A death wobble can be one of the most dreadful experiences in a drivers’ life, and YES – it can be caused by tires. However, unlike most problems related to steering and suspensions, this one is too complex to be caused by a single factor. So while the problems in tires can cause a death wobble, they mostly serve as an aggravating factor.
Since tires are the sole component of a vehicle that is in contact with the road, any issues pertaining to their pressure, such as over or under-inflation can cause vigorous shaking and lead up to a death wobble. Similarly, misaligned or unbalanced tires can cause displacement of suspension and track bar, resulting in uncontrolled oscillations. Lack of proper balancing can also cause uneven wearing of tires, which can also trigger a death wobble.
Despite being able to contribute significantly, it is worth mentioning that discrepancies in tires are not often the cause of a death wobble. It is more frequently caused by issues in the suspension and front axle.
What is Death Wobble?
In the simplest terms, death wobble is a nightmare for a driver. It is the rapid, uncontrollable shaking of the entire vehicle, caused by issues in the steering and suspension set up. The most dangerous part of it is that the vibrations can turn violent in no time. The control over steering is lost in most cases and the driver is unable to handle it.
Death wobble can occur with any sort of vehicle, whether jeep or car, that has a solid front axle, along with a track bar.
Other causes of Death Wobble:
As mentioned earlier, a death wobble is a complex problem that cannot be traced down to a single factor, and a number of tiny complications add up to cause it. Here are some of the frequent causes:
1. Track bar:
A track bar serves to keep the front axle in position and so, it is one of the most sensitive components of a suspension. If any part of the track bar is damaged, it can cause transmission of unwanted vibrations that can cause a death wobble.
2. Tie rod ends:
Tie rods perform the important function of establishing a connection between steering and wheels. So naturally, if the ends of a tie rod are unduly worn out or broken, it can trigger violent shaking and ultimately, a death wobble.
3. Ball joints and wheel bearings:
The ball joints and wheel bearings of a vehicle are important components involved with the handling of load by the vehicle. Ball joints are present between steering system and suspension, while wheel bearing handle the load in the wheels. If the load capacity of the vehicle is exceeded, these important components can wear out and eventually result in loss of control.
4. Control arm:
Excessive movement of control arm can directly cause a death wobble. This can be a result of damage to bearings or bushings of the control arm. Moreover, it can also be a consequence of loose bolts, causing uncontrolled movement of the front axle and resultantly, a death wobble.
Signs of Death Wobble:
It can be hard to tell a death wobble from a really bad shaking, especially if you have never experienced one before. Some might describe it as a stronger form of vibrations, but there are some differentiating signs. Unlike MOST vibrations, a death wobble is not confined to a specific part and spreads to the entire vehicle. The vehicle shakes violently, and the driver has almost no control over it. It begins gradually, usually at around 45 mph, and then rapidly reaches a point of maximum shaking. The catch here is, since it is an issue of the steering and suspension system, the steering rocks back and forth. This is the point where the driver cannot keep a hold of it, and the situation turns uncontrollable.
How to recover from Death Wobble?
If you feel like you are encountering a death wobble while driving, the key is to keep your nerves under control. Once you are on the top of it, you can get out of it. Firstly, keep your hands on the steering wheel and don’t let go, no matter what. Then gradually slow down the vehicle, keeping an eye on the speed. The vibrations will decrease significantly, especially below 40 mph. Once you have reached this point and are out of danger, look for a safe spot on the side of the road and carefully pull over.
How to fix and prevent Death Wobble?
Just like it has no definite cause, a death wobble has no definite fix. The key is to fix the triggering factors and replace any worn out or damaged parts. If you experience a death wobble, it is ideal to inspect the vehicle. Check the suspension, track bar, and components of the wheel by rotating it. If you notice any damaged or loosened connection, replace it. That will most likely fix the issue.
Although these fixes are quite simple, it is always better to be safe than sorry. To prevent this mishap from occurring in the first place, the answer is obvious – check for worn out parts and get them replaced. Keep a vigilant eye on the suspension and front axle bolts, bearing and bushings, and any discrepancy shouldn’t go unnoticed. Additional preventative measures include avoiding too large tires, and not exceeding the load capacity of the vehicle.
Our related article: Can Tires Cause Road Noise?