Fiat Chrysler sued over alleged Jeep Wrangler 'death wobble'

Keith Laing
The Detroit News
Fiat Chrysler faces a class-action lawsuit   over a so-called "death wobble" involving 2015-2018 Jeep Wranglers. The suit alleges the steering wheel of the  Jeeps can shake violently at highway speeds due to their solid front axle.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles faces a class-action lawsuit over an alleged "death wobble" involving 2015-2018 Jeep Wranglers with a solid front axle that the suit says can cause the steering wheel to shake violently at highway speeds. 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Detroit's U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges Fiat Chrysler had knowledge of the issue: "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.'”

FCA U.S. said it has not been served with the lawsuit and cannot comment on its allegations at this time. "We note, however, that any manufacturer vehicle equipped with a solid axle can experience steering system vibration and, if experienced, it is routinely corrected," the automaker said in a statement.

According to the suit, the so-called “death wobble” occurs because the solid front axle cannot absorb bumps and vibrations as efficiently as a vehicle with a front suspension that allows each wheel to move independently. It says the front suspension and steering components can be jarred out of equilibrium.Drivers experience an "uncontrollable side-to-side shaking of a Jeep’s front-end steering components and – by extension – its steering wheel," the suit alleges.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Claire Reynolds, a New Jersey resident who owns a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4 x 4, accuses the company of offering drivers a "Band-Aid fix" in the form of replacing the steering damper if the vehicle is under warranty. 

The suit claims the problem will ultimately return and can only be remedied by substantial revisions and repair to the suspension. Reynolds claims the damper was replaced three times in six months and the Jeep's front end still shook

Drivers have complained about Wrangler steering problems to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for years. 

"I first experienced the 'Death Wobble' within a year or so of purchasing my new 2016 Jeep Wrangler," an unidentified Wrangler owner from Paw Paw, Michigan, wrote to NHTSA in February 2019. "Very scary (seems to happen on a rough spots in the road, traveling at 45 mph or higher). The front end was shaking so badly that I thought I had a flat tire, or that a wheel had fallen off. It has now happened at least 8 times, and I no longer drive on any interstate highway." 

Safety advocates in Washington have been urging federal regulators and lawmakers in Congress to look into the steering problems with Jeep Wrangler vehicles as far back as 2012. 

"The Jeep 'death wobble' is a serious safety issue that must be evaluated by NHTSA," the Center for Auto Safety wrote in a March 2012 letter to former NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "It is also representative of the problems involving lack of transparency and access to reliable repairs that are present in other safety and defect cases." 

NHTSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit seeks damages for affected drivers in the form of a buyback program that requires FCA to pay drivers for defective vehicles and compensation for the loss of value to the vehicles. It also wants drivers to be provided with replacement vehicles while their repairs are pending.

The lawsuit also seeks punitive damages "for FCA’s knowing fraud that put drivers and members of the public nationwide at risk;" calls for regulators to order the company to issue a recall.