Dodge "Death Wobble" Repair

Fixing the Dodge "Death Wobble"
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Earlier models of the Dodge Ram have their merits in terms of hauling and towing, but steering stability is not one of them. Dubbed the Dodge "death wobble," it's a common trait on '94-'02 models, particularly 4x4s with a straight axle front end. Characterized by a violent harmonic shaking of the two front wheels from side to side, this problem often occurs when the front wheels have been unloaded while towing a heavy trailer, or during sudden changes in speed due to braking or accelerating. It can also be worsened by larger tires or lifting the suspension.

Mincing no words as to its severity and potential danger, Ken Imler of Imler Diesel points out that, "The shaking can be so bad that the tie rod ends can break-a person could die. It's called the Death Wobble for a reason."

Fortunately, the cause (and thus the fix) is fairly simple: flexing or deflection where the steering box mounts on the frame. When the box moves, steering inputs don't accurately control the vehicle's direction.

To compensate, BD Diesel came up with a couple of bolt-on corrections, a Steering Box Stabilizer (SBS) and an Adjustable Track Rod. Both can be easily installed in less than half a day. Consisting basically of a sturdy box beam, the SBS braces the frame rails together transversely using the stock front sway bar mounting points. Additionally, a steel plate surrounds the sector shaft, secured by longer nut riding in a heavy-duty bearing assembly.

As for the Adjustable Track Rod, it's double coated and made from rigid 1 3/8-inch, thick-wall tubing. The welded collars have heavy-duty Poly bushings. Designed as a complement to BD Diesel's SBS, it is adjustable to accommodate up to four-inch lifts.

These items can correct a problem that's unique to Dodge, which has far more slop than the competition. GM trucks, for instance, use a stable independent suspension with torsion bars, and Ford seems to have the steering geometry of the solid-axle 4x4 models dialed in. Dodge has somehow missed the mark even on its newer models. We speak from experience here, having installed BD Diesel's SBS and an Adjustable Track Rod installed on our '99 Dodge Ram.

Prior to doing so at Imler Diesel, on the way to the shop, the Dodge wandered on the winding mountain roads and drifted into the emergency lane on the interstates. It took full time sawing at the steering wheel to keep the truck from grinding up against fellow commuters, who were blissfully unaware of the ongoing battle in the cab of the Ram.

Once BD Diesel components were installed, the benefits were immediately noticeable. The truck carved through curves with precision. Straight-line freeway driving was steady at 70 mph with one hand on the wheel. And traffic wasn't a big concern, with no more wavering back and forth within the lane. While it was only rock 'n roll, we didn't like it. So as the old 'Stones lyric goes, "You can't always get what you want-but sometimes you get what you need."

Resources

  • BD Diesel (www.dieselperformance.com)
  • Ken Imler Diesel Performance, 916/920-3775

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