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Death Wobble

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Picture it: You're barreling down the highway at 70mph and the road starts curving gently to the right. In the middle of the bend you hit a bump with one of your front tires causing the car to shimmy back and forth. Under normal circumstances you might feel some sideways motion in the steering but it goes away almost immediately. Now image it doesn't go away but actually feeds off itself causing the front end of the car to shake violently enough to knock the fillings out of your teeth. This is called death wobble, and it's fairly common in Jeeps. I think it was named as such because when you experience it, your life flashes before your eyes.

I don't have any video of my car wobbling, but I found a youtube video that shows it pretty clearly:

It's kind of like the wonky front wheel on a shopping cart.

It's common on vehicles that are lifted; raised up higher off the ground with big tires. When the car is lifted the geometry of the suspension is altered things don't behave as they were designed.

My Cherokee currently has the wobble (for the second time) which is super annoying because it's all stock. The first time it happened was a few years ago and was caused by a dead steering damper. It had a bad spot right in the middle where it wasn't dampening anything at all. It happened again recently and I was hoping it was just another dead steering damper, but it checked it and that's not the problem. So there is a huge list of things I have to check to see what is causing this:

I'm fairly positive it's not the trackbar or the tie rod ends, they seem to be rock solid. My dad talked to a friend of his who owns a repair shop and has a jeep and before my dad could get the words "death wobble" out of his mouth the guy said "ball joints." I'm pretty sure mine are original to the car so they have 133k miles on them and are probably ready to be changed anyway. I'd rather do this job myself because it doesn't look that hard from what I've seen online and I already have the special press needed. I'm just a little apprehensive because they are so old and rusty and anytime you do something like this on an old car something won't go as planned. I'm going to call around to see how much some local shops want to do the job, but I have a feeling it'll be way more than I'm willing to pay.

Comments (3) Subscribe

#1 - Jul 1, 2009 at 5:13 AM
I think I found the problem, my driver's side upper and lower ball joints. There shouldn't be ANY motion in them (other than twisting as the wheel turns):

#2 - Jul 1, 2009 at 5:25 AM
Better view:

#3 - Oct 6, 2009 at 3:35 PM
Yup, ball joints were the problem:

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