Jeep Wrangler Owners File Class-Action Lawsuit Against FCA Over 'Death Wobble'
Plaintiffs of the suit say that the problem is bad enough that some are scared to drive on the highway.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the parent company of Jeep, is the target of a new class-action lawsuit accusing the company of being dishonest about the risks of a potentially-dangerous steering issue in 2015-2018 Jeep Wranglers commonly known as the "death wobble."
The class-action lawsuit, whose Wednesday filing was reported by The Detroit News, claims that FCA doesn't acknowledge the risk posed by "death wobble," doesn't educate its customers on the phenomenon before selling them a Wrangler, and has no plans to tackle its root cause, using "band-aid" fixes to assuage customer concerns. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that “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.'”.
As it’s known in the Jeep community, "death wobble" is a phenomenon defined by Jeep outfitter Extreme Terrain as a sudden steering wheel vibration while driving that's so severe it "feels like your Wrangler is literally shaking itself apart." Typically, the wobble occurs when a vehicle with worn-out front suspension components hits inconsistencies in the road at highway speeds and can sometimes only be stopped by bringing the vehicle to a halt.
When The Drive reached out to Jeep for comment on the class-action lawsuit, an FCA spokesperson responded with, "FCA US has not been served with this lawsuit and cannot comment on its allegations at this time.” The automaker pointed to vehicle modifications, incorrect tire pressure, and "damaged or worn steering system components" as possible causes of the stated issues. But owners of unmodified, near-new Wranglers have complained of the "death wobble" since 1995. A 2012 article from Autoguide reports on over 600 complaints filed with the NHTSA by Wrangler owners between 1995 and 2012.
"Death wobble" continues to be reported by owners of late-model "JL" Wranglers, the successor to the "JK," which is the subject of the above lawsuit. Some have attached cameras to their Jeeps to film the phenomenon, whose severity is depicted in the video below.
The JL Wrangler has already been the subject of 39 complaints with the NHTSA regarding its steering, resulting in two steering-related recalls. One recall, affecting up to 18,055 vehicles, addressed an improperly welded track bar bracket that could separate from the frame. And though it's been attributed to a number of faulty and aftermarket parts over the years, the specific cause of the "death wobble" phenomena is hard to pin down. And as FCA points out, it can happen on any vehicle with a solid front axle—it just so happens that the Wrangler is one of the few new vehicles still being made with one.
Questionable steering isn't the only concern that Jeep Wrangler owners have regarding their vehicle’s safety. Just weeks ago, Australian regulators gave the newest Wrangler a one-star crash safety rating, and US crash safety authorities have yet to fully evaluate the JL's ability to protect its occupants in an accident. When The Drive contacted the NHTSA about its plans of further crash-testing the JL Wrangler, the agency responded by saying it had conformed to the letter of the law by only providing rollover and frontal crash ratings. It had no additional plans to test the new Wrangler. The Drive also asked the NHTSA about its stance on the safety of the Wrangler's front suspension but has yet to receive comment.