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The Death Wobble: FCA Sued Over Alleged Jeep Wrangler JK Steering Issues - The Truth About Cars

2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport

A Jeep Wrangler owner has accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of ignoring an alleged safety issue with the vehicle’s steering system; one that leads to the notorious “death wobble.”

The term is one Jeep fans are already familiar with and basically entails sudden, violent vibrations from front-end steering components, usually taking place on the highway. On Wednesday, a lawsuit filed on behalf of New Jersey resident Clair Reynolds claimed FCA delivered a “defectively designed and/or manufactured front axle and damping system” allowing for the dreaded wobble to occur after “encountering road variations” at speed.

While the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has never issued a recall related to the issue, it’s familiar with the phenomenon and has been pressured by safety advocates to investigate since before 2012. But previous studies into the wobble found it relatively difficult to replicate, and no serious injuries have stemmed from it. Reynolds’ legal council says that doesn’t cut it. 

The lawsuit acknowledges that Fiat Chrysler has discussed the wobble in the past but also accuses it of misleading customers instead of fixing the alleged problem: “Rather than address it — or disclose its possibility and/or warn drivers at the point of sale — FCA simply claims in a news article that the ‘Death Wobble’ is not a ‘safety issue’ and that it ‘can happen with any vehicle that has a solid front axle (rather than an independent front suspension), such as the Wrangler.'”

According to The Detroit News, Fiat Chrysler said it has not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on its allegations. “We note, however, that any manufacturer vehicle equipped with a solid axle can experience steering system vibration and, if experienced, it is routinely corrected,” the automaker said.

While the solid-axle rebuff sounds a little weak, it is technically the truth. That’s one reason trucks with suspensions modified for off-road use often exhibit the phenomenon. A bad bushing, a loose sway bar, or inappropriate caster angle can exacerbate the issue quite a bit. In truth, there are a myriad of items that can cause the wobble, but it typically starts the same way: One tire will begin oscillating after encountering a pothole or hump in the road and the rest of the vehicle begins shaking violently as the whole front axle begins to shimmy.

Drivers caught off guard will no doubt find the experience terrifying. But it can usually be solved by bringing down the vehicle’s speed and effectively eliminating the suspension’s ability to continue vibrating.

FCA has suggested that numerous complaints related to steering vibrations are linked to poorly installed or maintained aftermarket equipment, as well as damaged or worn steering components and incorrect tire pressure. But the suit is seeking class-action status for all 2015-2018 Jeep Wranglers, with the onus entirely on the manufacturer. Reynolds’ council also says Jeep’s current solution of offering customers a replacement steering damper (if the vehicle is under warranty) has been insufficient.

From The Detroit News:

The lawsuit seeks damages for affected drivers in the form of a buyback program that requires FCA to pay drivers for defective vehicles and compensation for the loss of value to the vehicles. It also wants drivers to be provided with replacement vehicles while their repairs are pending.

The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages “for FCA’s knowing fraud that put drivers and members of the public nationwide at risk;” calls for regulators to order the company to issue a recall.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

[Images: FCA]

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