By on June 13, 2019

2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport

A Jeep Wrangler owner has accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of ignoring an alleged safety issue with the vehicle’s steering system; one that leads to the notorious “death wobble.”

The term is one Jeep fans are already familiar with and basically entails sudden, violent vibrations from front-end steering components, usually taking place on the highway. On Wednesday, a lawsuit filed on behalf of New Jersey resident Clair Reynolds claimed FCA delivered a “defectively designed and/or manufactured front axle and damping system” allowing for the dreaded wobble to occur after “encountering road variations” at speed.

While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has never issued a recall related to the issue, it’s familiar with the phenomenon and has been pressured by safety advocates to investigate since before 2012. But previous studies into the wobble found it relatively difficult to replicate, and no serious injuries have stemmed from it. Reynolds’ legal council says that doesn’t cut it. 

The lawsuit acknowledges that Fiat Chrysler has discussed the wobble in the past but also accuses it of misleading customers instead of fixing the alleged problem: “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.'”

According to The Detroit News, Fiat Chrysler said it has not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on its allegations. “We note, however, that any manufacturer vehicle equipped with a solid axle can experience steering system vibration and, if experienced, it is routinely corrected,” the automaker said.

While the solid-axle rebuff sounds a little weak, it is technically the truth. That’s one reason trucks with suspensions modified for off-road use often exhibit the phenomenon. A bad bushing, a loose sway bar, or inappropriate caster angle can exacerbate the issue quite a bit. In truth, there are a myriad of items that can cause the wobble, but it typically starts the same way: One tire will begin oscillating after encountering a pothole or hump in the road and the rest of the vehicle begins shaking violently as the whole front axle begins to shimmy.

Drivers caught off guard will no doubt find the experience terrifying. But it can usually be solved by bringing down the vehicle’s speed and effectively eliminating the suspension’s ability to continue vibrating.

FCA has suggested that numerous complaints related to steering vibrations are linked to poorly installed or maintained aftermarket equipment, as well as damaged or worn steering components and incorrect tire pressure. But the suit is seeking class-action status for all 2015-2018 Jeep Wranglers, with the onus entirely on the manufacturer. Reynolds’ council also says Jeep’s current solution of offering customers a replacement steering damper (if the vehicle is under warranty) has been insufficient.

From The Detroit News:

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.

The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages “for FCA’s knowing fraud that put drivers and members of the public nationwide at risk;” calls for regulators to order the company to issue a recall.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

[Images: FCA]

 

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33 Comments on “The Death Wobble: FCA Sued Over Alleged Jeep Wrangler JK Steering Issues...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    So much for the Wrangler Trackhawk edition.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    We had a TJ in the shop one time with the death wobble. All of our Jeep experts looked at the usual causes and could find nothing left to be replaced and had pretty much given up. When they put it back on the lift, I noticed that the entire front axle walked about three inches to one side as it went to full suspension droop. It turns out that the leading arm brackets were bent at the frame end, almost certainly due to some sort of trauma experienced by the Jeep. I don’t know if it could be fixed, but it was fun to shut up the know-it-all techs.

    I probably should have bought the Jeep from its second owner who thought it mattered that the Jeep was scary on the interstate. The death wobble wouldn’t have been much of an issue off road on in the snow, which is all I would do with a Jeep. Death wobble is the price of using a Jeep as a costume.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I’ve actually seen this happen to a last gen jeep at 80 miles per hour, looks terrifying. I was back about 50 feet when I saw the wheels go completely bonkers. It only lasted for 5-10 seconds until they slowed down a little but very freaked out to be near a car that seemed so out of control

      • 0 avatar
        OzCop

        That reminds me of Chevy’s and other GM products from the early 50s. The same thing would occur, as the front wheels wobbled violently. Steering Sector bushings fixed that as I recall. Of course, we are talking 60 year old technology here, and no straight axle, but symptoms are the same. Twin I beam front axles had similar characteristics.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Isn’t that bottom picture (the Mojito Green one) of a JL Wrangler?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Unfortunately, auto manufacturers have been caught so many time denying an issue, which eventually is proven to be a legitimate proven, that their denials ring false.

    I am not saying that Jeep has a problem, time will clear the truth…..all I am saying is that nobody really trusts the auto companies anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      Amazon sourced Chinese Lift Kit and mondo 35” Tires. I know about FCA dubious engineering. but this will be a pass on FCA. As TODDF1 says, it usually is a result of mods or damage.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        … And Daimler cheaping out on materials to make their G-Wagon the better product. (The JKU and G-Wagon were virtual twins until 2010.)

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          The G-Class and Wrangler were *never, ever, ever, ever* twins, or related to one another. I believe the only major component they would have shared was a 5-speed automatic transmission at one point in time. That said, I’m sure Daimler took one look at the success of the four-door G-Class when they brought it to the U.S. in the early aughts and decided to replicate it with the Wrangler JKU, for the masses.

          So the G-Class inspired the Wrangler JKU, but they aren’t blood relatives. More like cousins by marriage. And the fact that JKU was cheap-feeling was more a result of Daimler’s cost-cutting regime across all of the Chrysler products, and it was because they didn’t want to “waste money” investing on the Chrysler side. In fact, the Wrangler was probably the vehicle on which they were most *able* to have a cheap interior and get away with it. The Wrangler TJ and previous models were spartan by definition; no one had ever really felt entitled to a “nice” Wrangler from the factory. We didn’t know what one was.

          Furthermore, I don’t think people that wanted a G-Class would have been lured in by a fancy Wrangler, to the point that one would have been a threat to Mercedes-Benz. If you wanted a G-Class, and were willing to pay 3-4X the cost of a Wrangler for one…that was what you bought. And that’s still the case, even now that the JLU is essentially a luxury SUV in Sahara and upscale Rubicon trims.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            What manual transmission did the G-Wagon carry in ’07? Would have been a four-cone model? with six speeds? Why? Because the Wrangler carried the Daimler tranny until somewhere around ’10, if not longer. And having seen the G-Wagon of the same vintage, rolling down the highway side-by-side their lines were nearly identical–the more obvious differences being purely cosmetic outside of the rear door on the hardtop (which, if I recall, was the only way you could get the Mercedes at the time.)

            Considering my wife and I bought an ’08 in October of ’07, seeing a Mercedes that looked so much like our Wrangler was a surprise… at first sight (about 200 yards ahead of us in heavy DC traffic) we thought it was a customized ’07. It wasn’t until we got past it and saw the Mercedes symbol in the grille (and the design) that we realized what it was.

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Vulpine, considering they’re both BOF vehicles, take all of 30 seconds to look at the frames for each. The W463 is very simple, basically two steel beams set quite close to each other, and pretty much only bent to accommodate the axles. The JK’s frame rails are set further apart, and bend in to give steering clearance for the front wheels. It’s pretty easy to see they have nothing shared. Do you have anything substantive, or just going off the notion that “they look sort of alike, so they must be related!”?

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            This is perhaps the most insane thing that Vulpine has pulled out of his hat-of-delusion yet. Bravo!

            As others have mentioned, aside from a transmission or something, these are not in any way related, at all.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    It never happened to me in my JK but it did happen often enough in my RR P38. I realized that the previous owner had put in a cheap aftermarket steering tie rod. I attributed the sudden shaking to the tie rod going full guitar string and push-pulling on the wheels at high frequency. I could feel it in the violent movement of the steering wheel. Once I replaced it with the expensive OEM rod, the problem stopped.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    It doesn’t even take a pothole to create this. I saw a Jeep do the ‘death wobble’ after a large puddle in the road.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “Reynolds’ legal council says that doesn’t cut it.”

    They have a whole council of lawyers?

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Hopefully, when FCA wins, the judge reclaims their legal fees from Clair Reynolds’s counsel – as prospective beneficiaries of the frivolous litigation.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Death wobble is an inherent characteristic of a beam front axle.

    Anyone who spends a few minutes searching will find that this has always been the case. It’s completely to be expected, whether the front axle is driven or not. There have been attempts to explain the phenomenon, but none that seem to be able to predict exactly when it will occur.

    I remember ’60s Ford pickups before the Twin I Beam doing it, rattle, shake, tremendous wobble. Anyone daft enough to buy a Jeep should expect it – if they weren’t bright enough to do any research beforehand, hard luck.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I personally think the suit will get thrown out simply because it is a known and ‘ancient’ event. In my own case (an ’08) the JKU Wrangler ended up having ball joints replaced, as well as the steering damper and tie rod ends. All typical of almost every vehicle prior to the ’70s.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    If they’re going to make it Class Action, they need to take it back to 2007 and put it on Daimler’s dish. The design is essentially unchanged from Daimler’s original through the already-named years.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I’m amazed nobody has gotten hurt if this is a real thing. These vehicles are owned by a younger demographic and they tend to drive them fast and aggressive. I have seen them being driven at over 80 miles an hour, which seems absolutely nuts to me for a vehicle of this type. But many of their owners treat them like they’re a two place sports car.

    Maybe the phenomena is limited to vehicles that have had severe suspension damage or poor mods done? I don’t know. But I would think that if this was a common problem somebody somewhere would have gotten hurt by this point.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Superdessucke: Steering and suspension components wear over time. Rarely will anyone experience it in a new vehicle but as it ages, if it isn’t consistently lubricated, boots checked and replaced as necessary, etc, the ball joints and other moving parts will wear and develop ‘slop’, which gradually builds into a wobble or sloppy, inaccurate steering. Problem is, most modern vehicles have sealed and supposedly ‘permanent’ lubrication to the point that many lube shops don’t even look for grease fittings any more. With independent suspensions, there’s not as much need for constant inspection and lubrication.

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    Wranglers are the new Harleys . Junk , but desirable junk that moronic people will gladly overpay for !

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Sorry but a Wrangler is not “junk” by any metric. Harleys, well they are new antiques by design, so I wouldn’t call the junk either…not that I am likely two own either…

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Sorry but a Wrangler is not “junk” by any metric. Harleys, well they are new antiques by design, so I wouldn’t call the junk either…not that I am likely to own either…

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I had an old Army Jeep in high school. Scared me almost witless when I got the death wobble in it. Rather amazing since I don’t think it could have gone 40 mph if you threw it off a cliff.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Love the “They all do that” defense by FCA.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    I’ve put a LOT of miles on 5 different Jeep CJ’s and Wranglers. I’ve never experienced any death wobble on any leaf sprung live axle vehicle, and due to that geometry I can’t see it as very common. Now with a coil sprung setup like in my ‘00 TJ, it’s much more susceptible. Mine was lifted 2” and running 33×12.50’s. I had a bad case of DW and after some research and actual checking of the front end, it turned out it was a rotten track bar bushing on the frame side. It’d been soaked in oil slopped out of the pan (oil degrades rubber) so a $20 urethane part exterminated that problem for good. I put another 100K on that Jeep, only issue was a leaky radiator tank.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Considering that the JK, JKU, JL, JLU and JT are coils all around, the DW is going to be more common than what you experienced in your YJ and TJ models. The new Wranglers are also notably larger than your YJ and TJ models.

  • avatar
    Mike A Davis

    I have experienced death wobble and during the period of time where the dealer said “all set now” but was not, my blood pressure was very high. Death wobble is not difficult to diagnose, and there are a few very good you tube videos on the subject. Unfortunately, the Jeep dealership (s) don’t know what to do, other then throw parts at the problem. Based on the issue, there should be a very specific directive and approach to the issue, not just put in a new steering damper. BTW, my 2008, 2 door, JK X Wrangler is bone stock, so the comments about only on lifted or modified Jeeps, just isn’t true. Fortunately, I had purchased an extended warranty and most everything was covered. My concern to the “no injuries due to death wobble” claim is that if the vehicle went off the road and rolled over and the occupant(s) were injured or worse, there would be no evidence as to the cause of the accident. Also, there is no preventive process to have a repair shop check and repair/replace worn or damaged bushings or control arms etc. Trust me, you don’t want to experience death wobble ever especially at highway speeds. It is very dangerous.. Shame on FCA and Jeep for not stepping up in a preventative way. BTW, one episode of death wobble destroys other suspension parts. That’s how violent the event is on car and driver.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    I actually hated wagon duty during my police career due to suspension and steering wobble in our E 250 Paddy Wagons…When new, they weren’t too bad, but get some miles and a bit of age on them, they were a challenge over rough roads…


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