The Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator share a suspension which is fairly unique today, though common when the wartime jeeps were created. It combines solid axles in front and rear, a design which is easy to modify and capable off-road, but not necessarily ideal for on-road driving. When the steering and suspension parts are worn, they can result in a severe shimmy.
The late Norm Layton wrote in Allpar, “Shimmy is normally caused by aftermarket application of larger tires, lifts that change the front axle setting for toe, or caster and camber, or worn or damaged parts [including] an out of balance tire, a broken tire cord, a bent wheel, or worn shocks” or “or damage to the tie-rod ends, steering box, steering arm ends, or steering stabilizer; even an improper alignment.”
The issue is not unique to Jeep; it can also appear on pickup trucks, which can have similar suspension designs, and older cars. It is also more severe than it sounds, and can yank the steering wheel from the driver’s hand.
Jeep officials prefer to call the problem “resonance” or “vibration.”
SAE technician Walt McCrystal pointed out that the steering damper/stabilizer is a hydraulic unit; if it is wet with oil, and nothing above it is leaking, it’s likely that some of the fluid has leaked out which can cause the “death wobble.” A revised damper was released in 2019.
The current solution to the problem is part of a proposed settlement to a class action case brought by owners of 2018-20 Wranglers and 2020 Gladiators. It simply extends the warranty to eight years or 90,000 miles on front suspension dampers, including all parts and service required to replace it. The class action settlement adds $4 million for attorneys’ fees and $4,000 each for the class representatives. Those who already paid for a replacement can be reimbursed. The settlement is being reviewed by a judge now, and could cover around 192,000 people.
Older vehicles can have similar problems, and indeed a revised damper was issued years ago to replace a factory unit which was deemed insufficiently effective. While the basic suspension design is relatively easy to modify with bigger wheels and tires, doing so requires more changes to avoid damaging parts and bringing about the
“death wobble” severe resonance.