The Death Wobble

Has your Jeep or pickup truck learned to dance?  Does the steering wheel shimmy and shake when you go above a certain speed? If so, then you may have the infamous “death wobble” that plagues particular trucks and Jeeps. 


With a nickname like “the death wobble,” you get the idea that the phenomenon can be scary and even dangerous.  The good news is, as far as we are aware, the death wobble has not caused any actual deaths.  However, it can certainly be surprising and even dangerous.


What is “the death wobble?”

Like so many things about trucks, this nickname can refer to more than one thing.  You may hear people refer to a death wobble if their steering wheel jerks, shakes, and oscillates.  We will refer to that phenomenon as a wheel-only-wobble


The scarier death wobble happens when an entire vehicle begins shaking wildly.  The death wobble causes your vehicle to vibrate and feel like it is on the verge of breaking apart. 


Which vehicles have the death wobble?

That is a great question.  Any vehicle could potentially experience a death wobble if it had damage to the steering or suspension components.  However, some trucks are known for developing a death wobble without any related damage.  They include:

  • Ford 250
  • Ford 350
  • Dodge Ram 2500
  • Dodge Ram 3500
  • Chevy 2500
  • Chevy 3500
  • Four Wheel Drive Jeeps 

How do I handle a death wobble?

Whether you are dealing with a wheel-only wobble or a wobble that is shaking your entire vehicle, you need to take immediate steps to preserve your safety.  The shaking makes it difficult for you to control your vehicle, which poses a safety hazard to you and everyone else on the road.  You need to slow down and pull over as soon as you can safely do so. 


Many times, death wobbles are associated with your speed.  If you notice a significant decrease in shaking as you decelerate, you might be able to safely drive to a parking lot instead of the side of the road. 


The most important thing is to keep control of your steering wheel.  The surprise of the rapidly moving wheel causes some drivers to let go of it, resulting in the vehicle veering and swerving.  On the other hand, you do not want to hold the wheel too tightly; that can cause problems.  You want to try to control the wheel with a relaxed but firm grip.


Are there warning signs of a death wobble? 

There are sometimes, but not always, warning signs of a death wobble.  Sometimes the death wobble begins as mild shaking in the steering wheel or soft rattling of the vehicle.  It will often start slow and gradually worsen over time until you have a vehicle that is not driveable.  The problem will not resolve itself.  If you notice these early warning signs, you should have your vehicle examined and serviced to fix those problems. 


What causes the death wobble?

There are two ways to answer that question.  Many blogs will respond by telling you what triggers the death wobble.  While that is important to know, those triggers are not the actual cause of the problem.  The cause of the death wobble is usually poorly installed, damaged, loose, or missing suspension or steering components.


The death wobble is more frequent in modified vehicles.  Improper installation of aftermarket parts can increase your risk of a death wobble.  However, even if you have aftermarket parts, they may not be to blame.  Plenty of stock vehicles experience the death wobble. 


What triggers the death wobble?

When people ask about the cause of the death wobble, they often want to know what triggers it.  The two most common triggers are hitting something like a bump or a pothole or driving fast.  The death wobble can also be linked to your tires being over-inflated, under-inflated, or mismatched.


Is the death wobble because the vehicle is out of alignment?

No.  Your vehicle’s alignment can impact how it drives and lead to the steering wheel pulling when released.  However, it will not lead to the shaking feeling in your wheel or cause your entire vehicle to shimmy.  If you feel a death wobble, you do not want to dismiss it as an alignment issue. 


Can I prevent a death wobble?

The great news is that the answer to this question is often yes.  Like almost everything related to your vehicle, regular maintenance, inspection, and service can help you avoid the death wobble. 

  •  Keep your suspension system in good shape.  Look for signs of wear and tear, broken components, and bent parts.  Replace or repair any damaged parts, particularly your drag link, ball joints, and front track bar. 
  • Keep your vehicle aligned.
  • Maintain your tires.  Make sure your tires are correctly matched and inflated.  If you under-inflate your tires when going off-road, make sure and correct that when under usual driving conditions. 

Will a steering stabilizer fix the death wobble?

No.  A steering stabilizer functions like a shock for your steering system.  It absorbs the movement that you would otherwise see with the death wobble.  However, it does not address why the system began vibrating. Because your death wobble could signify a serious problem that could impact the safety of your vehicle, masking it is not a great option.

Will the manufacturer fix my death wobble under my original warranty?


Maybe.  Most warranty repairs that we have seen replace the steering damper.  That is a stabilizer that dampens the vibrations that come up through the steering system. However, as discussed above, we think that solution masks the symptoms rather than addressing the problem.  Of course, your dealership may offer a better solution.  If your vehicle is under warranty, it never hurts to ask them.


How do you fix a death wobble?

Because there are several potential causes for a death wobble, no mechanic should tell you how to fix it without inspecting your vehicle.  If you call up a shop and they tell you that they know what is causing it and how to fix it without looking at your vehicle, you should be wary. 

When someone brings a wobbling vehicle to us, we look at the entire suspension and steering system to find the root cause of the problem.  You may need to repair or replace one or more of the following components:

  • Track bars
  • Mounting hardware
  • Ball joints
  • Tie rods and tie rod ends
  • Control arms
  • Wheel bearings
  • Wheels
  • Tires
  • Alignment


If you are experiencing a death wobble, bring us your vehicle and let us inspect it.  We will track down the root cause of your problem and tell you how to fix it.