It’s a name tailor made for the headlines: The "Jeep Death Wobble."
Used to describe a severe vibration reported by owners of certain Jeep Wrangler models, two Democratic members of Congress have written a letter to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne urging him to start a consumer outreach campaign informing customers of the issue and their repair options.
California Representatives Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo took the action despite the fact that a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) probe earlier this year concluded that the condition “does not result in loss of control,” and did not lead to a recall or other action by the agency.
According to The Detroit News, out of 402 formal complaints regarding 2005-2010 model year Wranglers, NHTSA found that there were "two possible relevant crashes, one of which alleged nonfatal injuries." Jeep sold a total of 542,134 Wranglers during those model years.
The so-called “death wobble” is relatively common among vehicles that use a solid front axle, and the Wrangler is the only light truck currently on sale that falls into this category. The design is prized for its extreme off-road and heavy duty hauling capability. The wobble is a harmonic resonance resulting from a loose or worn part in the steering or suspension, such as a tie rod end, and usually set off by hitting a bump at a certain speed. It often goes away after the vehicle stops, but can return under similar circumstances. However, if not addressed, over time the vibration can cause damage to other components of the vehicle and exacerbate the issue. Many websites targeted at off-roaders have sections dedicated to fixing the issue on a variety of vehicles, which is often the result of installing aftermarket parts.
In a statement responding to the letter, Chrysler says of the condition that, “if experienced, it is routinely corrected with a change of tires or installation of a simple steering dampener.” The automaker has issued several Techincal Service Bulletins (TSB) related to the steering system of the Wranglers in question, but hasn’t said if they are a direct response to the alleged issue. TSBs are issued to dealer service departments to inform them of a known problem with a vehicle and instructions on how to deal with it, but are generally not made public.
Waxman and Eshoo wrote to Marchionne that “since these bulletins could be helpful to Jeep owners experiencing wobble, we ask you to make them fully available to customers, or explain in greater detail the justification for withholding this information.”
Mark Williams, editor of PickupTrucks.com thinks an educational campaign might be helpful to the general consumer, but that the information is already common sense for many of the type of truck enthusiasts attracted to Jeeps. “Owners who know what vehicle is designed for are already familiar with the issue,” he says. “This is kind of a duh moment for them.”