The Dreaded "Death Wobble"

The dreaded “death wobble”, a term coined by the internet, has been addressed by multiple vehicle manufacturers, and has been blown out of proportion by the media. Congress has even decided to get involved. The fact of the matter is the “death wobble” is an front end shimmy problem that can occur with any solid axle vehicle, and has been since the first vehicle of its type was born. A solid axle vehicle is typically a four wheel drive automobile that has the front tires connected by tubular assembly containing the drive components, steering and brakes.

Be prepared, “death wobble” is scary when it happens. The steering wheel rocks violently and, the front end shakes worse than a washing machine out of balance. The incident can be so disturbing that it can bring sheer terror, but the thing to remember if it happens to you is keep calm, gently apply the brakes and pull over to the side of the road. Again: keep calm, slow down and pull over. Once safely stopped then you can panic, but do not while driving as it is not going to do anything but make the situation worse.

Now you ask yourself, “how did it occur?”. Usually a pot hole or break in the road’s surface will set off a shimmy but that is only the trigger, not the problem. Your vehicles shimmy is a sign that it needs maintenance. There are multiple common-suspect items to look at when trying to figure out what is causing your vehicle’s shimmy, or “death wobble”. Here is a short list of probable causes. Keep in mind your issue could be a combination of these items OR something in addition to these items:

  1. Ball joint wear or improper adjustment
  2. Steering linkage wear
  3. Tires defects and/or wear
  4. Steering Box wear or adjustment
  5. Bent wheel(s)
  6. Inadequate/inoperable steering dampener
  7. Control arm bushings
  8. Bent steering components
  9. Bad steering components in general
  10. Improper suspension design
  11. Bent axle, axle shaft, axle housing

Please remember this is a short list of what could cause a shimmy / “death wobble”. It could also be a combination of any items listed above or something entirely different. The cause of shimmies can be so undetectable that they can usually only be diagnosed by a trained professional. Regular maintenance may not prevent the “death wobble”. Design flaws in parts, including those that were installed by the by the vehicle’s manufacturer, can wear prematurely causing your vehicle to shimmy unexpectedly. As stated before, be prepared, especially if you have a modified solid axle vehicle.

If you re not an automobile technician take your shimmy issue to a professional. At HCP4x4 we constantly address the ”death wobble”. We can diagnose and repair a shimmy’s cause for you as our ASE certified technicians are acutely familiar with “death wobble”. If you do not live within safe driving distance of HCP4x4 , we suggest you contact a reputable four wheel drive shop in your area that is familiar with “death wobble”. If you decide to tackle the issue yourself, be warned, the cause of your vehicles shimmy may be more complicated than you think!

If you choose to ignore the problem it will only get worse. To the best of our knowledge the "death wobble" has not actually caused a fatality but do not be the first to earn that Darwin Award. It is your vehicle and your responsibility! Get your vehicle checked out before something bad happens that may affect others around you. A vehicle's safety is serious stuff! Its suspension, steering, tires and other components that make it roadworthy need to be inspected, maintained and repaired by trained technicians.

  • Posted on   10/18/12 at 08:41:34 PM   by Valerie  | 
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