DODGE RAM DEATH WOBBLE INFO
The term "Death Wobble" may sound dramatic, but anyone who has experienced it knows that it's a very real and intense phenomenon. If you're not convinced your life is hanging in the balance while it's happening, then you haven't truly encountered Death Wobble. We're not talking about a minor front-end shimmy or wobble; we're dealing with a violent, uncontrolled oscillation of the front wheels and tires.
This chaotic motion is induced by opposing caster forces, causing the tires to skid and bounce erratically, typically at higher speeds. In some cases, you might even see smoke emanating from the front tires. Fixing Death Wobble can be a tricky endeavor, often leading people down a costly and time-consuming path of trial and error. We hope to dispel some of those mysteries with this article.
It's crucial to note that if your past encounters with Death Wobble was in a Jeep or a smaller vehicle, it's a different beast to fix when you're working with an 7000+ pound truck. Almost 20 years of designing suspension for these heavy full-size Dodge Ram Trucks, has made us experts in this field of curing Death Wobble on them.
The following information will be assuming you don’t have multiple steering components, so worn out, they are about to fall off the truck. Example: If you have 4 seriously neglected ball joints, and all tie rods are super loose, naturally address the terribly worn parts first. That said, most people have all those parts in great working order, and still get Death Wobble.
So that out of the way, let's delve into the most common fixes for Dodge Ram Death Wobble, assuming most of your steering Tie Rod ends and Ball Joints, are in decent shape….
The Most Important Contributor: The Track Bar
Between 1994 and 2013 especially, the bad OEM track bar design on Dodge Rams, created significant handling issues. Upgrading your track bar can prevent minor road imperfections from escalating into a full-blown case of Death Wobble. Even a small amount of radial bushing play can create the ideal conditions for Death Wobble to occur. From 2013 and up the OEM Track Bar is a better design, but over time will develop the same issue where the rubber bushings become soft, and will deflect enough to cause issues.
When troubleshooting Death Wobble, start by assessing the current track bar on your truck. Do not go down the road of worrying about anything else in the front end if you have not checked the trackbar. If you still have the OEM trackbar, it needs to go. The whole thing. Replacing the bushings alone will not fix the OEM trackbar’s very flexy shape. Rubber bushings and subpar engineering in the OEM track bar, are the primary culprits behind Death Wobble.
If you think your trackbar assembly may be an issue, and you want to see the issue with your own eyes, here is the process. Park your truck on a tacky surface like Asphalt, have the engine running and someone in the truck turning the steering wheel 90* back and forth while you watch the trackbar closely. If you can see even super slight bushing deflection, in either end, that is a serious issue. Often you will see the main bar itself flex. A little flex is OK, but heavy main-bar deflection can be a very bad thing.
Why is the Track Bar so important?
Most often, Death Wobble occurs when one tire encounters a bump before the other. For example, crossing an angled bridge or a set of railroad tracks at speed, or hitting a significant pothole can trigger these forces. These forces put the track bar assembly under tension and compression, and this stored energy gets released, pushing in the opposite direction once you've passed the bump.
When Death Wobble happens, even though you're holding the steering wheel firmly, the flex in a bad design track bar assembly allows the axle to shift side to side causing the tires to turn, even though the steering wheel remains stationary. If the forces are potent enough, this energy accumulates after each opposing tire kick, resulting in the uncontrolled oscillation that we call Death Wobble.
The more rigid and flex free the Trackbar can be, the better. Also keep in mind that the Track Bar is the only support for steering forces. If the trackbar was removed, the truck is undrivable, as the support for the Drag Link to push against is gone. So with that detail noted, the tighter the Trackbar can be, the better the steering quality. The Track Bar is thought to be a suspension component, but we like to consider it a steering component more than anything, as the steering quality can only be as good as the Trackbar is.
Second Most Important Contributor: The Steering Damper
Some may believe that a steering damper isn't necessary. Many call it a “Band-Aid”. Many think all Steering Dampers are the same and any steering damper will suffice. Again, these 4 ton Ram Trucks are not Jeeps. We'll explain why a good steering damper is crucial on these Full-Size Trucks. Our specialization in heavy vehicles has taught us the vital role played by the steering damper. A well-built and properly positioned steering damper can counteract opposing caster swing forces.
In this context, imagine your tires as large un-damped air springs. Have you ever dropped an inflated tire and wheel out of your truck bed, and watched the 120lb assembly bounce with a ton of height? There's a significant amount of stored energy there. The bouncing of the tires from side to side, with all that stored energy, is the basic cause of Death Wobble. A high-quality steering damper, in conjunction with a reliable track bar, can effectively manage these “tire bouncing though the steering”, forces, and mitigate Death Wobble. Have you ever drive your truck with no shocks, even a short distance? It’s a very bouncy unsafe venture! Think of your steering damper as a shock absorber, for your steering.
Location Of Your Steering Damper And Why It Matters
We recommend mounting your steering damper from the front axle, to the tie rod. 99% of solid axle vehicles, including most year and model Dodge Ram Trucks come this way.
If you opt for a second added damper up high off the Drag Link or steering gearbox, try to mount the higher-quality damper at the axle's lower tie-rod location. We discourage removing the lower axle unit, while using only one damper mounted at the upper location from the drag link or gearbox. Doing this still allows for un-damped flex and play within the track bar, and the performance impact of a single steering stabilizer only at the upper location is minimal.
Understanding Steering Damper Function And Design
Most high-performance IFP steering dampers are solid units. Inexpensive units like the standard Fox IFP or Bilstien 5100 are ill-equipped to handle these heavy full-size trucks.
The Fox ATS/TS steering dampers, our design King steering damper, and Carli's offerings are all excellent choices. From around 2013 onwards, you can even trust the OEM damper to deliver actual performance, as it's a decent unit as long as it does not have too many miles on it. If you do upgrade your Ram OEM steering damper, avoid the cheap alternatives that may actually be a downgrade. Quite often we see Death Wobble pop up right after someone replaced their OEM steering damper with a low quality unit.
Fox Through-Shaft Steering Dampers
The newer Fox ATS and TS steering dampers are top-notch. ATS stands for "Adjustable Through Shaft," and TS refers to a non-adjustable "Through Shaft." These designs minimize shaft oil displacement, eliminating the need for nitrogen pressure. Even with zero pressure, there's no air behind the working piston to cause cavitation. This makes them the best-designed dampers in our opinion. While some mounting issues may arise, and there are more seals that could potentially leak, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks. The Through Shaft Design stands as the best steering damper design in our view. No Nitrogen pressure effect also means no steering push caused by the steering damper.
What Is An Internal Floating Piston (IFP) Design, And Why Is It One Of The Best For A Steering Damper?
The Internal Floating Piston separates damping fluid (oil) from the charged nitrogen. When nitrogen and damping fluid mix in an emulsion damper, it creates foam, which is less responsive than pure oil. Nearly all steering dampers are mounted horizontally to the road surface. Emulsion-style dampers have the piston sitting in a pocket of air when the damper is stationary, and air can not damp the steering forces.
Nitrogen gas alone isn't effective as a damping material inside a shock. Steering dampers operate at slow cycles, and the pocket of dead air takes a long time to foam up, rendering the steering damper ineffective. While an emulsion-style linear steering damper can offer some damping properties, it's unreliable and inconsistent, even if you don't experience Death Wobble.
How To Set Up Your IFP Steering Damper
When upgrading to an IFP setup for your steering damper, it's crucial to pressurize it correctly. Adjustable pressure IFP dampers must be pressurized to a minimum of 100 PSI. Anything below 100 PSI leaves the damper vulnerable to being overpowered by steering forces, rendering it useless against high forces, possibly allowing Death Wobble.
Steering Damper Design: Bushing Vs. Uni-Ball
Uni-Ball bearing damper ends, with their metal to metal close tolerance nature, offer the most responsive performance. This allows the damper to immediately counteract oscillations from the steering and suspension. The highest-quality steering dampers all use Uni-Ball bearing ends. While rubber bushing end mounts can function adequately, they aren't the best choice for a steering damper.
The Third Most Important Contributor: Tires
The relationship between tires and Death Wobble may seem odd, but it's a real and undeniable truth. We can't factually delve into the intricacies of tire construction, ply structure, sidewall design, etc, and why tires do paly a big part in Death Wobble, but we can't ignore the tire’s possible impact on Death Wobble. Some tires are more prone to allowing minor wobbles to escalate into full-blown Death Wobble. Our 15+ years of specializing in Dodge Ram trucks have taught us that tires are the third most crucial contributor.
Tire Construction, Weight Rating, Etc.
When choosing tires for heavy trucks, it's essential to consider factors like F/E/D load ratings, plys, sidewalls, and more. Checking the tire's listed weight rating along with the letter rating is a reliable method for selecting tires for these hefty vehicles. Comparing both numbers is key. D-rated tires might have a higher weight rating than smaller E-rated tires. Opting for the highest actual pound weight rating is usually a wise choice when selecting tires.
So you have Death Wobble, you already addressed the Track Bar and Steering Damper, so time to play with testing tires. Often you can move the front tires to the back, then go for a drive, and see if anything changes. If the Death Wobble is different, or even basically gone, you have your answer. The tires you have need to go. Toyo, Nitto, and Yokohama tires have historically been very reliable on the Dodge Ram platform.
The Leftovers: Alignment, Normal Component Wear, etc.
When dealing with Death Wobble, realistically all components can come into play to some extent. Slight radial play in the ball joint, a slightly loose tie rod end, or a mildly off alignment can compound and contribute to Death Wobble, but usually are not the cause unless you have many many worn parts working together to cause Death Wobble. We recommend replacing any part that falls outside of spec. Still, it's essential to understand that minor adjustments, such as caster changes, slight toe-in adjustments, or swapping one slightly loose tie rod end, won't magically eliminate your Death Wobble. If you're experiencing Death Wobble, it's usually due to one of the three primary components we've highlighted or a severely worn-out front end that requires attention. By focusing on the Trackbar, Steering Damper, and Tires, you can begin to combat Death Wobble and experience a significant improvement in your Dodge Ram's handling.