A local television news report on a so-called Jeep "death wobble" has led two members of the House of Representatives to write a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requesting more information about the situation, which they describe as a "serious safety issue." The three-page letter does not demand an investigation or recall, but asks the agency numerous questions regarding the problem and what is known about it. The original report aired on KGO-TV in San Francisco in February.

The two members of Congress describe the problem as "a powerful shaking of the steering wheel and front wheels after a driver hits road bumps at speed," affecting 2005-2010 model year Jeep Wranglers. The news report says NHTSA has received over 600 complaints about wobbling and vibrating in Jeep vehicles since 1995, "mostly Wranglers." Indeed, YouTube is rife with videos of shaking Wranglers, some of which we've gathered after the jump.

Chrysler issued the following statement regarding the accusations:

Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed every applicable government safety standard and have excellent safety records. All manufacturer vehicles equipped with a solid axle are susceptible to vibration and, if experienced, it can be corrected by performing minor maintenance items, such as properly balancing or changing the tires, or a front end alignment, installing a new steering dampener, or by tightening or replacing other loose or worn parts. In fact, most reported incidents – in all manufacturer vehicles equipped with or without a solid axle – are often linked to poorly installed or maintained after-market equipment, such as lift kits, oversized tires, etc. This is not a safety issue, and there are no injuries involving Chrysler Group vehicles related to this allegation. Indeed, the name you've given to this condition has no basis in fact.

While we're not so sure blaming the customer for improper maintenance is the right response, we will say that Wranglers and their antecedents are unique beasts, what with their solid axles and high centers of gravity. This is why they're so wonderful off road, and why those that choose to use them as daily drivers shouldn't expect them to behave exactly like every other vehicle they encounter on their commute. And of course if there is, indeed, a "serious safety issue" with the Wrangler, we would expect Chrysler to address it.

Click past the jump to read the full letter, watch the most recent news report, and see videos of Jeeps exhibiting the symptoms.

Show full PR text
March 19, 2012

The Honorable David Strickland, Administrator
NHTSA Headquarters
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
West Building
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Administrator Strickland,

We are writing to bring your attention to troubling reports that continue to surface concerning a vehicle safety risk many Jeep Wrangler owners refer to as the "Jeep Death Wobble."

In complaints circulated on the Internet, reported in the news, and filed with NHTSA's consumer complaint database, Jeep owners have described a powerful shaking of the steering wheel and front wheels after a driver hits road bumps at speed. The Jeep complaints span many models and years, with a preponderance associated with model year 2005-2010 Jeep Wranglers.

Despite the availability of Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) from the manufacturer to assist dealerships in diagnosing and repairing the problem, we understand that most Jeep owners have not been notified of the safety risk or the remedy.

To help us understand NHTSA's assessment of this issue, we request that you respond to the following questions:
(1) How many consumer complaints has NHTSA received related to "death wobble,"or underlying steering, suspension and powertrain problems in Jeep vehicles? Please provide a breakdown by model and model years.

(2) Has NHTSA's review of Early Warning Reporting (EWR) data identified concerns regarding steering, suspension and powertrain problems in model year 2005-2010 Jeep vehicles? Please explain the review and the concerns identified.

(3) Has NHTSA analyzed NASS and FARS data on rollovers or other crashes
involving model year 2005-2010 Jeep vehicles to determine whether accidents, injuries and deaths may have been triggered by a sudden loss of vehicle control because of"death wobble" or underlying steering, suspension and powertrain problems? Please explain that analysis.

(4) On NHTSA's website there are swnmaries of four Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) issued by Chrysler Group LLC that recommend a repair for Jeep Wranglers to address steering and linkage problems. Please provide a complete copy of these four TSBs as well as any others that concern steering, suspension, powertrain or other problems in Jeep vehicles that are potentially related.
(a) Does the agency agree that the repairs recommended in these TSBs can
prevent Jeep Wrangler "death wobble?" If not, what repairs does NHST A
believe are needed?
(b) How does NHTSA ensure that TSBs are disseminated and used effectively?
(c) With many Jeep vehicles affected by "death wobble" no longer under
warranty or soon subject to expiring warranties, how can NHTSA help ensure
Jeep owners have access to necessary repairs?
(d) How does NHTSA determine which TSBs are published or swnmarized on
NHTSA's website and how detailed such summaries should be?
(e) Does NHTSA require, or is it common practice for, manufacturers to maintain indexes of TSBs organized by category of model, model year and vehicle component? If so, why are such indexes not available on manufacturer or NHTSA websites so that consumers can identify TSBs on their vehicle?
(5) We are aware of at least one draft consumer satisfaction notification issued by Chrysler LLC, Customer Satisfaction Notification 134, encouraging owners of certain model year 2007-2010 Jeep Wranglers with right hand steering to visit a local dealership to replace the steering damper and mounting bracket.

(a) How does NHTSA determine whether a consumer service campaign or
consumer notification is necessary, or whether one undertaken by a company
is sufficient?
(b) There are few right hand steering vehicles in the United States.

(i) Is NHTSA aware of any customer satisfaction notifications and/or owner
notification letters addressing steering problems in Jeep Wranglers with
left hand steering or other Jeep models? If so, please provide them.
(ii) Is NHTSA aware of similar Jeep steering problems identified or
addressed by safety authorities in countries where right hand steering is
standard? Please explain.

(c) The notice indicates that repairs will be paid for or reimbursed by the
manufacturer. How does NHTSA determine whether a manufacturer is
required to reimburse owners or pay for a repair? Please provide any
guidance NHTSA offers to manufacturers.
(d) How does NHTSA ensure notification and/or reimbursement is provided
when manufacturer ownership changes, such as the transition of Jeep brand
ownership from DaimlerChrysler Motors Company LLC to Chrysler LLC, to
Chrysler Group LLC after the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.
Please provide any guidance NHTSA offers to manufacturers.

(6) Has NHTSA conducted an Issues Evaluation of"death wobble" in Jeep vehicles or any other review to determine whether to open an investigation? Please provide copies of any such evaluation. Does the agency believe a safety recall or consumer service campaign for affected Jeep models is warranted?

The Jeep "death wobble" is a serious safety issue that must be evaluated by NHTSA. It is also representative of the problems involving lack of transparency and access to reliable repairs that are present in other safety and defect cases. We look forward to your response to the questions
we've raised and to working with you to better assist and protect impacted vehicle owners.

Please provide the information requested in writing no later than April 2, 2012. If you have any questions regarding this request, contact Blake Hutnick with Rep. Eshoo's Office at (202) 225-8104 or Michelle Ash with the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff at (202)226-3400.


Anna G Eshoo
Member of Congress

Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Member, Energy and Commerce Committee

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      There is nothing unusual or surprising about this. Every vehicle with steerable wheels can experience it, shopping carts, motorcycles, cars, little prop planes and jumbo jets. Calling it ''death wobble'' is unnecessarily charged political branding... it has a real name. It's called shimmy. Every vehicle design manual has a chapter on it. It doesn't make the vehicle veer off or lose control and all you have to do to stop it is slow down and go get your vehicle serviced. It is the nature of the beast that large wheels and tires make a vehicle more prone to it. In some cases, as on the Wrangler, a steering damper is needed to calm things down. Many off-road vehicles need these dampers and you often see them on high performance motorcycles also, a small shock absorber that resists steering motion. Most likely the trucks involved have a worn out dampers. Worn out ball joints and bushings, unbalanced tires, will also make the situation worse. The real question is: Have the parts worn out prematurely because of bad design, bad quality, harsh conditions or was vehicle maintenance simply neglected? The Wrangler is a serious machine with uncommon capabilities. You have to respect and understand a bit more than a typical sedan.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What a valid and well informed post! I would give this a 100+ if I could.
        • 3 Years Ago
        100% on the money, shimmy due to worn parts. my '74 VW has a bad shimmy hitting bumps at over 50MPH, whole car vibrated like crazy, thought the wheels were going to fly off when I first felt it. Installed new steering dampener and some new bushings and it was smooth sailing after that. Had it happen in other cars, to a lesser extent, from various worn components in the front end.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Took a minute, but someone here really gets it. Sadly, someone in congress doesn't. Asking for review of two different models in one inquiry is just dumb. If the handling of Jeep's quadracoil suspension (so termed when introduced on the XJ), was so flawed, they would not have carried it over to the TJ, WJ, and JK. I'll bet a pint that every vehicle that experiences this "death wobble" has some suspension parts that are ready to be replaced. Some may be even be premature (however you define that), but that still comes down to a component problem, not a design flaw. Blame the overzealous costcutters for that.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Really this is news solid front axle vehicles always have this problem. Especially jeeps my 1948 willys jeep would do it. My 2001 jeep does it (when there is a worn component). Chrysler is right maintain your vehicle people a Jeep isn't a maintance free vehicle you have to take care of it. If you want a throw away car that you don't "have to" maintain buy a kia or any other pile econo box. The government needs yo quit trying to help people who refuse to take personal responsibility!
      • 3 Years Ago
      I had this with my '96 Cherokee. It was pretty damn scary. I replaced the sway bar and it fixed the problem. I don't know that I would blame Jeep though in such old vehicles.
      Get Squirly
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is actually pretty common with Wranglers, go on any Jeep forums and see for yourself. I used to have one and had the DW, had to uninstall my lift and had a pro do it right. It fixed the problem for me, but it could be a NUMBER of things that causes the DW. Getting a Jeep is worth the problems though, it was the most fun vehicle I have ever owned :)
      • 3 Years Ago
      Like many other posters here, I am saddened at the lower tier of the car guy barrel that must have been scraped to find the talent that wrote this article. I'd expect some naive suit in congress to be alarmed by these videos, what I wouldn't expect is someone who is privileged with the opportunity to write articles for the car community on Autoblog, being so incredibly ignorant with solid front axles to write, none the less edit, and publish this article. I'd encourage everyone on the AB staff to spend 30 minutes watching YouTube and educate yourself on what creates ''death wobble''. The most pathetic part is that in this article the statements made int the last paragraph; "While we're not so sure blaming the customer for improper maintenance is the right response, we will say that Wranglers and their antecedents are unique beasts, what with their solid axles and high centers of gravity. This is why they're so wonderful off road, and why those that choose to use them as daily drivers shouldn't expect them to behave exactly like every other vehicle they encounter on their commute. And of course if there is, indeed, a "serious safety issue" with the Wrangler, we would expect Chrysler to address it" Even a NEWBIE to off-road, or solid front axles, it is well known that "Death Wobble" is caused by removing the steering damper, the steering damper going bad (Maintenance), or just not fastening down the front suspension. Loose bolts, bushings, links, a zillion components. Just to hammer my point home further, those quick disconnect sway bar end-links aren't stock. I really expect more of AB. Please take that as a challenge to improve yourself in the future, not an insult to your current state. You've really done Autoblog, Chrysler and Jeep an absolute dis-service with this article. You could have chosen to educate those who like yourselves, clearly don't know the causes of death wobble, but instead it was published like this. I would really like to see an edit to this article, including a small write-up on death wobble, and what causes it. A Better informed public is a safer public, so instead of these guys complaining to their dealer about their death wobble, maybe they can have the off-road place that poorly installed these components tighten whatever they missed, OR they can have some maintenance done on their vehicle before they rear end someone, or break a control arm/drag link and have a fatal accident. In summation, c'mon AB.
        • 3 Years Ago
      Sean Ruhs
      • 3 Years Ago
      My '96 Grand Cherokee did this. The steering stabilizer shock had blown after hit something to big to fast. $45 fix if recall right. Train tracks used to set off the wobble like no other but once fixed never happened again.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I had the death wobble with my stock 2004 Rubicon a few years ago. The steering damper had about 1/8" play in it which caused the front end and steering wheel to go insane between 50-55mph. This made doing anything but go in a straight line impossible. I think the angular velocity of the wheels at 50-55 MPH corresponds to a natural harmonic frequency present in the suspension/steering setup (which is a design flaw). A small bump or unbalanced tires were all that was needed to transform the under-damped dynamic system from stable to unstable. The only way to stop the wobble after it started was to slow down below 45 mph or speed up past 65 MPH. I replaced the steering damper with an aftermarket unit with a higher damping constant, and it took care of the problem. I am not afraid of it but I do consider it a design flaw.
      • 3 Years Ago
      For some REAL information on this issue, I direct anyone who'd like to LEARN and not be spoon fed by Congressional blowhards to head over to Allpar and read something from a true industry vetern with knowledge on the subject: http://www.allpar.com/forums/topic/119119-jk-jeep-death-wobble-norm-mr-sheaves/#entry1094989 One excerpt: "the motion of the draglink (of the Haltenberger type) and the panhard rod is SUPPOSED to be a parallelogram...BUT in stock form, it is not, so raising the vehicle even 1 inch worsens the "fight" between the track bar (common name for the panhard rod) and the draglink, causing the tires to steer the vehicle instead of the driver."
      Wyatt Earp
      • 3 Years Ago
      There are more track bar related wobbles out there than just Jeeps. This is a worn bushing issue, a part that wears out and tells you so. Why would the responsibility for this be any different than a worn out fan belt?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Wyatt Earp
        At 5,000 miles this should not occur
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have had this very problem and all it took was a new steering dampener. quick and cheap to fix.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Only disguising it temporarly change the front track bar!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      i think congress should focus on more important matters
      • 3 Years Ago
      Along with hundreds of others Jeep owners, I too experienced this terrifying adventure with my Jeep XJ. However, this issue only appeared AFTER I installed a lift kit with bigger wheels and tires. I had no luck researching the internet for any logical explanations other than to replace possibly worn front end parts such as tie rods, steering stabilizer etc, (which I did). Eventually I figured out it that by lifting the Jeep, I had rotated the axle ever so slightly and that 'changed' the factory caster settings. Solution ? I added adjustable upper & lower control arms, as well as an adjustable track bar from Rusty's Offroad and voila! Following a front end alignment, I could hit potholes and bumps ay any speed all day long without a hiccup. Apparently, Jeeps are more sensitive to caster changes than some other solid front axle vehicles. Hope this helps others?
        • 3 Years Ago
        what fixed your problem was the track bar you installed, and yes if lifted you want an adjustable one
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