I-Team

NHTSA says they won't investigate 'death wobble'

Thursday, April 12, 2012
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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The ABC7 News I-Team was first to report about a violent shaking occurring in some Jeep vehicles. Now, the government agency responsible for vehicle safety is responding to questions raised by Congress following our investigation.

Jeep owners call it "the death wobble" -- a violent shaking in the front end of that occurs at highway speeds. Videos from YouTube show just how bad it can be. It's happened to our own Dan Noyes and an ABC7 producer. Our investigation got the attention of two members of Congress.

"This is a public safety issue," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, and Eshoo sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, demanding the agency tell them how bad the problem is and what's being done to fix it.

They released a response from NHTSA administrator David Strickland. In it he writes the agency has reviewed "shimmy" complaints on Jeep Wranglers from 2005 to 2010 and found "...402 relevant complaints..." and"...identified two possibly relevant crashes, one of which alleged non-fatal injuries."

The I-Team analyzed NHTSA data back in February and found more than 600 complaints about Jeeps wobbling or vibrating since 1995, mostly Wranglers made after 1997. We found no deaths related to the wobble.

In the letter Strickland says, "...while the condition is disconcerting to drivers, it does not result in loss of control such as the vehicle moving out of its travel lane."

But that's not what the I-Team found. Retired CHP Officer David Fairbrother says he nearly crashed his 2008 Jeep Wrangler during a so-called "death wobble."

"I lost control of the wheel and the vehicle on I-5 at freeway speed and spun out into a dust ball into the center divider," said Fairbrother.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

Chrysler, which owns Jeep, would not comment on NHTSA's findings, but Michael Palese with corporate communications for Chrysler Group LLC has previously said, "Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed every applicable government safety standard and have excellent safety records. All manufacturer vehicles equipped with a solid axle are susceptible to vibration and, if experienced, it can be corrected by performing minor maintenance items, such as properly balancing or changing the tires, or a front end alignment, installing a new steering dampener, or by tightening or replacing other loose or worn parts. In fact, most reported incidents -- in all manufacturer vehicles equipped with or without a solid axle -- are often linked to poorly installed or maintained after-market equipment, such as lift kits, oversized tires, etc. This is not a safety issue, and there are no injuries involving Chrysler Group vehicles related to this allegation. Indeed, the name you've given to this condition has no basis in fact."

In its letter NHTSA says other vehicles have been investigated with this similar problem and therefore it"...does not believe this particular condition indicates a likelihood of a safety-related defect would warrant a formal investigation," said Strickland.

But Eshoo released a statement late Thursday saying she will be "...asking the auto manufacturer to inform its customers about this potential problem and direct them to take immediate action if any vibrations occur."

And the executive director of the Center For Auto Safety - a consumer watchdog group - calls NHTSA's response one of the most evasive responses he has ever seen from a federal agency.

We will keep you posted as this story develops.

Written and Produced by Ken Miguel

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Tags:
chrysler, driving, i-team, dan noyes
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