Have you ever heard the phrase; “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”? Well like it or not, that statement is true. And the same principle also applies to the latest sensationalized story about the Jeep Wrangler 4x4s tendency to ‘wobble’ after striking a bump/pothole/railroad crossing at speeds above 45 mph.
Yes, the Jeep Wrangler does get the steering wheel shakes, if you hit a pothole at 45+ mph. But so does every other 4×4 vehicle equipped with a straight front axle. Designed traverse rough terrain, a front-mounted solid axle (similar to the rear axle under your grandma’s Caprice Classic) allows the engine to send maximum torque to the front wheels, while they crawl over obstacles at impossible angles. It’s ancient technology, but it’s what makes the Jeep Wrangler such a capable off-road buggy.
Seeking to mass-market all of that capability, Chrysler/Fiat revamped their iconic trail crawler by adding a luxurious new interior, modern engines, and a 4-door Wrangler with a removable roof. Their formula worked, and the plebes started plunking down their money. Jeep Wrangler sales are already up 33% for the year, and the little trucklet is selling like wildfire overseas.
Problem is, Bambie P. Customer didn’t buy her Jeep for its Trail Rating. She bought it because it looked cool, and she could work on her tan, while she drove to the beach. Bret P. Customer bought it because he had a Jeep Tonka Truck as a kid, and now he has a real one! Sure, a lot of Wrangler buyers are attracted to the truck, because of what it is. But all of these new customers have created a new problem for Chrysler.
NHTSA received 600 complaints, and one fatality report related to the problem. Then some investigative reporter in San Francisco did a story about it, seizing on the phrase “Death Wobble”. This scared the locals, and no doubt boosted the station’s ratings. It also prompted local Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and Beverly Hills Representative Harry Waxman to (very publicly) ask NHTSA to investigate the matter. NHTSA declined the request, stating the problem “doesn’t result in the loss of control”. Let go of the wheel however, and you will crash. Doh.
The obvious explanation must’ve befuddled the Washington Brain Trust, because (according to The Detroit News) the duo went to Chrysler directly, asking them to do an “outreach campaign”, warning owners to…slow down and hang on the wheel when they hit a bump. Again, doh. But Chrysler retorted; “most reported incidents – in all manufacturer vehicles equipped with or without a solid axle – are often linked to poorly installed or maintained after-market equipment, such as lifters, oversized tires, etc.”
While Chrysler’s response has a bit of truth to it, they worded it…badly. That pissed everybody off. And now, who knows what’ll happen. Probably a 60 Minutes Investigation, a Congressional hearing, and of course, re-election for Waxman/Eshoo.
Meantime, if you own a 4×4 Jeep, or any other vehicle with a solid front axle, slow down for bumps, and hang on to the steering wheel. If you drive a Camry, Camaro, or anything else, check out these youtube videos. They’ll show how the ‘death wobble’ occurs, and how stupid drivers simply keep their foot on the gas, instead of immediatly slowing down.