Something is Really Wrong! Our Death Wobble “Breakdown”

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Pulled over on the shoulder of a highway in New York, in the rain with fast moving traffic after just experiencing a horrible shaking and wobbling of our motorhome.  Not the way we had hoped to celebrate the day on our 5th on the road anniversary.

What happened?

Our drive that day had landed us in stop and go traffic in New Jersey for a couple hours.  The traffic had finally started breaking loose, just as we crossed into New York.  It was raining, and the highway had a banked and curved overpass with expansion joints.  About two thirds across the overpass, we started hearing a whomp, whomp, whomp sound.  It sounded like a flat tire.  The sound was accompanied by a very unsettling wobbling sensation that seemed to be building in intensity.

I looked at my TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) to confirm that there was not an issue with any of my 10 tires.  It was nice to know they were ok, but it didn’t change the fact that something was very wrong.  I brought the RV to a stop as soon as the road shoulder was wide enough to fit me.  It was a soft, grassy area just off the shoulder. So I had to be careful not to go too far off the roadway, especially in such wet conditions.

Once somewhat safely stopped on the shoulder, I put on a safety vest, and went outside.  Safety cones were set out, and our hazard lights were on.  It helped make us visible, and keep us safer while we assessed our next steps.

We needed a safer space for a better look

A quick look didn’t reveal anything major. So we looked on our phones for the closest place we could exit the highway.  We wanted a safer place to park the RV and have a closer look.  Fortunately, Google maps satellite view revealed that there was an exit less than a mile away, and that just off that exit was a shopping mall with a large parking lot that we could comfortably navigate with our 60’ rig.  

Once back in motion, we were relieved to see that the RV was no longer making the same sound or movements.  Though that was great news, we still wanted to stop and have a closer look.  We were excited to see that the parking lot we had chosen ended up being completely empty, which made it easy to navigate, and do some figure eight turns to have a good look at how the motorhome and Jeep were responding.

Good news and bad news

The good news was that we didn’t find anything wrong.  But, the bad news was… we didn’t find anything wrong.  It was not comforting to get back on the highway after such an unsettling situation, without knowing what caused it.  We still had another 200 miles and over three hours of driving to finish that evening.  

I had some initial thoughts about what might have caused it.  But as it turned out, I wouldn’t discover the real cause until later that night.

When I stopped at our planned Walmart for the night, things started to make sense.  While trying to disconnect the Jeep, I discovered that the battery was dead.  I was able to start it with the help of our NOCO GB150 jumpstarter.  But as soon as I discovered the dead battery, a mental lightbulb immediately turned on for me.  The problem was not with the motorhome.  It was the Jeep!

We had experienced the dreaded ‘Death Wobble’

What is the Jeep death wobble?

Some years and models of Jeeps have been reported to experience the death wobble. In certain situations, the suspension and steering steering can get upset, causing the vehicle to start weaving side to side.  This weaving motion can become quite violent, even effecting the towing vehicle.  From what we have read, it is most likely to occur when you hit a large bump while traveling about 50 mph.

The death wobble name sounds very scary. But now having experienced it, and knowing how to stop it, I am not as concerned. To our knowledge, nobody has actually ever died from the death wobble.  But it can definitely be scary the first time you experience it. And it is definitely something we want to avoid happening again.

We learned of the death wobble in our initial research before we bought our Jeep.  However, our research had also found that there is an aftermarket part installation that can prevent, or at least significantly reduce the likelihood of it occurring.  So we were not at all deterred from buying our Jeep ‘Blaze’ in October 2017. 

How we set up our Jeep to avoid the death wobble

We bought our Jeep while staying in Portland Oregon.  But we were headed from there to Colorado. So we researched to find a dealership in Colorado that was familiar with the aftermarket part and installation.  We towed the Jeep from Portland, Oregon to Denver Colorado without incident. So it isn’t like the car is bound to have a problem without the install.  That said.  We were definitely looking forward to installing the extra part to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening.

The installation took quite a few hours, even at the experienced shop.  Some dealerships might need the Jeep for a couple days.  The part and installation cost about $500 to install.  Personally, I believe that Jeep should have covered this expense.  The original owners manual says it can be towed without it, but the updated version online says it needs the aftermarket install.  We have heard that some people have been able to convince Jeep that it should be covered. We weren’t able to, so we paid out of our pocket for the install. At the end of the day, we just wanted to be safe.

Installing this also adds extra time and steps to preparing your Jeep to tow.  But only about 1-2 minutes.  It is important to note that installing this system basically keeps the electronic steering active while towing.  This also means that without an external charging source, it can drain your Jeep’s battery in as little as 3 hours.

How did we offset the extra power drain?

Part of the reason we chose our Roadmaster Invisibrake braking system is because it charges the battery when in use.  And our experience is that the charging ability of the Invisibrake was adequate in most situations. As proof of that, we towed our Jeep over 20,000 miles over the course of 20 months without incident.  At the end of every drive, including some very long days, our battery still seemed fine.

Why did the death wobble still happen?

Even though we thought we had everything covered, it did still happen.  Why?  Basically, it was the perfect storm.  All of the below factors came into play at the same time.

1. The battery had died

With a dead battery, the aftermarket system we installed to prevent the death wobble could not operate.  Our Jeeps battery was now, nearly 5 years old.  And this battery gets a workout with us regularly straining the battery during towing.  Also, we use the auto-stop/start feature on our Jeep to keep our gas mileage high.  This feature stops the engine when you stop at a stop light, then restarts when you lift off pressure from the brake pedal.  Thereby doing a lot more engine starts. 

2. The driving conditions contributed

With a tired battery, it was not holding a charge well anymore. Plus, we had been driving in conditions that are extra hard on the battery.  We had been in stop and go traffic for hours.  The braking system in the Jeep operates by using a small air compressor to pump up the pressure to activate the brakes.  This compressor runs off of battery power.  With so much stop and go traffic, it was working overtime.  Long steady highway drives by comparison, use far less battery power.

3. The specific road condition that started the death wobble

We were on a curved and banked overpass with expansion joints.  Our vehicle was traveling at the 50mph range most prone to setting it off.  Hitting a series of off camber joints at just the right angle and just the right speed, was the losing combination. 

How can we prevent it from happening again?

First we needed to replace our tired old battery.  As mentioned above, after 5 years of heavier use it was probably overdue anyway.  Second, we are looking into a way to provide more charging power to the battery while towing.  

The Roadmaster Invisibrake does charge the battery.  But, our Jeep puts an abnormally large draw on the battery with the anti-wobble equipment installed.  So we will ask the folks at Roadmasterinc about ways to supplement the charging.  We are confident that with those two updates, we will go many more years without any death wobbles. (Update August 2019, we visited Roadmasterinc while near their headquarters.  They installed additional charging capacity, and inspected, and tuned up our towing equipment.  Check out our separate blog post on the updates by clicking this link.

We still love our Jeep, and are very happy with our decision to buy it.  It drives really great on AND off road.  Our Jeep still meets our needs perfectly.  It might not be the perfect vehicle for everyone, but we feel it is for us.

We hope you found this post and related video helpful.  RV and vehicle breakdowns are some of the most stressful parts of Living The RV Life.  When we had our first major breakdowns a few years ago, we created a safety checklist.  Click here to download our checklist for free.

Related Articles

Towing Page of our Website

Buying our Jeep

Our towing set up part 1 (tow bar)

Our towing set up part 2 (braking, electronics, and Jeep specific info) 

Safety Gear

Visit our product reviews of gear mentioned above

TST Tire Monitoring System

NOCO G150 Jumpstarter

Safety Gear

Have you experienced the death wobble?  Any other breakdowns and lessons to share.  Please leave a comment below.  We would love to hear from you.

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44 thoughts on “Something is Really Wrong! Our Death Wobble “Breakdown””

  1. I went through every thing you went though the same thing you went though with the death wobble. Installed the wiring harness fix from Chrysler. and Still had the death wobble 4 times after that. Not a voltage problem. I have a full charge supplied from my coach gen regulated when it gets to the car. I phoned the dealership and Chrysler customer service and they said they never heard of the problem and sort of tough luck. It is scary and if one had a smaller coach it would cause a serious accident.

    Reply
      • A ten thousand mile journey with 7 death wobble events. So what electronic item should I add to my 2014 Jeep Trailhawk? Or is it a wiring harness issue? If an electronic item, what name or part number am I looking for?

        Reply
        • Hi Larry, it’s called a Mopar Flat Tow Wiring Kit (Part Number 68321424AB). And it will keep the electronic steering active in tow mode. This aftermarket wiring kit helps prevents the ‘death wobble’ from occurring, which prevents damage to the steering and other components and other potential incidents.

          We took our Jeep to a dealer that already had the part in stock for the installation. Some dealers we called had never even heard of it while others were familiar. This can be a complex and time-consuming installation requiring soldering wires into the existing wiring kit. So this isn’t an ideal DIY project. We wanted the job to be done by a dealer experienced with the process to ensure a successful install. Having an experienced shop would also reduce the number of labor hours for the job.

          The cost, including parts and labor, came to about $450. This also included mounting a toggle switch in the console between the seats and a 10 AMP fuse that goes under the hood. We recommend you call around to a few Jeep dealers to find one that is familiar with both the part and the wiring kit install to ensure it is done properly and time efficiently. This is the system that we referred to above that drains the battery if being towed more than three hours. That is also what increased our interest in having a braking system (Invisibrake) that charges the battery while the Jeep is being towed.
          Here is our comprehensive blog post about this – including the instructions for how to set the Jeep up to tow: hope this helps!
          https://rvlove.com/2018/04/12/our-towing-set-up-part-2-braking-and-setting-up-jeep-tow

          Reply
  2. Glad you are safe! We had the Death Wobble on our 2016 Trailhawk while we were towing it with our beloved 2014 35QBA! You know that rig! It was VERY scary because as you know, the 35QBA isn’t as heavy as your new rig! We have the fix in now and haven’t had an issue for about 20000 miles! Great info to pass on because many feel it won’t happen to them! Not worth the risk.

    Reply
    • So true Jason. VERY scary. Could not believe how much it shook up our DP, Can’t imagine it on the gasser! The fix is critical. Now we have a new Jeep battery, we feel confident it won’t happen again. Fingers crossed LOL

      Reply
    • It’s fine – all good experience! We know what caused it – dead Jeep battery (old) and hope/expect it won’t happen again. The article you shared is about the Wrangler – ours is a Cherokee with electronic steering. Different beast. Wranglers have solid front axles, dampeners (though we have heard is a common fix for those) is not the case for our 2015 Cherokee. Apparently the issue on our Jeep has been fixed in the 2019 models, so we have heard.

      Reply
        • Thanks we DO have a brake battery charging system, but as explained in the post, the Jeep battery was on the way out and dies. Now it’s been replaced, we don’t expect any more issues, but we may look into additional charging just in case.

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    • Okay.

      Thanks for the I do, and glad all is well. I want to learn creon your experience.
      We too, have a Trailhawk, a 2016 version. Have the mopar part, a brake system that provides extra power and charging.
      You still experienced the DW, others have too, after they have been fine for awhile.

      The only thing your info is missing, or i can’t find, the part/ part no./ links to/ any alternatives too/ the additional power line to the battery. I saw a pic in your fix video. I saw that same pic when reading you blog post. However, no other info follows where you got the additional power add, if it’s MOPAR, strictly Roadmaster, or a off market Jeep supplier.

      Any info on that specific area would be hugely appreciated.

      Thanks and Happy Travels.

      RDWOLF11B (Jeff)

      Reply
      • Hello Jeff, Sorry for the delay in responding, we missed a few days of checking comments on the blog post. I was able to track down the part number at Roadmaster. It is called a Toad car charge line kit, and the part number is 156-25. Most RVs already have what is needed on the RV side to be able to charge a toad vehicle. But in the odd case that yours doesn’t, they offer another part for the RV side with part number 156-75. I will update the blog post for future visitors. Thanks again for the question and wishing you safe and happy travels. – Marc

        Reply
  3. I had Blue Ox base plate and Brake Buddy Brake system along with all the wiring on my 2018 Jeep Trailhawk and had the additional recommended wiring to put in to avoid the DW but the technician said it was not necessary–is it recommended on all years of Jeep Trailhawk or has it been remedied in the later years

    Reply
  4. We have a 2016 Cherokee Trailhawk. We had the upgrade installed as part of our deal. We had to pay for it but they only charged parts, the dealer paid the labor. I made then install a charge line from our coach to the jeep using the Aux line in our wiring harness. they fought me on this as the original instructions said it was optional but the updated instructions that came with the part said it was necessary, This was all done before we had our Airforce one breaking system installed almost a year later. it has worked great! We did have a switch installed on the fuse line during our break install. This allows us to “remove” the fuse without opening the hood and actually removing the fuse.

    WARRNING!! We did have a similar problem where are battery went dead but no death wobble. We were making a series of one night boondocking parking stops and did not disconnect the Jeep. We left it fully hooked up. With the coach not running all night this did drain our jeep battery. Lesson learned is to at a minimum turn off both switches on the jeep to disengage the power steering module at night. You can still leave it attached and the transfer case in “N” and start the engine if you like. Just remember in the morning to reengage the switches to power the power steering module once again before heading out .

    Reply
    • Thanks Ray. Yes just because the Jeep battery went flat doesn’t guarantee the death wobble would happen. You would have to hit a certain road condition to trigger the pattern. We have driven thousands of miles with a) the wiring harness “fix” not installed back in 2017 the month after we bought the Jeep and b) we drove from Maine to Oregon last month with the low charge Jeep battery which often went flat – and no death wobble. We have now replaced the Jeep battery. It was the perfect storm of the flat battery plus the bridge expansion joint road condition that triggered it. We don’t expect it to happen again (at least we hope not!). Good to hear about your system and how well it is working for you. We have the charge line from the RV to the Jeep via Invisibrake and have to remove the fuse when overnighting while hooked up from the wiring harness install. Not too much of an issue. Good to know about your option though. Cheers!

      Reply
    • We believe the Wranglers are prone to the death wobble as well especially if lifted – try Googling your specific vehicle and death wobble and see what you find. Maybe add “while towing” in there as well. But would say it’s certainly possible. It does seem common among Jeeps but many other kinds of vehicles as well – trucks and regular cars, based on the comments we’ve received on the video.

      Reply
  5. Have same Jeep as you. Have the jeep electronic part installed. Have not had the DW, but have had battery run down. Roadmaster has a kit to charge battery, but still ran down. New battery solved all that!

    Reply
  6. The law says that stuff will break on three day weekends, when you’re miles from help, or when you’re on a highway without a breakdown lane.

    As far as traditional batteries, change them out every three years. They’re relatively cheap and when they fail, it’s really inconvenient.

    Reply
    • Yep that Murphy’s Law was in play alright.. you left out “will happen in the rain”! LOL Very true about the batteries. There was no sign of it being on the way out until this happened. But we are confident now that we have a new Jeep battery, we are unlikely to see this happen again. At least we hope not! But if it does, we will know what it is immediately!

      Reply
  7. We had the death wobble with our 2015 Jeep Cherokee. We were on the western edge of Denver. Your description of what happened to you is exactly what we experienced. The entire back end of our 35′ DP was shaking. Thought we blew a tire. Nothing.

    Jeep has a technical service bulletin that adds a wiring harness in. WE had it serviced at the Silverthorn CO Jeep dealer. They were GREAT! We also added the RVi battery charger https://rvibrake.com/products/towed-battery-charger-plus to keep the battery charged when we drive.

    Anyone who owns and tows a Jeep product of any kind need to have this harness added immediately . Even if they have never had the issue.

    Reply
  8. Firstly I wonder if the backup camera would have been able to pick up that motion of the jeep.
    A cheap backup voltage solution might be a tiny dash solar charger for a cigarette lighter plugin. Or even a larger permanent flexible panel with a charge controller are very reasonable now.
    Interesting I never thought of the downside of the stop/start automated systems on cars being battery rundown. I have heard from a lot of people that hate them. I have heard that in commercial applications that it is hard on the starter shortening its life. Although too late now I have bought automotive batteries from Costco for the last 20 years and have been very pleased. In fact, I replaced one under warranty and they gave me money back because the battery had dropped in price. Always try to buy the biggest battery as possible because it was used for commercial use.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, we are sure that the backup camera would have been able to show the car wobbling. But at the time, I was hyper focused looking forward for a reasonably safe spot to pull over. The sounds and feeling really felt like it was coach, so I didn’t think to check the rear camera at that moment, and was pulled over in seconds. Obviously, if it ever happens again, I will know right away that it is the towed vehicle and would be able to catch that footage. Thanks for the suggestions for additional charging power, and battery options. There wasn’t a Costco in the area, so we ended up replacing the battery with one from Napa. Safe travels.

      Reply
  9. We had the wobble one time. Talked to a freightliner rep and was told the flap under the back of the RV can catch on 1 side causing the wobble. When it corrects everything ok. Usually by stopping and then starting again.

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  10. Just wondering, did you buy the Jeep with the base plate already installed?
    I purchased a used 2014 trail hawk specifically as a toad to haul behind my coachmen RV, this Cherokee already had base plates installed. I understood about the Fix to prevent the wobble, I also had to pay out of pocket to have if installed.
    The important part, I found that the previous owner must have had the wobble, the sub frame extensions directly behind where the base plate is attached had broken welds caused by that wobble, the extensions were made of aluminum, the replacements are made of steel. I did about a 1000 mile trip after replacing the extensions, the tow fix enabled and had no problems at all but I’d recommend you look at your subframe extensions to be safe, if they are aluminum replace them with steel ones. Also, I did get the wobble but it was while driving the Cherokee, I think it’s just the nature of its design, being engineered by Fiat, keep the tires rotated and balanced is what works for me.

    Reply
    • Edit: Blue ox made a modification to their base plate that spreads the load across the front cross bar, it’s just another tab with two bolts in it but I think I’m going to replace my base plates as this looks a better design.

      Reply
    • Hi Frank, Thank you for your detailed comment and recommendation. I had a look at our frame extensions and they seem to be in good condition. No damage that I can see, but will have the folks at Roadmaster fully inspect in a few weeks when back in the area of their headquarters. When we bought our Jeep, we bought it used, and it did not have any tow equipment on it. We had it installed by Roadmaster at their HQ in October 2017. We are pretty good at rotating our tires too, but starting to get low now, so next tire work will be replacements. Thanks again for your recommendations.

      Reply
  11. I was following a motorhome pulling a toad one day and noticed that something didn’t look right with the toad. I pulled up alongside close enough that I could see the tow bar and immediately signaled to the elderly couple that they needed to pull over NOW! They were a little reluctant but pulled over anyway. I showed them that one side of the tow bar had broken in half and was barely hanging on. In the type of terrain we were in, any further down the road could have resulted in a very, very bad outcome. Anyone who experiences what you did should make checking the structural integrity of their tow bar system a regular item on their safety checklist. An episode of death wobble could very well cause that type of damage.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing David. That would have been a scare for you and them too. Thank goodness you were able to see the issue and encourage them to pull over! Otherwise it could have been catastrophic! We will be visiting Roadmaster next month to have everything checked…. so that will give us extra peace of mind. Cheers

      Reply
  12. Sorry, I just read the blog and now understand about the invibrake charging, but not enough. It will be interesting to see if you come up with an easy method to increase the charging rate. I look forward to a video if you do.

    Peace and love. Glad it was only an incident and not an accident.

    Stay safe,
    Kent

    Reply
  13. We had issues with battery life with our toad until a fellow RV’er suggested using a battery tender. After a days drive we plug the battery to the battery tender and it recharges the battery overnight. We bought ours at Walmart for under $70. It’s a relatively inexpensive fix. Good luck and safe travels.

    Reply
    • Thanks Keith! Our Roadmaster Invisibrake charges the battery while driving but being 5yo, the battery was on the way out. We replaced the Jeep battery and are having the system checked by Roadmaster next month. Will see if we need an additional power source, as that vehicle is notorious for a high power draw. Thanks!

      Reply

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