By on August 13, 2019

All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Sahara

Reports of alarming oscillations transmitted through the steering wheels of various Jeep Wranglers started landing on the NHTSA’s lap last year, years after off-road enthusiasts began complaining of the same issue. A product of a solid front axle, higher speeds, and an unexpected jolt ⁠— like hitting a bump in the road ⁠— the so-called “death wobble” sparked a class-action lawsuit that alleges Jeep’s Wrangler boasts an inherently unsafe axle and suspension design.

Now Fiat Chrysler says it has a solution to the wobble, with notifications headed to owners’ mailboxes from coast to coast. Will the supposed fix serve to pour cold water over the lawsuit? At this point, it doesn’t seem so.

Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, FCA’s chief technical compliance officer, Mark Chernoby, said a new steering damper (aka stabilizer) should help put the brakes on the jarring oscillations. Videos obtained by the automaker show a Wrangler’s steering wheel moving back and forth by five degrees following a highway bump, Chernoby said.

The problem afflicting Wranglers, he added, amounts to resonance of the front axle and dampers containing air bubbles.

“If you bang [a tuning fork] with that frequency it’ll just sit there and keep going 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 told Freep. “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.”

Cold weather makes the oil contained within the dampers less viscous, and air bubbles don’t disappear from the fluid as quickly, he said. When asked if the issue was a result of a faulty part, Chernoby replied, “No, I would not blame it on manufacturing. It was a combination of design and manufacturing process.”

The automaker claims no injuries or deaths are attributed to the death wobble and that only 2 percent of buyers of Jeep’s new-generation Wrangler have complained. Drivers claim that the only way to quickly correct the wobble is to speed up or slow down.

Still, a lawsuit filed in a Detroit federal court, one which FCA would like to see dismissed, claims the company designed a defective front axle and dampening system. The suit, targeting 2015-2018  Wranglers, specifically mentions the possibility of FCA attempting to fix the wobble via a steering damper. Litigants called such a move a “Band-Aid.”

After reports of  the wobble hit the media last fall, numerous Wrangler JL owners contacted both the NHTSA and Free Press to complain of their fruitless attempts to remedy the issue.

All new Wranglers rolling out of Toledo now carry the new damper, Chernoby said, adding that owners who want to have it installed can do so at their dealer, free of charge. The offer is not part of a recall, he said.

In an email to Freep, FCA stated, “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. 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.”

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

39 Comments on “Fiat Chrysler Unveils ‘Death Wobble’ Fix, Lawsuit Plaintiffs Likely Not Satisfied...”


  • avatar
    NoID

    I’m directing a HEAVY eye-roll towards the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

    These kinds of wobble/resonance problems are due to a system which is under-damped, so applying a damper to the system is EXACTLY, SCIENTIFICALLY what is needed. Could you technically call it a band-aid? Yes, but nearly every recall fix is a band-aid, BECAUSE IT HAS TO BE APPLIED TO A VEHICLE ALREADY BUILT AND ALREADY OPERATING IN THE FIELD.

    I want to throw something right now. Greedy @$$holes want their tort payday, they don’t give a damn about the people they’re representing.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      ^^ Exactly this.

      This is what dampers do. It’s a great solution.

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        It’s not a great solution, it’s the only solution. They can either apply a damper to the existing design or re-design the entire system to have better damping (something that may or may not be feasible given the constraints imposed by time, money, package space, and functional requirements).

        I suppose the other solution is to brick peoples’ vehicles in late fall/early winter…but that doesn’t seem reasonable.

        I think this issue has only come to notoriety as sales of the Wrangler have grown beyond the niche segment to the general buying public. As someone else stated downstream, the “death wobble” is an issue that can crop up on any vehicle with a solid front axle, especially as components wear out. People who drive such vehicles can detect it and correct it via driving style, people who don’t know what’s going on probably just freeze, one hand on the wheel and the other on their latte, and run into curbs/other cars while their brains fail to process the situation.

        Then they call a lawyer.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Here’s the problem with the “informed consumer” argument: does FCA’s sales pitch for the Wrangler include the words “death wobble”? Do they make buyers sign a “death wobble disclosure” when they buy their Wranglers? If so, then you’re absolutely correct – buyer beware, and to hell with the bloodsucking lawyers.

          But last I checked, Jeep doesn’t talk much about this particular feature of Wrangler ownership.

          We can b*tch about lawyers all we want, but in cases like this, how else do we figure out there’s a problem? Lord knows the manufacturer isn’t going to fix it up front out of an excess of caution.

          • 0 avatar
            NoID

            My problem isn’t with lawyers, it’s with THESE lawyers. The fix is in, it’s exactly the type of fix one would logically consider for this kind of problem, and the lawyers have dismissed it out of hand.

            Yes, please bring issues to the fore and encourage/entice/force the manufacturers to correct them. But don’t dismiss the fixes just because there’s good money to be made prolonging the problem.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            “Death Wobble” is a colloquial term and nothing you would see in an official document from an automaker.

            Jeep’s owners manual will tell you to keep the suspension and steering components in good condition and have them inspected at the dealer. If this is done, 99% of “death wobble” cases would go away. More than likely, the plaintiff in this case had modified their suspension, which is known to increase the risk.

            As a counter, blowouts are an inherent risk of driving a vehicle with air filled tires. No manufacturer makes anyone sign a disclosure that they understand the risk of blowouts. Death wobble is an inherent risk of a worn out solid axle suspension. It would be just as silly to make someone sign to understand that. If you buy a vehicle designed for off-roading, it’s accepted that there will be compromises in on-road behavior.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “Jeep’s owners manual will tell you to keep the suspension and steering components in good condition and have them inspected at the dealer. If this is done, 99% of “death wobble” cases would go away.”

            Makes sense when you’re talking about older models, but the controversy here is over the JL model, which came out a little over a year ago. What’s the service interval on this for this model?

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          @NoID: They already had a damper up front–believe it or not that was part of the Daimler design of the earlier JK and JKU. If anything, all they needed was a heavier damper to reduce the amount of wobble.

          However, I describe below what really needs to be done to eliminate the chance of it reaching that level of effect.

          • 0 avatar
            NoID

            Yes, but clearly it doesn’t provide adequate damping under these specific circumstances.

            If it is in fact related to wear, and not the design, then the bushings are not durable enough. These vehicles are from the 2015-2018 model year, unless these are all very high-mileage examples I wouldn’t expect these components to be wearing out so quickly as to cause wobble issues.

        • 0 avatar
          C W

          It’s not just vehicles with solid front axles that have had steering dampers as original equipment.

          Most of the air-cooled VWs in the 1960s and 1970s did.

          So did (do?) various BMW motorcycles.

          I’m sure there are others.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Damper has been on these things since the 2007 JK model.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Hasn’t this been going on for years and affects many more Jeeps than just the newer Wranglers?

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      It affects anything with a solid front axle once suspension and steering parts begin to wear out.

      The fact that owners are continually surprised by this astonishes me. It is one of the tradeoffs for a solid axle up front.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Cold weather makes the oil contained within the dampers less viscous”

    That should say “… more viscous”. Hydraulic fluids and oils become thicker (more viscous) with colder temperatures. This is why the air bubbles remain trapped – if that’s what’s really going on.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      You’re bringing science to this discussion?

      Fake news! Intellectual! Next thing you know you’ll be calling for socialism with your…science.

      ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        Snowmobile shocks use a lighter hydraulic oil like auto trans fluid to address viscosity with cold weather use. At least they did a couple of decades ago when I was making them. Things may have changed. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      +1, SCE to AUX

      I realize I get what I pay for with this site, but some of the writers really need an editor. Absent that, they need to start running their work though a spelling and grammar check and reading it–out loud if that helps–to themselves prior to publication. A case in point is the awkward juxtaposition of “year” and “years” in the first sentence. It would read better as “. . . in 2018, years after. . . .”

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    Funny how my 62 Scout and 79 Jeep Renegade never do this, yet it’s something FCA has struggled to resolve.

    I’ve also seen video of this happening on a Ram Heavy Duty so it’s not just the Jeep line.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I think part of the issue is the new school solid axle with coil springs and leading arms, versus the old school solid axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs.

      • 0 avatar
        MoparRocker74

        I experienced this issue on my ‘00 TJ, that I bought in ‘03 with a 2” lift, 30K miles and 33×12.50 15’s. It happened if I hit a bump on one side or the other at speeds around 25-35 mph. The issue was a rotten track bar bushing (rubber) on the frame side. A $9 urethane replacement and I drove that Jeep for 100K more miles without incident.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      As mentioned, it’s a characteristic of worn components on any vehicle with a coil sprung solid front axle. Ford battled it since ’04 when the Super Duty switched to coils in the fronts. The major issue is that service techs at dealers often don’t understand the issue. They have trouble diagnosing and repairing the components that cause it which causes repeat concerns. There are some good service publications out there now about it which have helped on that line.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’ve experienced the Death Wobble personally and I still didn’t sue the company. Sure, it’s scary–especially if it happens at 60mph or better–but in the end it was a non-event; it’s typical of any solid front axle vehicle if you let the suspension bushings and joints age. If there is any fault in it, it’s the fact that those bushings and joints are supposed to be permanently lubricated… no grease needed. They clearly need more frequent inspection by people who understand what can happen if they’re not. Probably the one car that should get those joints lubed at every oil change.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Just curious: does anyone know if Jeep warns buyers up front about this as a potential problem endemic to this particular front suspension design?

    Seems to me that might stave off lawsuits like this.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I had this happen on my well-used but new-to-me ’01 Grand Cherokee. About scared the poop out of me. It was worn tie rod ends and a bad steering dampener. Fixed that, and never an issue again.

    But it does seem to be pretty epidemic with Jeeps – this issue is pretty much unknown on Land Rovers with solid front axles, and makes me wonder what the design difference is.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Imagine buying an actual Jeep and not expecting death wobble

  • avatar
    Charliej

    The wobble is why most manufacturers switched to independent front suspension in the 1930’s. As others have said it is endemic on vehicles with a solid axle on the front. And there is nothing that can be done to completely eliminate the wobble. If people would get over the idea that a solid axle is necessary for off road use this problem would not exist. Or if you want a solid axle for off road use, don’t drive it fast on the highway or you will have a wobble. That is just how a solid axle works and it will not change.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      @CharlieJ- Thanks for the explanation. Muchas Garcias… LOL

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      But I was told on this forum that independent suspension will crater all the OEMs’ sales because all consumers know that you can’t really tow, haul, or go off-road without two solid axles.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        To be fair, in the one remaining segment (HD trucks) where there is a choice between IFS (GM) and solid front axle (Ford, Ram), it’s surprisingly common to hear buyers of the latter two say they wouldn’t consider GM because of the IFS. How often that is actually the deciding factor, I have no idea. I’m sure it’s based more on perceptions than reality, because the GM trucks are plenty capable for 95% of the tasks anyone would possibly need them to do. It didn’t enter into my thinking when I was truck shopping. But GM is perennially in 3rd place in HD sales, so it may matter more than you think.

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    EVERY Jeep eventually gets the Death Wobble. It is VERY SCARY when it happens, and I have only seen it on Jeeps. It is a violent shaking of the car usually at high speed. Very violent. It causes a loss of control, and can and does, I suspect, cause many accidents and near-accidents. It comes from worn suspension parts, but WHY oh WHY does EVERY Jeep get it while it is virtually unknown in other cars/trucks/vehicles ? I suspect that it is inherent in the type of suspension that Jeeps use. I am not a suspension expert. My (used) Grand Cherokee got it about 3 or 4 months after I bought it. About $1200 in parts and labor fixed it. All good now.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Jeeps with independent front suspension won’t be affected. ANY vehicle with a coil sprung solid front axle is susceptible, however. Just so happens Jeep makes a lot of those. It’s due to the front axle shimmying laterally which pulls on the steering linkage. This can be constrained and dampened in various ways but when everything works as designed, it doesn’t happen.

  • avatar
    Best_Ever

    Its about time they admitted their fault and fixed their junk. Only took the losing prospect of a lawsuit to do it. Sigh.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I’ve solved some Jeep death wobble issues myself and have a working understanding of why it’s such a sticky wicket. That the newest ones are wobbling before wear can be used as an excuse isn’t that much of a surprise. A basic understanding of geometry reveals that the track bar is moving the front axle in a different arc than the drag link is maintaining between the pitman arm and the tie rod. Without a redesign, it’s all about suppression. Herpes is going nowhere.

    Does anyone know if tractor-trailers experience death wobble? They have solid front axles and heavy wheel-tire assemblies. If not, why not? They rack up the miles, and only some of them are properly maintained.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      Tractor trailers do experience ‘death’ wobble— it just is not called ‘death’ wobble.

      This is a colloquial term and TTAC probably shouldn’t use the term. Kinda like other terms we’ve had to stop using because it’s not cool to overstate or to estimate dangers in litigious 2019. We’re kind of only allowed to ask an expert’s opinion on this stuff.

      Back to big trucks— I’ve kept two fleets, about 1500 trucks— in my career. Suspension componentry is kept in-stock at the local terminal level, and is required to be inspected every service to maintain DOT and insurance compliances.

      They’re all DEF-drinking automated manuals, too. And they have CANBUS and as many modules as cars. The computers aren’t the problem in modern cars. Never let anyone argue that point with you!

  • avatar
    Fordson

    A lot of the reason stuff like this is cropping up is that nowadays we have tons of sorority girls and frat bros whose parents got them a Wrangler because it’s cute/badass, who think the highest and best use of this offroad vehicle is to get it up on the super slab and drive it at 80 mph, drifting around in lane, while playing with their phones and/or gabbing with their peeps.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    my ’93 Grand Cherokee, and several others about the same time had the “death wobble” and it was pretty scary. I had to insist the dealer replace the stabilizer to cure the problem. They argued for weeks as it kept happening that the stabilizer was “fine”, but so was the front suspension, so I don’t know why they resisted my suggestion it had to be the stabilizer. When they finally did replace it, I took it for a short test drive and came back to the service entrance and gave the service manager a thumbs up. I ended up getting some free oil changes for “solving the problem” as more and more cases of it were happening. The oil changes, I think it was like a half dozen, paid me back for the stabilizer, so I was happy. Why it wasn’t the obvious fix here is a mystery. It’s not rocket science.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Another reason I don’t buy there junk. If this were a post of any GM product 80% of the posts would bash the living daylights out of them. Yet literally every single owner of a late model Jeep anything, the wonderful Calibre, the current ram pickup, a Dart or 200 etc has had nothing but swear words or cursing when asked how they like there vehicles. The only thing they make that I would ever remotely consider is the Charger/Challenger but only with an extended warranty.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • BeerMe45: Your new “Read all Comments” button will stop me from idly scrolling down. Now I have to make a...
  • akear: Since Johan de Nysschen left Cadillac the division is releasing one turkey after another. The worst of all is...
  • JimZ: yes they do. But reality places constraints on everything. Here’s what I mean: When you supply a part...
  • JimZ: ” this revisionist history proclaims that George Washington was a negro, and Ebonics is the national...
  • TimK: The Michelin Defender is a good tire, quiet at speed, good on wet roads — but — my set only lasted 45K miles,...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States