Diagnose Your Death Wobble

Old 08-03-2010, 06:54 PM
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Location: Northeast CT
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Default Diagnose Your Death Wobble

We've been having way to many death wobble threads around here lately, so i figured i'd post as much death wobble information in one thread as i could.

Breif Explanation of Death Wobble

As you have already found out, Death Wobble, the horrible front end vibration that starts when one wheel (usually the right) hits a bump around 40~50mph, is the worst possible downside to having a coil-sprung vehicle with a track bar setup. Vehicles affected by this design are the Jeep Cherokee XJ, the Grand Cherokee ZJ and WJ, Jeep Wrangler YJ, TJ, and JK, and also include Ford and Dodge trucks and early Ford Broncos. Death Wobble is also extremely difficult to try to diagnose, because it is actually caused by slop in the entire steering system as a whole, not by one component. To diagnose correctly, your need to look for "play" everywhere there is something that could have "play" in it (AKA - the entire steering system.) It's time consuming, and can be a down right pain to try and diagnose your DW.

If your front end is loose (bushings, bearings, etc.) then you have a situation where your stiffness is removed and any jarring sensation (potholes, unbalanced tires, misaligned wheels, etc.) will cause the suspension to go crazy. It is no longer functioning where it is designed. On the other hand, your suspension could be very tight but an imbalanced tire would be spinning at just the right speed to throw the suspension into a unstable situation.

So unfortunately there isn't only one root cause to the problem of DW. The underlying problem is instability in the front suspension, the root causes can be a multitude of things ranging from bad/loose bushings, to loose bearings, to caster angles, to imbalanced tires, etc.

OKAY, HERE'S THE REALLY USEFUL INFO:

A steering damper (steering stabilizer) only hides (maybe) the effect; it does nothing to fix the root cause.

There are two types of DW. The first typically is speed related. Whenever you reach a certain speed, bam, you get DW, no matter what. This is a vibration/oscillation issue. Look into tire balance, alignment, steering joints, missing bushings (totally shot), loose steering box (either loose bolts or worn internals), etc.

The second is an impact initiated DW. For example, hitting a pothole above a certain speed will start DW. This is more likely a bushings, loosening mounts, flexing components, etc. issue. Basically, something is tight enough that in general straight driving, it is ok, but give it an impact force, whatever is getting loose starts sliding, rebounds and starts going nuts.

Here is how you can tell if the issue is steering related or trackbar related. You are gonna need some ***** for this, but stick with me. Once you have played around with the DW awhile you find you can control it a bit by feathering the brakes. So go find a straight, deserted, bumpy road. Get the truck up to speed and get the DW going. You had it happen a few times, you have already been frantically avoiding potholes, so now go find one, quit whining. At this point, the truck is somewhat violently shaking, and you can keep enough control using the brakes to keep it on the road. Roll down the window and stick your head out and look at the front tire. What is it doing?

1. The front of the tire and the back of the tire are moving approximately the same amount side to side. In this case, the axle is stationary, and the wheel is pivoting on the ball joint during the oscillation. Therefore the problem is likely in the steering. Something in the steering has enough give to allow the movement.

2. The back of the tire is moving MORE than the front of the tire in the side-to-side movement. In this case, the knuckle is pivoting on the steering links, and allowing the axle to move back and forth under the vehicle. The problem here is most likely in the trackbar system.

This doesn't really answer a question about what's causing YOUR DW, but it should give you something to think about in your search for the root cause(s). I'd check the trac bar bushings, make sure your wheel bearings are in spec, make sure your tires are balanced, make sure your alignment is in spec - especially caster, make sure your ball joints & TREs are tight, see if you have play in your steering box, etc.

CASTER & ALIGNMENT
Can you explain why reducing caster helps on some vehicles? It doesn't seem like it should work, but it does.. and at other times more caster will cure it.
Basically, anything you do to get the front suspension back closer to original factory specs should help with DW. Remember, a lot of our vehicles were marginally stable from the factory, and when we lift them, change the steering, run huge tires, etc., we're making them even less stable. So, running the caster at whatever it was from the factory, along with making sure that the many other things affecting the front suspension are in good condition, will help greatly.

Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet for fixing DW, and what works for one person may not work for another. You have to consider the entire front suspension as a system and then make that system as stable as you can for the way you want to run it.

Pondering how too much caster can cause wobble, the more caster you have, the larger the vertical movement of the wheel will be, under steering input. More vertical movement = more influence that the weight of the rig can have on it, and particularly with large soft tires, that would be a fairly substantial, mostly undamped, weight hanging out there. Get it cycling, and it's not going to want to stop.

If everything looks to be "normal" and you've checked bolt tightness on the track bar, the next thing to do is to start with a front end alignment, making sure that caster is set correctly as well as toe-in. If you have been offroading and have bent your tie rod even slightly, it'll throw off the alignment. Plus, it's only $40 or so. DO NOT let the alignment shop talk you into a four-wheel alignment, as this is only useful on vehicles with independent rear suspension in my experience, and since there are no adjustment points in the rear of a live-axle vehicle ANYWAY, you're just paying for a service that you won't get anything out of. If you have a lifted vehicle, make sure that the alignment shop you choose knows the variant specifications for lifted vehicles, and that they do NOT set it to the "default/stock" settings. A good quality alignment shop familiar with 4x4 vehicles will know these settings, and a poor quality shop will likely tell you that it doesn't matter whether it's lifted or not...they still use the same specs. Hang up the phone and call the next shop, if so.


NOTE: For reference purposes, here is a diagram of what caster is. Positive caster is when the top of the tire "leans" toward the rear of the vehicle as depicted in the diagram.

http://www.familycar.com/classroom/I...ign_Caster.gif

Curing deathwobble is definetly a reality. Deathwobble isn’t similar to a wobble from an unbalanced tire. It is by far worse. When deathwobble hits you will know… it’s a violent shake form the front end that feels like the Jeep is about to fall apart. Usually when it happens the only thing you can do to stop it is slow down. The first steps to eliminate deathwobble should be a visual inspection of each component, check the bushings, tire balance and an alignment. There are some common things you must check anytime you lift your Jeep. Deathwobble is experienced mostly on lifter Jeeps, however it is not uncommon for someone without a lift to experience the dreaded DW. Listed below are a few things you can check.

Torque specs:

Item ........................................ Ft. lbs. ................... Nm

Lug nuts (1/2 X 20 w/ 60* cone) .... 85-115 .............. 115-150
All tie rod ends ............................ 55 ..................... 74
Steering (both ends) .................... 55 ..................... 74
Shock absorber upper nut .............. 16 ..................... 22
Shock absorber lower nuts ............. 17 ..................... 23
UCA frame end ............................. 66 ..................... 89
UCA axle end ............................... 55 ...................... 74
LCA frame end ............................. 85 ...................... 115
LCA axle end ............................... 85 ...................... 115
Track bar frame end ..................... 60 ...................... 81
Track bar axle end ....................... 40 ....................... 54
Track bar bracket bolts ................. 92 ....................... 125
Track bar bracket nut ................... 74 ....................... 100
Track bar bracket support bolts ...... 31 ....................... 42
Hub bolts (3) ............................... 75 ....................... 102
Hub- axle bolt .............................. 175 ..................... 237

Alingment specs (stock):

Angle ............. Preferred ........... Range ............. Max R/L diff.

Caster ............ +7.0* ........ +5.25* to +8.5* ......... 1.25*
Camber ........... -0.25* ....... -0.75* to +0.5 ........... 1.0*
Total Toe-in .... +0.25* ....... 0* to +0.45* ............. .05*
Thrust angle .... 0* to 0.15*

The best place to start is with a visual inspection of the entire steering system and all front end components. Spend 10 minutes under the front end and visually inspect each one of the steering components for shiny steel, which would be indicative of metal that's moving around when it's not supposed to be. Pay careful attention to the track bar as it's usually the culprit in most cases. If any of your bolts are even the least bit loose, Death Wobble can manifest itself and make your life a living hell.

Check your Track Bar, play in this can cause the axle to shake.
1. Bushings - check to see that they are not worn. Looks for cracks, and excessive play)
2. Angles - this angle should be the same as your draglink. Use an angle finders you can get at sears to determine this, don’t just eye-ball it.
3. Bolts – Make sure all bolts are tightened down to spec (some lift components have a different torque spec then)

Check the Axle, your mounts may be worn
1. Check the axle mount. Here is a good write up on a wallowed out bolt hole
http://www.jeepin.com/features/trackbarfix/index.asp
2. Check your Universal joints, a binding or lose U-Joint can cause DW
3. On the frame end if you still use the conventional Tie Rod End or (TRE) make sure that there is no play in this, as play can cause DW.
4. Look/Check for worn/torn boots on ball joints/tie-rod ends.

Check your Tires
1. Out of balance tires can cause shaking in the front end, which can lead to deathwobble.
2. Make sure all of your lug nuts are tight, (Sounds elementary but it happens to the best of us)

Check your Frame
1. Small cracks in the frame can cause the steering box to feel loose, Shaking from DW can only make this worse. 33’s and larger should have some form of Steering box brace, or frame brace in.
2. If you have upgraded your frame mount, make sure its cranked down nice and tight. (best to use an impact gun)
3. A busted Frame Mount can cause play in the front end causing DW (Keep a watchful eye on the welds as welds in sheer can break over time.

Make sure you have a good alignment
1. After you get an alignment done, have them print out the numbers for you. An XJ should have a 7* positive caster angle. A lifted XJ can’t always have that high of a number because the pinion would become out of alignment with the front driveshaft. Pinion angle takes precedence over caster.
2. Make you sure you go to a place that will adjust the caster if necessary (either by shims in the frame side of the LCAs, or adjustable LCAs).

The more adjustable parts the easier it is to tune in your suspension.
1. Adjustable Track Bar
2. Adjustable Upper and Lower Control Arms (upper ones above 4” of lift). Not only are they adjustable, but they are stronger.


Things to remember:
1. A Steering Stabilizer (SS) is not a quick fix for DW.
2. Always give a thorough visual inspection of ALL front end parts.
3. DW could be something as simple as a loose track bar bolt, or tires out of alignment. Don't panic, just be patient.

Entire list of everything that can cause deathwobble:
-Front tires out of balance
-Front alignment out of spec
-Loose track bar
-Worn track bar bushings
-Worn track bar end
-Need adjustable track bar
-Bad bushings/joints in control arms
-Worn/damaged steering stabilizer
-Worn/damaged shocks
-Worn/damaged tie rod end
-Bad U Joint
-Bad ball joint
-Loose frame mount
-Steering box looseness
-Need drop pitman arm
-Driveshaft(s) not balanced
-Bad front hub assembly


DISCLAIMER: I have not written any of this information, simply copy and pasted information I've found on the internet into one easily acessible thread.

Last edited by rweaver138; 08-04-2010 at 09:13 AM.
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