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Jeep owners impacted by 'Death Wobble' issue could get reimbursed for repairs

DETROIT – Owners of certain Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators might be getting a warranty extension and possibly cash back for a specific type of repair if they paid out of pocket related to what’s commonly referred to as the Jeep “Death Wobble.”

The information is part of a proposed settlement agreement in a class-action case that would be limited to owners or lessees of 2018-20 Jeep Wranglers and 2020 Jeep Gladiators.

The warranty extension for up to eight years or 90,000 miles would cover “all parts and labor needed to replace a failed front suspension damper," according to the proposed agreement. A Jeep brand website notes that a common length for a basic limited warranty is three years or 36,000 miles.

Previously: Jeep Wrangler drivers report 'death wobble' on highways

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FCA US, the U.S. operating arm of Stellantis, which owns the Jeep brand, would also pay attorney fees for the plaintiffs of up to $3.95 million and $4,000 for each of the six class representatives. The proposed agreement stipulates that the company denies any admission of liability or wrongdoing.

A proposed settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit over the Jeep "Death Wobble" would mean owners or lessees of certain models, include the 2020 Jeep Wrangler, could be eligible for an extended warranty and for reimbursement if they paid to repair their vehicles with a certain part.
A proposed settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit over the Jeep "Death Wobble" would mean owners or lessees of certain models, include the 2020 Jeep Wrangler, could be eligible for an extended warranty and for reimbursement if they paid to repair their vehicles with a certain part.

How to submit a claim for reimbursement

The agreement would allow owners or lessees of the affected vehicles who paid for a repair related to a front suspension steering damper to submit a claim for reimbursement to www.fcarecallreimbursement.com.

Final approval of the proposed agreement, which is affiliated with a lawsuit initially filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit in 2019, is pending a fairness hearing scheduled for April 19 in Detroit. It’s not clear how many vehicles would be involved, but an amended complaint for the suit filed in January 2020 noted that the company had “identified approximately 192,000 owners and their Jeep vehicles known to suffer from the defects that manifest as the ‘Death Wobble.’ ”

Eric Mayne, a spokesman for Stellantis, said the company does not comment on active litigation. Messages seeking comment were sent to attorneys for the plaintiffs.

What is the 'Death Wobble'?

The “Death Wobble,” as it has come to be called, typically happens when an affected vehicle hits a bump at highway speeds, which leads to vibration or shaking that drivers often describe as frightening. The lawsuit describes it as the “seemingly uncontrollable side-to-side shaking of the Jeep vehicle’s front-end steering components and – by extension – its steering wheel.”

The company has consistently said the issue is not a safety problem, a point disputed by many owners.

Although “Death Wobble” sounds dramatic and the phenomenon has a long complaint history online and to federal regulators, the company, which prefers to use the term “vibration,” said in 2019 that it was not aware of any deaths or injuries related to it.

That was the year FCA said it had a fix for the issue – a new steering damper, a part also known as a stabilizer, for affected Jeep Wranglers. Many owners have referred to the damper as a “Band-Aid.”

In 2019, Mark Chernoby, who was then-FCA’s chief technical compliance officer, said the vibration was not unique to Wranglers and could happen with any solid front axle vehicle. He described the underlying issue as “resonance,” comparable to hitting a tuning fork.

Similar issues in other vehicles

In 2018, the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported that a few complaints of similar issues were made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the 2018 Ford F-250 as well.

“Death Wobble” complaints related to FCA and Jeep, however, date back more than a decade.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo and then-U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, both California Democrats, penned a letter to the late FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne and NHTSA officials about the issue in 2012.

That followed a story by KGO-TV in San Francisco “saying it had found more than 600 complaints to NHTSA about Jeeps wobbling or vibrating since 1995, listing no deaths but five injuries,” as the Free Press reported previously.

On Tuesday, the Free Press reached out to NHTSA to follow up on an investigation the agency launched in 2019 involving 2018-19 Jeep Wranglers under the subject of “weld quality deficiencies.” As part of that case, the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation had asked FCA for additional information “concerning reports of steering shimmy or wobble, loose steering and steering lockup.” The response from NHTSA this week was that it does not generally comment on open investigations.

Complaints about the issue have continued to populate NHTSA’s website, such as one involving a 2020 Jeep Wrangler in Utah with an incident date of Dec. 29:

“Driving on highway, 80 miles an hour in southern Utah, three times I hit a normal bridge / road seam and the Jeep ‘Death Wobble’ occurred. This is a well known thing amongst Jeep owners, but since I was a new owner I had no idea what was going on. After slowing down the wobble stopped. I thought I was going to crash.”

Contact reporter Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jeep 'Death Wobble' settlement could mean repair reimbursements