Dodge Ram Death Wobble Explained

Death Wobble is a very intense experience with a fitting name. When Death Wobble happens you know it. If you don’t feel like your life is in jeopardy while it’s happening, you don’t have Death Wobble. We’re not talking a slight shimmy or wobble in the front end here.

Death Wobble is a violent uncontrolled oscillation of the front wheels and tires. It’s induced by opposing caster forces causing the tires to skid and bounce from side to side, usually at higher speeds. When it’s happening at higher speeds, smoke is often seen coming from the front tires. It can be very tricky to fix, and most people trying to fix Death Wobble end up spending a ton of time and money guessing at what the problem is.

There are different levels of intensity, but it’s always INTENSE. Everything from brief violent shaking that sometimes it will stop with a hard stomp on the brakes, or even accelerating makes it stop.  Sometimes viloent vehicle vibration that does not stop until you come almost to a stop. Once you experience Death Wobble a few times, you become a pro at detecting the indicators. Until your Death Wobble situation is fixed, you'll be stressed out while driving thinking it’s going to happen at any time.

If your experience with Death Wobble has been while driving a Jeep or small vehicle, understand it is not the same. Driving an 8000+ pound truck and experiencing Death Wobble is another animal. Over 15 years of driving heavy full-size Dodge Ram Trucks has made us subject matter experts.

Death Wobble Information Regarding The Dodge Ram Platform

The Number One Most Important Factor: The Track Bar

Between 1994 to 2013, the OEM track bar design on Dodge Rams has been a huge handling issue. Upgrading your Track Bar can stop small bumps on the road from building into a case of Death Wobble. A minuscule amount of radial bushing play can also create the perfect storm for DW to happen.

The first place to begin when troubleshooting Death Wobble, is to assess the current trackbar on the truck. You are wasting money if you do not address a track bar upgrade, or trackbar repair, as the first step. Rubber bushings and poor engineering of the OEM Track Bar are the two biggest reasons for DW to occur. Installing new bushings in the OEM track bar is not enough. We’ll never intentionally throw another company under the bus and say you NEED to buy our trackbar, but just know that it is a fact there are many bad design aftermarket trackbars out there. Just because the OEM trackbar was swapped out, does not mean that the current trackbar in the vehicle is not the problem.

Visit our Engineering Page for a full explanation of our Track Bar design.

How Does The Track Bar Come Into Play?

Most often Death wobble happens when one tire hits a bump before the other. A common example is crossing an angled bridge or set of railroad tracks at speed, and even just a big pothole can give the same forces. These bumps cause the track bar assembly to be under tension, and this stored energy will release and push in the opposite direction once you have passed over the bump. If you are holding the steering wheel tight the flex in the OEM track bar will let the axle shift side to side, causing the tires to turn even though the steering wheel is not moving. If the forces are strong enough the energy can build after every opposing kick of the tires, which creates what is known as Death Wobble.

Second Most Important Factor: The Steering Damper

It is a common belief that the steering damper is not needed, or any ol’ damper will do. This is a myth that many fall prey to and we’ll explain why you need a steering damper, and why you need a good one!

Specializing in heavy vehicles has shown us how important the steering damper is. A well-built and well-positioned steering damper can combat opposing caster forces. Your steering damper is a shock absorber for your steering assembly. Your tires can act as air springs in this equation.

Have you ever bounced an inflated tire and wheel out the back of your truck bed? There's a lot of stored energy in there! This stored energy in the tires bouncing from side to side is a major contributing fact to DW.

With a proven track bar, a quality steering damper can control these tire bounce forces and manage DW.

Location Of Your Steering Damper And Why It Matters

It's our recommendation to mount your Steering Damper from the front axle to the tie rod. If you choose to have a second damper, try to mount the higher quality damper at the axle lower tie-rod location.

We do not suggest running only one damper mounted at the upper location from the drag link/gearbox. Flex and play within the track bar will still be an issue if you have this setup. The performance result of one steering stabilizer at the upper location is minimal. It does play into the equation when battling DW but only in conjunction with a damper at the axle location.

Understanding Your Steering Damper Function And Design

Some brands are vying for a place in the offroad community. Because of this steering dampers tend to have a lack of proper R&D for their intended platform. A lot of products on the market are simply trying to make a sale, and fall short of actual performance.

Most of the high-performance IFP steering dampers are great units. The inexpensive units like the normal Fox IFP, Bilstien 5100, etc, are not able to control a heavy full-size truck.

The Fox ATS/TS steering dampers, King steering dampers, and Carli’s offerings are all great units.

From about 2013+ you can trust in the OEM damper knowing it actually performs. It's a decent unit designed with a purpose. You don't need to upgrade your 2013+ Ram OEM steering damper. If you do, don't take the cheap route with a result that's actually a downgrade.

Fox Through-Shaft Steering Dampers

The newer Fox ATS and TS steering dampers are great. (ATS = “Adjustable Through Shaft” and TS = non-adjustable “Through Shaft”). The design has minimal shaft oil displacement so there is no need for nitrogen pressure. Even with zero pressure, there is no air behind the working piston to cavitate.

With no Nitrogen pressure, there is also no pressure-induced steering push. These are the best-designed dampers in our opinion. There are a few mounting issues that can pop up, and there are more seals to potentially leak, but the advantages greatly outweigh the negatives. The Through Shaft Design is the best steering damper design in our opinion.

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 the damping fluid (oil) and the charged nitrogen. When nitrogen and damping fluid are mixed within an emulsion damper it creates foam, which is far less responsive than oil alone.

Almost every steering damper is mounted horizontally to the road surface. Emulsion style dampers have the piston riding in a pocket of air when the damper is stationary. Nitrogen gas alone does a terrible job as a material to use inside a shock to create damping. Steering dampers cycle very slowly. The pocket of dead air takes a long time to foam up, and in this time you have a very ineffective steering damper.

An emulsion-style linear steering damper can provide some damping properties. Even if Death Wobble is not an issue for you, the emulsion design is unreliable and inconsistent.

How To Set Up Your Ifp Steering Damper

If you upgrade your steering damper to an IFP setup it’s important to pressurize it properly. Adjustable pressure IFP dampers must be pressurized to a minimum of 100 PSI. Below 100 PSI steering forces can overpower the damper. Render it useless against DW, and your high-end IFP steering damper is now less effective than a cheap $30 unit.

Steering Damper Design: Bushing Vs Uni-Ball

The close tolerance nature of the Uni-Ball damper end provides the most response. This allows the damper to immediately counter oscillation by the steering and suspension. The high-end steering dampers all use Uni-Ball bearing ends.

Rubber bushing end mounts have a slight amount of deflection. While it can function, it is not the best design to use for a steering damper.

The Third Most Important Factor: Tires

Tires relating to Death Wobble is a very odd but very real truth. We don’t have the ability to explain in fine detail what's happening with the tire construction. Ply structure, sidewall design, etc are part of the Death Wobble equation. There comes a point where we can’t overlook the result and have to factor in tires.

Some tires are more prone to letting little wobbles grow into full-blown DW. 15+ years of specializing in Dodge Ram trucks is the reason tires are number 3 on this list.

Countless situations trying everything we can think of and the final nail in the coffin was to change the tires out. We’d change every part imaginable to no avail. Then swapping the tires creates a perfect handling Death Wobble free safe feeling vehicle.

Tire Construction, Weight Rating, Etc

There is a lot of talk about F/E/D load ratings, plys, sidewalls, etc when searching for the best tire for our trucks. We’ve found that checking the tire's listed weight rating along with the letter rating is a safe way to choose tires for these heavy trucks. You need to compare both numbers. D-rated tires might even have a higher weight rating than a smaller diameter E-rated tire. Picking the highest actual pound weight rating is usually a good call when choosing tires.

Alignment, Normal Component Wear, And The Other Little Things

When  battling Death Wobble all components can come into play. Radial play at the ball joint + a tie rod end being a little loose + a horrible alignment: could compound and contribute to Death Wobble.

That said, if you have not changed the Track Bar, Steering Damper, and know for sure your tires are not the issue - small amounts of play in other components should not be your focus.

We suggest replacing any part that is not within spec but please understand: degree of caster change, a little less Toe-in, or changing out one slightly loose tie rod end is not going to “fix” your Death Wobble.

If you have DW it's usually because of one of 3 MAIN components we note above, or it’s a completely worn-out front end that does need to be addressed.

Start to fight back against Death Wobble by focusing on these three main components and notice how much of a difference it makes. If you haven’t yet, take some time to review our Track Bar documentation to further understand how much the OEM track bar affects the handling of your Dodge Ram.