Reports of alarming oscillations transmitted through the steering wheels of various Jeep Wranglers started landing on the NHTSA’s lap last year, years after off-road enthusiasts began complaining of the same issue. A product of a solid front axle, higher speeds, and an unexpected jolt — like hitting a bump in the road — the so-called “death wobble” sparked a class-action lawsuit that alleges Jeep’s Wrangler boasts an inherently unsafe axle and suspension design.
Now Fiat Chrysler says it has a solution to the wobble, with notifications headed to owners’ mailboxes from coast to coast. Will the supposed fix serve to pour cold water over the lawsuit? At this point, it doesn’t seem so.
Speaking to the Detroit Free Press, FCA’s chief technical compliance officer, Mark Chernoby, said a new steering damper (aka stabilizer) should help put the brakes on the jarring oscillations. Videos obtained by the automaker show a Wrangler’s steering wheel moving back and forth by five degrees following a highway bump, Chernoby said.
The problem afflicting Wranglers, he added, amounts to resonance of the front axle and dampers containing air bubbles.
“If you bang [a tuning fork] with that frequency it’ll just sit there and keep going forever. It won’t slow down, it won’t dissipate, and that’s essentially what we’re talking about here with the vibration in the new Wrangler,” Chernoby told Freep. “When you hit a bump in the road, if everything is just right, this suspension can set off that resonance and what we started seeing is as soon as it got cold this past fall, early winter, we started seeing complaints.”
Cold weather makes the oil contained within the dampers less viscous, and air bubbles don’t disappear from the fluid as quickly, he said. When asked if the issue was a result of a faulty part, Chernoby replied, “No, I would not blame it on manufacturing. It was a combination of design and manufacturing process.”
The automaker claims no injuries or deaths are attributed to the death wobble and that only 2 percent of buyers of Jeep’s new-generation Wrangler have complained. Drivers claim that the only way to quickly correct the wobble is to speed up or slow down.
Still, a lawsuit filed in a Detroit federal court, one which FCA would like to see dismissed, claims the company designed a defective front axle and dampening system. The suit, targeting 2015-2018 Wranglers, specifically mentions the possibility of FCA attempting to fix the wobble via a steering damper. Litigants called such a move a “Band-Aid.”
After reports of the wobble hit the media last fall, numerous Wrangler JL owners contacted both the NHTSA and Free Press to complain of their fruitless attempts to remedy the issue.
All new Wranglers rolling out of Toledo now carry the new damper, Chernoby said, adding that owners who want to have it installed can do so at their dealer, free of charge. The offer is not part of a recall, he said.
In an email to Freep, FCA stated, “This rarely occurring phenomenon is not peculiar to any one vehicle and is not a safety issue. FCA US strongly objects to any insinuation otherwise. There is no loss of steering or braking — two key functions that help ensure vehicle safety. The steering-system design associated with this condition affords unique capability that is greatly valued by our customers, and the market.”
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]