Jeep Cherokee Shakes, Wobbles and Vibrations.

Does your Jeep shake quiver, tremble agitate, brandish, bump, chatter, churn, commove, concuss, convulse, discompose, disquiet, disturb, dither, dodder, flap, flicker, flit, flitter, flourish, fluctuate, flutter, jar, jerk, jog, joggle, jolt, jounce, move, oscillate, palpitate, perturb, quail, quake, quaver, rattle, reel, rock, roil, ruffle, set in motion, shimmer, shimmy, shiver, shudder, stagger, stir up, sway, swing, totter, tremor, twitter, upset, vibrate, waggle, water, wave, whip or wobble?

Nothing ruins a great drive in a Jeep faster than the many shakes, wobbles and annoying vibrations that can occur. These problems are made even worse when you start lifting the suspension and adding bigger tires.

The most common cause of shakes and vibrations in a Jeep are the tires. Jeeps use rather large tires often with heavy tread and with stiff sidewalls. All these factors add up to a rough ride if the tires are not well cared for.

Another common source of vibrations are the drive shafts. These rotating shafts have to be perfectly straight, and in proper alignment and balance to run smooth. Often the drive shafts can be misaligned as the Jeep is lifted or if the springs are damaged. They can be easily bent or knocked out of balance through off road use.

The most startling of all Jeep shakes is what we call Death Wobble. Death Wobble is the very scary sensation that occurs when the front wheels start to flutter like bad shopping cart wheel. The only way to deal with it while driving is to slow down until it quits. Right after your life flashes before your eyes.

Lets us look at the tires first. Other than being round and black, truck tires are very different from passenger car tires. Truck tires have much stronger sidewalls and thicker heavier tread. Both of these factors mean they may need much more weight to balance them. Also, as the tread wears the balance may shift.

Also, it is very easy to knock off a wheel weight when driving off road or sometimes move it to another place on the rim. Mud can also build up inside the rim and rocks can lodge in the tread. Any foreign object like this will cause an imbalance.

When you have a speed sensitive vibration, look first to the balance of the tires. It may be necessary to use an internal balancing system to deal with the changes in balance cause by tire wear.

Drive shaft vibrations are sometimes hard to diagnose. When you suspect a drive shaft vibration, start by inspecting the U joints. Make sure all the U joints are properly lubricated and have no slop. Replace them as necessary.

If your Jeep is lifted or has sagging or twisted springs, the drive shaft alignment may be off. Just couple of degrees of pinion misalignment can cause serious problem with the drive shaft. Also note that the alignment used for a double cardion shaft is different from that of a single tube with a single U joint at each end.

To isolate a drive shaft problem, try driving the Jeep with out the front drive shaft. The front drive shaft is easily removed and you can quickly tell if the vibes go away when the shaft is removed. To drive without the rear drive shaft, you will need some way to plug the transfer case if you have not modified it with a slip yoke eliminator. With the rear shaft removed and a suitable transmission plug in place, you can drive your Jeep using front wheel drive by placing the transfer case to the part time 4X4 setting.

Drive shat work can be expensive so it is often cheaper to swap in a used replacement rather than having yours fixed. Look for any warps or dents in the tube and replace the shaft if you find any problems.

Death wobble is normally a combination of factors. While stock Jeeps can have death wobble, it is much more common on lifted Jeeps. Bigger tires and the angle of the control arms exaggerate the already unstable inverted Y steering of the Cherokee.

Do not attempt to mask death wobble with a steering stabilizer. Replacing or adding a steering stabilizer may appear to correct the problem, but it will simply be masked until the source gets worse.

The most common source for death wobble is the track bar. Usually it wears at the frame end. This is a tie rod style joint with limited flexibility. If you have lifted your Jeep, you have already used up much of its range of motion and it will be easily damaged if the axle drops lower.

To test the track bar, place your hand on the axle end joint and have an assistant move the steering wheel back and forth. If you feel any play in the joint at all, the track bar needs to be replaced.

Note that many aftermarket track bars have poor life expectancy. I have found the ones from Crown Automotive to be well made and reasonably priced. Let me know if you need a quote on one.

Another common cause if the track bar is OK is wear in the control arm bushings. The axle end upper joint is sometimes damaged by oil dripping from the air box if blow by is an issue. The bushings are difficult to replace in the control arms them selves and it is sometimes cheaper to buy new control arm than to buy the two bushings.

Other things to check are the bolts that hold the steering box to the frame and slop in the pitman arm. Worn tie rod ends can also contribute to death wobble.

In extreme cases or where you have to drive a Jeep that is subject to death wobble, try altering the steering alignment a bit. Toe out will usually stop death wobble. It will wear the tires, but it will stop the wobble. I also fixed one by removing all the caster shims from the lower control arms.

Follow these guidelines and you will be driving a smooth running vehicle that can take you anywhere. Just realize it will take some attention to details to keep your Jeep running smooth.

14 Replies to “Jeep Cherokee Shakes, Wobbles and Vibrations.”

  1. Thank you for sharing this information.
    I been dealing with death wobble issue since four years ago, none of the local shops was able to figure out how to get rid of it. So I just dealed with it by not driving in the fast lane; Hoping to solve the problem I bought an ’88 XJ with lots of upgrades on it,but bad engine and tranny. included was a 6.5″ lift kit from Rusty’s, So I just swap the lift kit to my ’99 and there it is, now is even worst, can’t go faster than 35 mph. I still have not align it yet, because I am waiting for the stabilizer hardware to arrive from Rusty’s.

    Thank you.

  2. I have an ’04 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with 16″ wheels and tires. It has a 3″ suspension lift. The Jeep has 19,000 original miles on it. It has a TREMENDOUS Death Shake from 50 mph to 55 mph. At times I have to almost stop to end the shake. There are times I can power through the shake. I have been told every thing from air in the tires to taking all the lift off and put OEM wheels and tires back on the Jeep. I am considering lowering it back down and doing the OEM wheels and tires simply because I struggle to get 10 mpg. Anything better, it would have to be hooked to a wrecker. So, in an effort to quit stopping at each and every gas station to re-fuel, I am considering the lowering thing. I bought the Jeep with the lift and wheels already on it.

    Any suggestions on the death shake and the fuel mileage? I was told that K&N filters would destroy the engine with much off roading because it doesn’t filter as well as other filters: ie: Fram and such. Right?

  3. My Daily Driver Jeep has 330,000 miles on it. The K&N has been in place for 200,000 of those so I guess they might kill an engine eventually but has not gotten mine yet.

    Gearing might help you gas mileage.

    The track bar is usually the culprit for the death wobble.

  4. Iˇ¦ve recently started a website, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  5. No, the bump stops only come into play at full compression. Death Wobble occurs at normal ride height.

  6. Thanks! Ive rebuilt the front suspension completely and still have dw
    The following items replaced:

    Upper & lower control arms and axle bushings
    Track bar& bolt
    all tie rods
    Sway bar bushings and steering stabilizer polyurethane bushings
    Rancho stabilizer
    2 tires and alignment

    Shook so violently it stalled the engine.working on tht now.
    Redoing wirong harness and replacing cts sensor that broke during dw.pulled intake to do plenum fix and access tocps.damn 5.2 c
    _any ideas on dw?

  7. Mike, wiring connection engine compartment. 94 zj 5.2 liter if looking at the pcm location just above it to the right mounted on firewall is a large oblong/round electrical connection secured together by a center bolt 16 pins appears to be part of engine to interior wiring tie in. The screw that secures connection was loose & the female side of the connection shows signs of wear from vibration & loose connection.what is that connection? Does it include direct ties to pcm? Also is the alarm wiring to pcm there? After first incident of dw experienced stalling while driving usually low speed while would not restart normaly. Eveytime it stalled it would start if i reset the alarm with the key at one of the doors. Now it turns over with no spark acting like it did when it stalled before i reset alarm.i am hoping that this loose connection houses the alarm to pcm connection door lock reset functions etc. Thanks for your guru time!

  8. Hard to tell without a photo but I think the connector you describe is the one for the fuse box. A loos connection here would easily cause the engine to stall and the alarm to sound.

  9. Try some toe out on the front tires. If that helps, take another look at the track bar. The mount at the frame may be loose. Also, I have see some brand new track bars have enough play to allow death wobble. Also check the mounting of the steering box to the frame. If the spacer is cracked or the bolts are loose it could allow the steering to wobble.

  10. Jeep guru, great article on dw. Do you have any articles in your files related to Severe DEATH WOBBLE causing stalling and damage to the 94 zj PCM?? After rebuilding my front end, had problems with alignment caster & had dw again & stalling. Before when it stalled i would reset alarm at door locks & it would spark and run. Last dw left me with a No Spark condition…i have gone through everything i have read.

  11. The engine computer is pretty tough. The circuit board is embedded in epoxy to help it handle vibrations. However they do fail. Especially where the multi pin connector bolts down. I think there are some comments on the Hesco forums about this problem. The fuses and relays may not be a vibration resistant. Check the power supply to he PCM and especially the ground wires. There is one at the back of the block that breaks easily.

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