannot turn. The front of the vehicle feels like it will shake apart any second.
Your only recourse is to slow down… as fast as possible! That by the way is the only known way to stop a Death Wobble.
This phenomenon will catch you off guard. If you are lucky, the first one will be of the “light-duty” kind.
Consider this to be a warning of bad things to come it you don’t get it repaired NOW
Any shimmy that starts all of the sudden… from no shimmy to any shimmy, take it seriously. Once in a while you will receive this little warning if you are lucky. Most of us don’t get a warning. We go from normal to totally out of control in a micro-second. That’s the way a Death Wobble works.
What causes a Death Wobble?
** The experiences talked of here are mostly related to Jeep Wranglers. Other experiences may vary, though not by much**
That question causes “fear” in even the best of auto repair shops. The vast majority of them are not experienced with a Death Wobble and will have a devil of a time repairing it.
Even a shop full of experienced technicians will often have their hands full. This is not an “easy fix” very often. As a consumer with this problem, you will be convinced the shop is incompetent before it is over. You may be right in this particular instance. But before you decide, give them a lot of rope to hang themselves. They may be very competent in most repairs, just not this one.
Most shops will have “some ideas” of what to do. Others will just be experimenting. One thing you may want to ask is “have you repaired any other vehicles with this problem?” That is about the only way you will know if they are “experimenting” on yours.
Finding a shop that specializes in suspension and alignments would be your best choice. They will need skills in those areas well above the average.
When looking for a shop, if the first thing they ask is when you had your tires balanced, just turn around and walk away. Unless your tires were just installed, that won’t have anything to do with your problem.
Imbalanced or cupped tires can be the pressure on the trigger that starts a DW, but they are NOT
the cause. **(Read that about three times)**
A Death Wobble is seldom a “this is your problem” type of repair. It won’t be that simple. The exception will be if your track bar end on the frame side is really worn. That is the first place to look.
The vast majority of the time, it will be a combination of several slightly worn parts adding together to cause the entire problem.
Those parts will include things like the ball joints, tie rod ends, drag link ends, the track bar ends, control arm ends, and occasionally the need for an alignment and/or toe adjustment to be sure the other items are working properly.
Only if the Death Wobble was one of the light duty “warning” types will the alignment help. It may “hide” the wobble for a while, but it will just be temporary.
One “trick” that will sometimes “mask” the problem will be to either add or replace the steering stabilizer. This will not cure the problem… just hide it temporarily if at all.
Lifted vehicles are maybe slightly more prone to the Death Wobble. The reason for this is the change in all the angles of your steering and suspension. Most will have a much more acute angle than a stock parts would have.
If you have just recently lifted your rig, an alignment should have been done. If not, when they do it, ask them to make double sure the ball joints and all the steering ends are in very good condition... not “just OK”. Small wear in each when added together make for a lot of wear as far as a lifted suspension goes.
Be prepared to have several new parts installed. The first will probably be the track bar ends. (This will require a new track bar in most cases).
Next will likely be the ball joints and then the steering linkage ends. After that, the control arm ends. This is by no means an “always” order of things, but experience with several of these has shown this to be “normal” if there is such a thing.
How to properly check your steering
The following procedure is the best way to begin the inspection of your steering. Most well trained technicians will know how to check ball joints for wear, but the following may be new to most of them.
Have someone inside the Jeep rock the steering wheel back and forth enough to make the steering move the tires slightly. This will load and unload the steering components.
Both visual and touch inspections should be done to each joint (tie rod ends, drag link ends, track bar ends, ball joints, and the control arm ends… both upper and lower). Sometimes you can “feel” what you can’t see. Be very critical of any movement caused by wear.
When inspecting the track bar, there are some special
things to look for. First, take a wrench and check the bolt on the axle end mount for tightness. If it is even a little bit loose, it is a very good idea to remove it and check the bolt holes in the mount for elongation. This is normally hidden from view and is easily overlooked.
You can also loosen the nut and watch the bolt for lateral movement as the pressure changes from one direction to the other as someone violently moves the bumper up and down to see if it moves.
Next, check the frame end of the track bar. This one is often best done by feel as you can feel movement you cannot see. Just be careful not to get your fingers pinched.
Often, the stud will move in the bore of the hanging tower as well as the ball joint can be worn. More often it is the stud in the bore moving. Watch for twisting in the frame while checking this as well. The leverage on the tower can overcome the frame and weaken it over time.
Next check the steering gear for movement on the frame and in the gear. Once in a while a steering box will loosen on the frame and move.
Check the control arm ends for movement. Here again, like the axle end on the track bar, make sure the mount bolt holes are not elongated as well as checking for wear in the bushings.
Trying to move the control arm with a pry bar between the mount and the control arm will usually show wear if there is any.
Make sure the wheel bearings have the proper preload and then lift the front tires off the ground enough to be able to rotate the tire and wheel.
Check the wheel for run-out (make sure it isn’t bent).
Look for cupping or other abnormal wear patterns in the tire tread. “Reading” tire wear patterns can tell you a lot about a suspension and alignment with a little experience. A good
alignment tech can do this.
While the tires are up is a good time to check the ball joints for vertical wear. There should be very little or no vertical movement.
This is a lot to check for, but if you don’t, expect to repeat it sooner than later.
When replacing any parts, especially if your Jeep is lifted, if you can afford them, upgrade to the most heavy duty and adjustable
you can find. The ability to adjust everything is a great benefit to “dialing in” your steering to make your rig drive like a new one or even better.
While doing your road tests it is a very good idea to remove or at least disconnect the Steering Stabilizer. The SS will often mask your true problem and make recreating a DW harder.
You want to duplicate the problem, not cover it up until you’re out driving along and it surprises you in a bad way.
You may be warned ahead of time, unless you have all of these items replaced all up front, there is a reasonable chance you will get your vehicle out of the shop “repaired and ready to go”, and the problem will persist. Things will go well for a while and all of a sudden, it will be back!
If a technician is really good, they may know of a particular street where they can “make it happen” more often than not. (Very, very few will have this much experience) But there is no guarantee about this. You normally can’t just go out and create a Death Wobble at will.
In Grand Junction, I know of such a stretch of road where I have experienced the Death Wobble many times. (They’re still not fun). With that kind of background, I can tell pretty much when a vehicle is really “repaired”, but I still will not guarantee that until most or all joints are replaced.
OK. We’ve replaced all suspect parts… what’s next?
It’s time to go to the alignment shop. Here is something not many know about lifted Jeeps that can make a big difference in how your Jeep will perform.
As you lift a Jeep, the angles on the steering and suspension change. This is not always good. One trick that has been learned over time is to adjust the caster a little toward the negative as the lift increases.
For instance, a Jeep with a 4” lift should have the caster at +3 °
, + or - 1°
. The alignment tech may want to set it at +7°
because the specs show that is where it should be.
For a little more proof of this and a very good education in aligning a Jeep, go to: Blog - TeraFlex Jeep TJ Alignment Training Part 1 | TeraFlex Suspensions
where you will see a three part video of a Jeep with an upper end suspension being aligned.
This suspension won’t be like yours, but the basics are still the same. And who would know how to properly set up a suspension than the manufacturer of the premier Jeep suspension? Trust me; the time spent will be rewarded.
I hope you never have to live through this problem, but if you begin lifting a rig, don’t be surprised if it rears its ugly head after you get some miles on.
Keeping a good alignment will help… for a while. But when it is time, the only help is proper repair.
Happy Trails to you.
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