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Diagnosing Death Wobble and Fixing Non-DW Shimmies and Wobbles

262716 Views 683 Replies 212 Participants Last post by  Nemo Consequentae
The videos are kind of long at 18-19 minutes each. Hopefully, they are thorough enough to help.

Death Wobble Diagnosis and Inspection Jeep JK Wrangler Part 1 - YouTube
Death Wobble Diagnosis and Inspection Jeep JK Wrangler Part 2 - YouTube

Inspection Checklist is in Post #2.

I'll start out by explaining that Chrysler decided to use a 14 mm trackbar bolt, with a trackbar bushing sleeve designed for a 9/16" bolt, and the trackbar bracket bolt holes are somewhere around 15-16 mm large. This is a sure recipe for DW if the trackbar bolts are not properly torqued and periodically re-torqued to 125 ft. lbs.

Death Wobble is no mystery.
It is caused by loose bolts, damaged components, or improper

Look at the picture below and follow along:

First, the tie rod (green) has ends that attach to a knuckle on each side. As you could imagine, if either ends of the tie rod were broken or bad, that could be a culprit for a shimmy (not Death Wobble). A common place to damage the tie rod is on the driver's side at the adjusting sleeve (in the picture, just to the right of the red swaybar link). That sleeve (maybe not the correct term for it, but you can see what I am talking about) allows the width of the tie rod to be expanded or contracted. There are threads on that end that can be damaged, causing play on that driver's side and allow an up and down, or circular play movement. Again, this would cause a shimmy, not Death Wobble.

Next, look at the drag link (purple). On one end, it attaches to the pitman arm (lavender), that attaches to the steering gear box. On the other end, the drag link attaches to the passenger side knuckle. When you turn your steering wheel, a shaft turns that goes to the steering gear box. The steering gear box turns the pitman arm, and the pitman arm pushes or pulls the drag link, which pushes or pulls the knuckle. Your steering wheel is straitened by loosening the two nuts on the sleeve/turnbuckle on the drag link and rotating the sleeve/turnbuckle to lengthen or contract the length of the drag link. If either end of the drag link is damaged, this would cause a wobble or shimmy, but not Death Wobble.

Next, look at the trackbar (aqua). It attaches to a bracket on the frame on the driver's side and to the axle on the passenger side. The purpose of the trackbar is to center the axle on the frame. With the axle centered on the frame, it provides some resistance to the steering system to allow you to turn. If there was no trackbar and you turned the steering, the whole front frame would shift. As a result, there is significant force applied to the trackbar in driving and steering.

Now, imagine that the bolts that hold the trackbar are loose in their bolt holes, or that the bolt holes are wallowed out (oval), or that the bushings at the trackbar ends are damaged, or that the bracket at the axle side has come loose because the weld has broken, or that the bushings are all twisted up because the rig has been lifted without the installer loosening the bolts and then retightened them at the new ride height. All these things would allow play in the front trackbar. When you steer or go around a corner, these loose or broken things would allow the axle to shake or slide side to side. If you hit a bump in the road, it could knock the trackbar towards the driver's side. Then, the rest of the suspension (springs, etc.) would try to bring the trackbar back to the passenger side. If you were going at any sort of speed, you could develop a kind of harmonic resonance as the axle more and more violently slide/rocked/shaked from side to side. It would feel like your whole front end was being voilently torn apart. You would have to bring your vehicle to a complete standstill to stop the harmonic resonance. This is Death Wobble.

Even one incident of violent Death Wobble related to the front trackbar can cause significant damage. The voilent harmonic resonance of the back and forth shaking is more than the trackbar bushings, bolt holes, and brackets are designed to handle. A severe Death Wobble occurance can crack or break the welds on the axle side trackbar bracket, or the bolt can wallow out the bolt hole in the bracket, or the bushing can be permanently damaged.

This is the most common source of Death Wobble because inexperienced installers either do not remove the bolt from the trackbar when they install a lift--leaving the bushing pinched in the bracket and bound up, or they do not properly torque the bolts after the lift has been installed with the tires on and the full weight of the vehicle on the ground at ride height, or (maybe the most common) they do not retorque the trackbar bolts after the first 50 miles, after every heavy wheeling trip, and at every oil change interval.

Next, look at the lower control arms (purple) and the upper control arms (light blue). In the picture, they are aftermarket arms with a heim joint on one end. However, the stock control arms have a rubber bushing at each end. When the control arms are properly torqued, the bushing is somewhat pinched in the mounting brackets on the axle and the frame. Sometimes, an installer will make the mistake of not loosening the bolts for the control arms when they install a lift. What happens sometimes is they really bind up the bushings because they are pinched/sandwiched at stock ride height, but then forced to the new lifted ride height. These bound up bushings can cause weird handling, bushing failure, and lead to Death Wobble. The proper way is to loosen the bolts, install the lift, reinstall the wheels so the suspension and jeep are at the new ride height, rock the vehicle/suspension back and forth and side to side, then re-torque the bolts to spec, then after 50 miles re-torque them to spec, then after every oil change or very heavy wheeling trip re-torque them to spec.

Improperly balanced tires, too much air in tires, bent wheels, improperly installed wheel spacers, bad tires (with separated plys), and poor alignment specs (caster, camber, and not enough toe-in) can cause wobbles and shimmies that lead to Death Wobble. However, these precipitate Death Wobble, but they are not the cause of Death Wobble.
Although not specifically identified in the picture, the ball joints that are at the top and bottom of each knuckle where it attaches to the axle C can go bad. Bad ball joints can cause shimmies, wobbles, but usually not full on Death Wobble.

Next, allthough not identified in the picture, the unit bearings can go bad and be a cause of shimmy and wobble, but not Death Wobble.

Hope this helps--assuming you read it all.

Death Wobble is no mystery.

The reason that the steering stabilizer masks it is that it can absorb some of the side to side voilent harmonics of a loose trackbar or damaged mounts. However, this masking is dangerous because it will not prevent the eventual failure of trackbar bracket welds and bolt holes from trackbar Death Wobble.

It is extremely important to immediately diagnose and fix Death Wobble.

Even one episode of DW can damage other components.

Multiple episodes of DW are almost guaranteed to damage other components.

Multiple episodes will often damage your:

    • ball joints
    • tie rod ends--including the adjusting sleeve end on the driver side
    • trackbar bushings
    • trackbar bracket bolt holes
    • steering sector shaft (where the pitman arm attaches to the steering box)
    • steering stabilizer
    • front lower control arm bracket bolt holes
    • unit bearings
    • trackbar bracket welds
    • drag link ends
Hellbound13 is an example of a member who with 5-6 episodes of trackbar related DW on a stock jeep ended up "chasing his tail" for many, many months. He ended up replacing almost everything in the above list--sometimes more than once.

Without repairing/replacing everything that was damaged at once, the remaining damaged components continued to cause DW problems, further damaging the remaining components.

This is Death Wobble (and the guy is extremely foolish for repeating it on purpose):
YouTube - Death Wobble
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I have just got a 2011 can you tell me were I can find the torque specs for the front end. I would like to re-torque them. Thanks for the help
Here: ( - Jeep JK Wrangler Resource » Jeep JK Wrangler Torque Settings).
Question: While doing my typical look over under the hood, I reached down and gave an up/down tug on the tie rod, drag link, and the track bar.

While the track bar is immovable, both the tie rod and the drag link can be readily moved up and down by hand. Is this normal?
SeaComms said:
Depends what you mean by up and down movement. As the bars are not straight, 'lifting' will make it rotate (and quite easily), this is normal.

If you can make the rod end move up and down then the rod ends are stuffed.
I can grab either the tie rod or the drag link around their center point, and "lift" either bar. They basically feel like they're hinged--like I'm lifting a lid.

Sounds to me more like the lifting to make it "rotate" that you mentioned . . . and I haven't had any adverse handling characteristics. How would I check to see if I can make "the rod end move up and down"?
kjeeper10 said:
Always thought "up and down" was how it's designed and whats normal. Lateral (correct) would be a no no. Or sloppy on the ball joints.

Also that is the clunk manual jeepers often hear I think.
That would coordinate with what I'm seeing. Up/down can be easily done, left/right has no play.
planman said:
As I mentioned in post #1, Chrysler decided to cut corners and uses bolts that are too small compared to the front trackbar bracket bolt holes and bolt sleeves.

They should do a recall of all JKs and install 9/16" front trackbar bolts.
Is there a reason we as consumers can't (or shouldn't) simply do this as part of a lift install or general maintenance?
LighthouseGuy said:
I plan on ordering a new Wrangler in February with delivery in late March or early April 2012. It's going to be fairly basic - the Sport S, two-door with the 6-speed manual and dual-top option.

I don't do a lot of my own mechanic work on a car. I plan to use this as a daily driver (second car) and will occasionally drive it on backroads in North Carolina's mountains or make a few trips to the Outer Banks and may have it on the beach ...

Question: I had never heard of Death Wobble until today ... and it sounds pretty freakin' awful. Most of the posts I have read describe 2007-08 JKs. Does this continue to be a problem for the newer JKs?
It is possible on any vehicle with a solid front axle, including the 2012 Wrangler. Keep in mind that it is very rare, almost non-existent on stock vehicles.
planman said:
This is why it is a good idea to replace the stock bolts with 9/16" grade 8 bolts.
Dumb question perhaps, but where does one find these bolts? An auto parts store? Home Depot? This is for anybody, not just Planman in particular . . .
I do not recall where I read it, but I understand that nylock nuts do not give accurate torque spec readings due to the resistance from the nylon. This might be fine for armor, but I would be hesitant to use them with suspension components.

It would be best to use stover top lock nuts. However, I understand that a nut with a lock washer would be second best.

Poly Performance sells a grade 8 hardware kit for the JK:

Poly Performance JEEP/TRUCK & BUGGY*::*Suspension*::*Suspension & Lift Kits*::*Jeep Suspension Systems*::*2007-Current Jeep JK Wrangler Suspension Systems*::*Synergy Suspension*::*Synergy Suspension Jeep JK F911 Hardware Kit - 4X4 Off-Road Parts, JK

It replaces all the hardware in all 4 lower control arms and both trackbars.

High strength F911 hardware
Replaces the Lower Control Arm (LCA) hardware that gets destroyed from wheeling abuse
Replaces the Track Bar (TB) bolts which often get worn out from service
Includes hardened extra thick washers that will not deform or contort like standard washers

Kit Includes:

(8) 9/16-18 UNF x 4.0" long F911 bolts (LCAs)
(4) 9/16-18 UNF x 3.0" long F911 bolts (TBs)
(12) 9/16-18 UNF G9 Stover top lock nuts
(24) 9/16" Extra Thick G9 hardened flat washers

It may seem steep at $65, but it isn't easy to find the Stover top lock nuts in smaller quantities.

If you ordered 25 Stovers at $20, and then spent $2.25 each for the 8 bolts that are 4" long, $2 each for the 4 that are 3" long, and $0.50 each for 24 extra thick washers, you'd spend $58 gathering the hardware yourself to save $7.

Although the front trackbar is the one of biggest concern, it would definitely not hurt to upgrade the hardware for both trackbars and all 4 lower control arms.
Following up on this, a separate thread with some good pics and so on has developed on replacing these bolts. You can find it here.
Macman1138 said:
I have over 19,000 miles on my COD Rubicon and no troubles yet.
It's almost--though not entirely--unheard of on an unmodded vehicle, so I wouldn't be too concerned.
I bought the poly performance bolt kit, and contacted my Jeep Dealer, but they told me that the dealership wont install the aftermarket kit.

Anyone have their dealer install these bolts?
Why have the dealer do anything? Just do it yourself or have a shop do it.
Is there a link anywhere to instructions?
Unscrew old bolts. Insert new bolts. Tighten to spec. Retighten after 50 miles or so. There's a few torque value charts floating around somewhere--like this one. Find some local jeepers and offer pizza/beer in exchange for a little wrenching/learning. :thumb:
The steering stabilizer is neither the cause nor the solution. Period. I don't care what dealers say--indeed they say all sorts of crazy stuff. Read the first few posts of this thread for a complete checklist.
Peaceful Pirate said:
I disagree.

There's nothing magic about a Rancho stabilizer. I've also seen folks claim an alignment or a tire rotation fixed their DW, but it doesn't make them right. Either they didn't have DW to begin with, something else was tightened or changed along the way, or perhaps the stabilizer/alignment/etc fixed whatever issue was principally setting off the DW.

But as I understand it, it's just not possible that steering stabilizers, alignments, tire rotations, etc. will in and of themselves fix the combination of harmonics and loose fittings that is DW. They can't. Look at what those things are, think about what they do, and just think about what DW is.

By all means, switch out your stabilizer. If your DW goes away, I have to think that it's because you either didn't have DW to begin with or you're no longer having the issue that would trigger it. If it's the latter, then whatever was actually allowing you to experience DW (wallowed out TB bolts, etc) is still there.

Have you tried the checklist found in the first few posts of this thread?
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JaVa Crush said:
Im looking at Buy my JKUR tomorrow....this DW and replacing bolts has me wondering if i should wait until 2013 jeeps come out in June, any This is a problem with stock
2012 jeeps, or is after people add mods like lifts...

any feedback would be awesome
As has been said in this thread many times, it's an issue inherent to solid front axles. The 2013s will be no different than any wrangler that came before. It's an itty-bitty risk in a stock wrangler, and a large risk in a wrangler with a poorly installed or maintained lift.
Con Artist said:
Didn't read through the entire thread but what causes this?
You don't need to read the whole thread, but at least read the first post. That's the best possible explanation.
jmcdolej said:
Had DW yesterday. Dealer this morning. . . . . Does Jeep cover any of this? I have a rough country lift on 35s. 2010 45k miles.

For the time period set out in the warranty manual, Jeep covers the vehicle as it left the factory. They don't cover any specific parts you changed (e.g., Rough Country steering stabilizer), nor do they cover anything damaged by what you changed (e.g., Rough Country part damages an original factory part, leading to a problem).

Seeing as how your 3/36 general warranty has already run out, you're left with your 5/60 warranty on powertrain. DW isn't a powertrain issue. And on top of that, your DW was most likely caused by your lift components or installation. So I would expect coverage to be denied.

Further, unless you can somehow convince them to cover it under warranty, I would definitely not have the dealer fix it. I'd expect it'd be more expensive and less competent than a good 4x4 shop that sees this issue with some regularity.

I have no idea what your particular third party warranty covers, though much like with Chrylser's warranty, I would be shocked to learn they cover things that went wrong due to your poor choice of aftermarket components or poor installation of those components. Warranties generally cover DEFECTS in stock equipment, not aftermarket parts or installation. So while the remainder of the warranty likely remains intact (seat stitching, radio, engine, transmission, etc.), you're very likely on your own for problems you cause with aftermarket components.

As you've learned by reading the first few posts in this thread, DW is related to problems with the front suspension. Worn parts, bent parts, improperly installed or maintained parts, etc. To install your lift, many of those parts had to be removed and reinstalled, and possibly replaced depending on what lift you have. It'd be very difficult to show that the DW was actually caused by a defective, original Chrysler part or installation rather than your lift components or their installation. And even if you could, you're still out past the 3/36 warranty.

So if you want somebody else to pay for this, I'd suggest either Rough Country or the lift installer. If it's anybody else's fault, it's likely one (or both) of them. Good luck with that though . . . . I'd expect the sales materials from both made clear they won't be responsible for any consequential damages. That's generally the risk you run when you choose to mod your vehicle.
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Here are the pics that they sent me. I am trying to get the dealer that I bought it from a freakin month ago to at least cover the rental car.
I don't see the cracks.

But in any event, that you JUST BOUGHT this jeep is very relevant. When--exactly--did you buy the jeep? Did you install this lift or have someone install it, or did you get the jeep already lifted?

Look at your sales contract. Used car dealerships often provide a 30-day warranty. Read those provisions carefully, and time may be of the essence here so do it NOW. If you have such a warranty and it even arguably allows you to return the vehicle for a major problem, and if this lift was on the jeep when you got it, and if you're still within the warranty's time period, then I'd inform the dealer that I want to exercise my warranty rights and return the vehicle. Make sure you do that in writing and in compliance with whatever terms are stated in the warranty.

Absent that, this also sheds new light on the third party warranty. Assuming you bought this warranty with the jeep, read the warranty documents carefully--how did they warrant the vehicle? As you bought it, or as it was from the factory? Presuming you bought the vehicle with the lift already installed, you can imagine why that answer could be very relevant as to whether they owe you coverage.
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If you've got a 30-day warranty through the dealer, I'd return the jeep.

DW is notoriously tough to chase. Sophisticated guys with a lot of patience often get it fixed, but many clueless folks get one patchjob after another for years. Many service techs (particularly at a place that doesn't specialize in solid axle front vehicles) aren't familiar with it or what causes it.

A real fix is likely to include welding high grade washers onto the axle housing, replacing the front trackbar and any worn ball joints, balancing the tires, and replacing all of the bolts used to hold front trackbar to the jeep. That alone is going to run over $1000, and there's probably some other stuff I'm forgetting as well. And even still . . . you never really know it's fixed--you just wait for it to happen again

If there's room for this interpretation in any 30-day warranty you got from the dealership, I'd argue that this is a substantial and dangerous defect, and that it is unrealistic to believe it can be fixed absent highly skilled and professional labor along with high quality and expensive parts. I want a refund, and they can have the jeep back.

If they refuse, I'd leave them with the keys and sue them within the week. (Admittedly . . . it helps that I'm a lawyer . . . .)

If they want to compromise, I'd also consider accepting an unconditional written guarantee from the owner of the business personally as well as the business itself that for the duration of my ownership of the vehicle, that they will fix any and all problems related to DW for free. If they don't like that, then they can pay you back, patch it up, and put it back on the lot for the next sucker.

As to the third party warranty, make sure you read your policy and see what it actually excludes. Don't accept what the adjuster tells you over the phone as the end of it.
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jmcdolej said:
Left dealer one. They wanted it to sit for 9 days before fixing it. Dealer two said it would be done by Friday. Had a long conversation with the body shop guy about death wobble. He assured me he would get it fixed. He knew what DW. He has installed jeep lifts before. Dealer I bought from seems ready to pay for this and I am going to get them to agree to pay for anything associated with this problem going forward. Wish me luck.
Sounds like a potentially good resolution--good luck. :thumb:
Frogy said:
Ok here's my point, the track bar doesn't cause anything, it is there as you said, to keep the axle centered. It seems to me that trackbar looseness is merely a symptom of a suspension with possibly many other issues. As with replacing the steering stabilizer, simply replacing the bolts in the trackbar only masks a greater problem somewhere else. My bet is that at some point if those problems are ignored it won't matter if the bolts on the trackbar are tight, the suspension will likely start to tear off mounting points.
I don't quite see the logic here.

Unless they're lock-tited or welded in, bolts loosen in all sorts of applications. Maybe they weren't torqued enough to begin with, maybe they were put through undue strain or flexion, maybe they were defective, etc.

The suspension system is held together by bolts. Sometimes one or more of them loosen. That's made more likely when some of those bolts should have been shouldered to prevent unnecessary wear, but wasn't.

Maybe I'm missing your argument. :confused:
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