If you’ve never experienced a death wobble while driving, consider yourself lucky. It can present itself when you least expect it and be extremely stressful. If you do experience death wobble, you’ll know right away—you can’t miss it!
So what is a death wobble, and how do you get out of it? Let’s take a closer look!
Table of Contents
- What Is a ‘Death Wobble’?
- Vehicles Known for Death Wobbles
- You Know It When You Feel It
- How to Get Through a Death Wobble Scenario
- Death Wobble With RV Tow or Towed Vehicles
- Does Death Wobble Cause Lasting Damage?
- Diagnosing the Causes
- How to Fix Your Vehicle After Experiencing the Death Wobble
- Death Wobble Is a Serious But Fixable Issue
What Is a ‘Death Wobble’?
A death wobble is when the front suspension of a vehicle suddenly vibrates. This causes an intense shaking felt through the steering wheel and the entire vehicle.
Drivers who experience this phenomenon often hit a bump in the road while driving at high speeds. The bump will throw the suspension system into a resonant frequency of its sprung movement, causing the steering components to move rapidly. When this happens, you’ll immediately know the seriousness of the situation.
This is something that can happen in any vehicle but manufacturers tune the suspension systems to try and prevent it.
Vehicles Known for Death Wobbles
As scary as they may be, death wobbles are common in certain vehicles. Ford and Ram trucks are some of the most popular tow vehicles that experience this issue. It’s also relatively common in 4x4s like Jeeps and other lifted vehicles.
We have personally experienced this one time in a 2020 Ford F350 after hitting a bump weird on the highway.
➡ All truck enthusiasts have their favorite. Join the truck debate here: Ram Versus Ford Versus Chevy: The Best Truck Debate
Owners of newer Ford models have stated they typically experience the death wobble around 30,000 to 40,000 miles. Many manufacturers extend warranties to cover the issue and will fix the problem components if you experience it.
It is most common with modified vehicles with lifts and larger tires. This is because you are changing the geometry and spring rates of the original suspension. You may inadvertently introduce a new resonant frequency that the vehicle cannot dampen out properly.
If you drive one of these vehicles and you’ve never experienced the wobble, it’s a good idea to know what to expect and have a plan should you encounter it down the road.
You Know It When You Feel It
When we say you can’t miss the death wobble, we mean it. The entire vehicle will shake violently, and the steering wheel will pull from side to side in a rapid, uncontrollable manner. You’ll feel like you’re a cowboy trying to hold on for eight seconds in a rodeo. It’s intense!
Your passengers will hear and feel the vehicle shaking. It will likely start relatively mild and quickly grow in intensity. It’s a moment you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
How to Get Through a Death Wobble Scenario
The best way to get through a death wobble is to stay calm. Keep your hands firmly on the wheel and do your best to hold on tight while the vehicle shakes. Let off the gas and allow the vehicle to slow down naturally—don’t speed up or hit the brakes.
If you’re on the interstate or a major highway, start to move to the side of the road safely. The vibration should stop once you decelerate to a much slower speed, but it may not stop until you come to a complete stop.
Once you’ve safely pulled over, take a breath. You’ll likely have an intense rush of adrenaline running through your body, especially if you were traveling at high speeds. Assure your passengers that everything is okay and explain to them what happened.
You’ll then want to develop a plan for resolving the issue. First, contact your local dealership to determine if a manufacturer’s warranty or recall covers the faulty steering components causing the death wobble. If so, schedule a repair with the dealer right away.
If the parts are not covered, you’ll still need to have them repaired by a professional or consider replacing them yourself.
Death Wobble With RV Tow or Towed Vehicles
Many RVers whose truck is known to death wobble experience it less while towing. This is likely due to the additional weight placed on the truck’s rear axle. When you take some weight off the front axle, it relieves some of the pressure on the suspension. Less weight minimizes the risk of problems from loose or damaged components.
However, people have experienced it while towing, which can be very dangerous. Don’t assume it won’t happen just because you’re pulling an RV.
➡ Stay safe out there and learn the 10 Camper Towing Rules You Should Never Break!
It’s also important to note that it can happen to a vehicle you’re towing. Some RVers who flat tow Jeeps behind their motorhome have observed this phenomenon.
The toad vehicle will undergo the death wobble while being towed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the vehicle you’re driving or the vehicle you’re towing, things can get serious very quickly.
Does Death Wobble Cause Lasting Damage?
A death wobble can damage your vehicle’s suspension or steering components. Depending on the severity of the death wobble, it can also damage track bars, wheel bearings, ball joints, tie rods, and the alignment of your vehicle.
➡ In 2016, the ball joints and tie rods went bad on our truck. Check out our Dodge Ram 3500 Front End Rebuild.
Even if you only experience it once, you should immediately have your vehicle looked at by a trained professional. Damage from a death wobble is not something you should delay addressing.
Diagnosing the Causes
The death wobble isn’t typically caused by one specific issue across all vehicles. Instead, there’s often a combination of things that lead to it. Items like worn bushings, misalignment, loose bolts, and tire imbalance can cause a vehicle to death wobble.
In recent years, Ford extended the warranty on its steering linkage damper. This part was abnormally wearing and causing problems with its ball joints, shocks, and other sensitive suspension components.
It will likely require a professional to diagnose and confirm the cause for your vehicle.
How to Fix Your Vehicle After Experiencing the Death Wobble
If you’re experiencing the death wobble in your vehicle, some stabilizing kits are available to help fix the issue. However, these will simply mask or reduce the problem without actually repairing it. To correctly fix the complication, you’ll need to locate which suspension joint is loose and replace that specific joint.
Because the suspension is an integral part of your vehicle, it might be best to leave this repair to a professional. If you’re lucky, your vehicle will have a recall, and you can take it to the dealership for a free repair. If not, it may cost you a few bucks. However, your safety is worth every penny.
Some vehicles can experience a wobble even with tight components however additional steering stabilizers are the only good solution. However, like mentioned above they can mask the problem until it is much worse. Because of this be sure to keep up on suspension maintenance and check joints and bushings regularly.
<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/655146025?h=fdb1e0acc6" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href="https://vimeo.com/655146025">Introducing the Exact Center</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/user160162246">Roadmaster Inc</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
Death Wobble Is a Serious But Fixable Issue
A death wobble is not something to take lightly. It will shake your entire vehicle and can easily cause an accident. As long as you stay calm when it happens and get the problem fixed as soon as possible, there’s a good chance you and your vehicle will come out unscathed.
Have you ever experienced death wobble? Let us know in the comments.
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Saturday 26th of March 2022
Got a 120, 000 miles on a GMC Savanah Cargo Van and experience this regularely upon braking at around 55 mph....sometimes avoided by pumping the brakes. When it gets started it is so violent I have had to pull off the highway until it slowed to 35- 40 and stopped, fading away and recovering control. Have original Front brakes and am considering new Rotors not knowing what else could be causinv it. Had left and Right Wheel bearings replaced about 80, 000 miles for se problem...never went away but its getting really bad....dangerously so.
Tuesday 8th of February 2022
My Fleetwood Southwind scared the living c%@& out of me going 30mph on a bumpy two lane road. Took it in to my repair shop and they said my two front tires were bald and were what caused the "Death Wobble". Tire store confirmed the diagnosis. Also needed an alignment. Yay!
Mortons on the Move
Friday 11th of February 2022
Glad you were ok and were able to get the issue diagnosed. It's always important to keep an eye on your RV tires. Here are our tips: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/how-long-do-rv-tires-last/
Tuesday 1st of February 2022
My 2006 F350 experienced the Death Wobble a few years back when we reached or exceeded 50 mph. We were fortunate that we were headed home and only 7 miles away. The 45 mph speed on an Interstate was exciting! A trip to a Performance Front End business knew without looking that the front end Track Bar was the cause. The end bushing crap out and provide this excitement. Replaced and aligned I was there steered toward my tire distributor, as my Nitto rear tire had a separation of the belts. New set of tires capped off this wonderful experience.
Mortons on the Move
Friday 4th of February 2022
Glad you were close to home when it happened and were able to get the necessary repairs!
Monday 31st of January 2022
I had a Dodge Roadtrek Van that experienced an uncontrollable judder after it grabbed the edge of a newly paved highway in Colorado. So I took it to a shop and they quoted $354 to repack the bearings. $354 for grease? So I went elsewhere, and they checked the bearings and found the bearings were fine. But they wanted to replace the ball joints for $1200 *and* then start diagnosing the problem.
About that time I ran across a website that described the death wobble problem with Dodge trucks and Vans, and they had a very simple fix for both.
Dodge ram steering stabilizer.com
It was $120 plus shipping, and mounted to three existing bolts. Within 50 feet I could tell the difference. I liked it so much, I later installed one on a different van that didn't have sloppy steering just because it will prevent the steering from going bad.
Mortons on the Move
Friday 4th of February 2022
$120 sounds much better! Glad you were able to find the right fix!
Monday 31st of January 2022
Have you ever heard of "death wobble" affecting independant suspension front ends or just solid axel front ends?