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The Death Wobble needs attention!

Death Wobble is a phenomenon not to be confused with a front-end shimmy or a wheel balance problem. A Death Wobble (DW) is most common on vehicles with a solid front axle; mostly pick-up trucks and SUV’s. It has earned its name not from mechanics, but by vehicle owners that have been frightened by the experience.

The DW usually starts at about 45-65 MPH. The front wheels start to wobble left to right very rapidly. The steering wheel jerks left to right by several inches. The movement is so rapid it is difficult to hold onto the steering wheel. Loss of control seems eminent. At speeds over 60 MPH, the front end feels like it is ready to break loose from the vehicle. Applying the brakes quickly as you would in a reflex action causes the DW to become more violent.

If you experience the DW, I have found the safest method to regain control, is to hold the steering wheel as steadily as possible. Take your foot off the gas pedal and carefully apply light brake pressure. If the wobble increases, brake pressure is too high. As the vehicle slows and lighter brake pressure is reapplied the wobble should stop within a few seconds.

I have experienced the DW on a curve at about 65-MPH. It was especially frightening since I was passing a logging truck. The wobble struck as I was side by side with the logging truck. I held steady with the steering wheel following the curve. I let off the gas pedal and lightly applied the brakes. The wobble increased and I let up on the brakes. I gently reapplied the brakes again, the vehicle slowed and the wobble stopped.

Once a DW is experienced it will return again until repairs are made to the vehicle. However, the DW may not occur again for days, weeks, or months, until conditions are ideal for it to return. Do not convince yourself it was a one time occurrence because time has passed. A vehicle that had a DW still has the mechanical condition that caused it, it just needs the right road condition to activate it.

You must still return home or to a place for repair. The hints below will help get you there safer, and reduce the chance of the wobble returning until repairs can be made.

Example of a vehicle with a solid front axle. by Don Stec
Example of a vehicle with a solid front axle.

Check for tire and/or suspension failure
If there is no damage to the vehicle and you are determined the vehicle can be driven, start slowly.

Reduce speed
If the highway is smooth and straight, drive slower, but not so slow as to be a hazard on the road. If that is impossible or you are too afraid to drive, call a tow truck.

Observe the pavement condition
Watch, especially the right side of the road, because that is where most pavement irregularities are. Avoid potholes, speed bumps or irregular pavement if possible. They can make the wobble return.

The most common cause of the wobble is worn, loose or damaged steering and suspension parts. Next is irregular tire wear, out of balance tires, or bent wheels. If the vehicle was repaired after a collision, we often see frame dimensions that were not restored, and improper wheel alignment.

Modified vehicles, (lifted higher) with oversize wheels and tires, can exaggerate any inherent design weakness. Wheel alignment is often the cause of DW because stock specifications may not work on a modified vehicle.

There are a lot of wheel alignment shops but it is difficult to find technicians with experience on DW repair. Often the recommendation is to completely replace the entire front steering and suspension parts because corrective repair is difficult to analyze. Estimates are not unusual to be in the $3000.00 range for complete replacement.

If you tell the repair estimator you have a death wobble and the estimator does not know what that is, seek another opinion from someone at a shop that does know.

It is very common for owners to bring their vehicles to Coachmaster for a DW problem that is still there after they have spent hundreds of dollars trying to have it fixed elsewhere.

We have devised a system for testing the individual components and replace only what is needed.

Coachmaster Collision repair* -- founded in 1969 is the best equipped body and paint shop in the North valley. Specializing in “Total Body Alignment.” Contact Alan Gordon for an estimate on your vehicle. Call 530-243-1310 or visit the business at 6851 Eastside Road, in Redding California. *Click here if you are using a smart phone or other mobile device.

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