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Steering Stabilizer, Yes or No?

There are clearly 2 schools of thought on SS. Those that believe they "mask" issues therefore not needed...and those that believe the SS is just another component in the steering group.

Steering and suspension are quite complicated and some steering setups are prone to wheel shimmy and later on the dreaded death wobble. The TJ is one of them. As wear takes place thru the system shimmy will develop. Often this shimmy is undetected by the individual driving the rig until it gets worse. Here is where the effect of a steering stabilizer is pointed to as “masking.” Certainly in this context, it is true.

The SS has as it prime purposes the damping of vibration and oscillation. Especially the traumatic impact of hitting a pothole or rock while off road. In fact, enough impact can ratchet the steering wheel fast enough to break a thumb or arm in some cases.

Then the first approach is to balance/rotate the tires. Often this helps, but the die is set and things will only get worse as time goes by. One can ask the question, what causes DW? The answer is: It can be any one or more components attached to the axle assembly. Shocks, tires, control arms, track bars, caster, toe, ball joints etc, etc.

Going backwards in thought, each of these wears and results in a different impact on the system itself or the "loaded" balance exerted on the system begins to change. As things get looser, the system loses its ability to keep itself in check. Here the SS rises to the occasion by absorbing these vibrations and smoothing out the impacts.

Under normal circumstances, a light SS works fine on OEM Jeeps. Remember the DC engineers put it there for a purpose. As the Jeep ages you have to replace it from time to time...problem solved. DC-Jeep also assumes that as time goes by normal maintenance is being preformed.

In the case of the TJ it is a normal that the steering system begins to oscillate in unison. The oscillation will generally appear in a range of 35 - 55 mph. In addition, it will change as new tires; shocks, bushings etc are changed and replaced with different units. Even DC alters this by using 3 different control arm-bushing resiliencies.

From an engineering paradigm:

* its normal for some degree of oscillation to take place in a TJ at varying speeds and this is where the SS does its job for you.

* wear is normal as is accelerated wear from varying degrees of oscillation

That being the case, DC Jeep and many other cars have included a SS to mitigate this.

If it is "set up correctly”, will you not need a SS? Correctly is a vague term in this case. We often encounter a steering set up that is correct in all adjustments [toe, caster, wheel balance, etc] and is otherwise correct in that its not bent or excessively worn. Yet, Death Wobble lives and breathes under the front end. Why? Most likely somewhere in the system a component is worn beyond tolerances and when oscillation initiates from a suspension "traumatic" event it causes other components to also react. This is called the “multiplier effect: where one component affects one or more other components as the event travels thru the system.

Several years ago I did a major axle upgrade and replaced not just axles but every other component/bushing etc under my rig. Due to some time constraints, we did not install a SS. No problem, it was "set up correctly" and drove perfect. I got lazy and lulled into thinking I did not need a SS. Over a year later with trips to Moab and Texas under the Jeeps wheels and nearly 20k miles, I picked up some shimmy after hitting a brick crossing on FLW Blvd. It continually got worse, finally I got my wheels rotated and balanced. It went away...for a while. 6 months later, I was battling DW on a regular basis.

4 Track bars later, many wheel rotations and balances, adjusting shocks, caster, toe, etc I have finally won. Nevertheless, thru it my entire rig was "set up correctly". However, 20k+ miles had just taken its toll on "components". I won the battle by doing 2 things:

* Installing a high quality SS [Rancho] to dampen the vibrations

* Stabilize the track bar and eliminating the OEM frame mount.

If I had it to do over again: I would have fitted the SS ASAP after getting my new axle setup installed and prevented my TB issue before I spent the money on 4 track bars.

On TJ’s one of the most frequent culprits of DW is the track bar. That is because of the direct connection from the steering axle assembly to the frame of the Jeep in a lateral link. The “C” frame mount where the TB is attached is prone to wallowing out from the small and flexible in 360 degrees tie-rod-end. As this wears and after DW sets in which traumatically wears at the “C” mount things just go from bad to DW.

Typically, after you get DW once, the Jeep is prone to getting it repeatedly, each time with less input from the road or whatever initiated DW to begin with. This is due to the trauma that DW causes to the system components individually and collectively.

Bottom line: Can you get away without installing a SS? Yea, kinda, sorta, maybe. IMO eventually you will install it as just another component in the steering and suspension SYSTEM. Especially true if you Jeep is a DD and a high mileage one at that. All this points to staying on top of steering and tire maintenance.

Recommendation:

The common SS for the TJ is the Rancho 5407.  But for those who run big tires > 33's you might want to look at another SS that really helps and has the same stroke and body length as the OEM replacement 5407.  Rancho 5401

Contact Mike at 1-800-606-6421, 4Wheelers Supply for an excellent price on the Rancho 5401 which they keep in stock.

Further reading:

Click here:  Setting your own caster on the TJ>

Click here:  Inexpensive cure for TB induced DW>

Click here:  Discussion on Death Wobble on the TJ>

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