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Unread 08-20-2014, 09:07 AM   #1
wolfman
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2004 TJ Wrangler 
 
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Jeep TJ vibrations at highway speed, can't figure it out

Hi there,

I would appreciate any help in figuring out what is wrong with my 2004 Jeep TJ Sport. I've been looking through the forums for months, fixing potential issues all summer, I've taken it to 2 mechanics including the Jeep dealership - I/they just can't figure it out.

Jeep: 2004 Jeep wrangler sport, 173k KM, no accidents, no lifts, no spacers, no mods except windshield mounted KC hilites. Running BFG Mud Terrain T/A 30x9.5 r15. Front Dana 30, rear Dana 45. All regular maintenance done. No serious off roading, just trails and my regular highway commute to work.

Issue: About 8 months ago I started noticing, slowly getting worse, that the jeep drives smoothly up till about 90 to 95 km/h where it gets a vibration in the steering wheel, a small jerking left to right. I use to drive through this and it would even out a bit, but I've taken to driving slower after one time I hit a bump at 90 km/h and went into DW, an extremely violent front end shaking that I had to stop completely to get rid of. This vibration happens when under power, or in neutral coasting, worst at about 92 km/h.

What I've fixed so far:
-Alignment
-Took off my winter tires rims and put on summer tires and summer rims (along with Road force balancing summer tires 2 times)
-Front ball joints
-Front axle U-joints
-Front drive shaft U-joint (not cv joint, inspected and looks ok)
-Inspected (and had dealer inspect) all steering and front end suspension components: tie rod, track bar, steering stabilizer, stabilizer links, ball joints, u-joints, control arm bushings - everything is original and a little old, but nothing is clearly loose, overworn, oval'ed or hollowed out/rotten or with loose bolts/excessive play. The steering stabilizer bushings seem to be the worst, its the one component I can get to move even a little bit.
-When the steering wheel is turned, wheels on the ground, nothing seems clearly broken or loose. The steering stablizer whines a bit and its easier to turn left than right (aka pull the steering stabilizer vs push the steering stabilizer rod).

Other investigations/things I've noticed
-I've tried putting all tires off the ground and running in 4x4. I cannot personally see/hear anything wrong with the front wheel bearings. Wheels have a little bit of play when off the ground but not enough to think ball joints/wheel bearings IMHO.
-When I drive slow on flat perfect ground, like 5 km/h just rolling, I notice a 'bump' coming from the passenger side every tire rotation, like your hitting a small bump just on that side of the vehicle.
-Rotors and breaks are less than 2 years old, they seem perfect
-Steering box has slow fluid leak. I just top it up every couple months and power wash the driveway Steering is fine and normal except at higher speeds.

When I took it to the dealership, their best guess was that the passenger side axle shaft at the U-joint was slightly bent (I had bent it while pushing out the old U-joint during replacement trying to fix the issue!). When I explained that to the mechanic, he agreed that it likely wasn't the issue (but should replace it anyway). My best guess is that the steering stabilizer bushings being bad could be causing it not to damper properly. If not, getting a good quality, new steering stabilizer might somewhat even-out whatever the actual issue is. Either way that death wobble incident was terrifying, so I need to figure this out.

I'll emphasize again that I can't see how this issue would be tires/rims because the exact same issue happens on my winter tires/rims as with my summer tires/rims, and all the mechanics have started with alignment/ roadforce balancing to double rule it out.

Thanks so much for any ideas guys. I'm $900 dollars and countless hours into this, and I still don't even know what it is. I just don't have the cash to start replacing everything aimlessly without some educated guess of what is wrong.

Cheers,

Steve

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Unread 08-20-2014, 05:51 PM   #2
Necromancer_tat
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Sounds like your tires are still out of balance. Have you tried borrowing a set f front tires from someone else?
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Unread 08-21-2014, 07:21 AM   #3
wolfman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
I'll emphasize again that I can't see how this issue would be tires/rims because the exact same issue happens on my winter tires/rims as with my summer tires/rims, and all the mechanics have started with alignment/ roadforce balancing to double rule it out.
I've also tried rotating the summer tires.
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Unread 08-21-2014, 07:25 AM   #4
EvilM0nkey
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Here ya go.
3 part procedure

Part 1: Easy Fix / visible problems
Have a shop balance the tires perfectly (an oil change shop can't do this) Even if you just had them balanced yesterday.
Come home and get a friend to turn the steering wheel while you look at the suspension and steering components. Repair/ replace anything that moves and shouldn't (bushings, slop in joints etc...)

If it wasn't fixed in Part 1

Part 2: Moderate fix / inspect suspension components and mounts
Jack the front of the jeep up (locked in 4WD) and support it so the tires are just barely resting on the ground.
Start with removing the lower control arms (mark any alignment points). Inspect the bushings and mounting brackets (some cracks in the bushings are ok). Check for wear on the metal components as well as cracked welds. Re-install the control arms but don't tighten the bolts. Repeat the same procedure with the upper control arms.
Lower the Jeep back to the ground and settle the suspension (rock it or let it roll a short distance) Torque the control arm bolts.
Raise the Jeep again and loosen the track bar bolts.You may need to raise and lower the Jeep to find a point where the track bar bolts will move more freely. Once you find that spot remove the bolts and the track bar. Inspect the bushings and/ or joints for wear and excessive play. Inspect the mounting points and welds for wear and damage. Repair/ replace anything that is worn (These bushings should have very minimal cracks at worst). When you reinstall the track bar don't torque the bolt until the Jeep is lowered (you can tighten the upper joint).

Steps 1 and 2 should fix 95% of all DW problems.
If it is still not fixed:

Part 3: Difficult - Inspection of steering components
Have a good alignment shop give the Jeep an alignment. Make sure to get a printout of the results. Any problems found should be fixed.
If no problems were found and the alignment is good
Raise the Jeep, support it and remove the front wheels.
NEVER USE A PICKLE FORK ON STEERING PARTS YOU WANT TO RE-USE!
Complete all steps even if you find a problem.
-Remove the drag link from the pitman arm, tie rod and knuckle. Inspect the mounting points for wear at all points. (Any wear on the steering stabilizer mounts is incidental and not the cause of the problem)
-Remove the pitman arm and check for wear/ damage at the steering box.
- Remove the tie rod and inspect for damage / wear
Replace/ repair any worn or broken components that are found.
When re installing make sure all ball joint shafts and mounting holes are clean and smooth. Don't overtighten the bolts!

If you did not find any problems and the problem is not fixed you need to go through this list again.
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Unread 08-21-2014, 02:30 PM   #5
wolfman
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Thanks for the response EvilM0nkey.

So, I'm going to say that Part 1 is complete. As for part 2, there are some good ideas in there. For the control arms, I can see without taking them apart that the bushings are dried out and slightly cracking, and if I grab the control arm and twist I can see a tiny, tiny bit of movement, like 1mm. Being a Canadian vehicle of 11 years I worry about taking apart the control arms as they are so rusted and seized that almost certainly I would have to replace all the bushings and bolts (if not the control arms themselves) after smashing and ripping them apart. Before I try that, I'd like to exhaust all other easier options, unless I am at least 75% confident this is the issue (either by reasonable deduction or by process of elimination.)

From youtube videos that I've watched, I've carefully watched the track bar during steering movement, and have tried to move it with my hands, and it seems quite tight. The ball joint is lubed and in good condition, and the mounting bolt has no movement and looks good. Do I really need to take it apart to confirm that the track bar isnt the problem? If I do remove the track bar, do I raise the tires right off the ground, or just slightly touching the ground (like for the LCA)?
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Unread 08-21-2014, 08:48 PM   #6
EvilM0nkey
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
Do I really need to take it apart to confirm that the track bar isnt the problem? If I do remove the track bar, do I raise the tires right off the ground, or just slightly touching the ground (like for the LCA)?
Absolutely yes. Even though it's lower in the list the trackbar is one of the main culprits of DW right behind tire issues.

It's best to find the spot where the bolt isn't being pulled. Once you find the sweet spot you should be able to rattle the end with the bolt loose and pull it out with your fingers. Otherwise it will be pulling one side or the other and binding the bolt some (or a lot).

Some guys just rip the bolt out and yank it, but that way is a lot easier. I'll always take more time to make my work easier.
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Unread 08-22-2014, 07:59 AM   #7
wolfman
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Ok, I'll pb blaster it tonight and try taking apart the trackbar tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm basically going to start from scratch looking everything over again. Another test I thought about doing was removing the front drive shaft and try driving it - worth the time? Removing the skid plate is a pain, and I can't see how people manage to loosen those 4 bolts at the transfer case without taking the skid plate off.

Does anyone think that bad front unit bearing(s) could be causing this?

Another observation I forgot to mention: the vibration happens about 90% of the time on highways, but not always. With it being construction season here, any time I drive on a recently graded, perfectly flat highway no vibrations occur - it will drive smooth at any speed on a mint condition brand new road. I've taken this as additional evidence that this is not a tire/wheel issue (ex. if the tire was out of round or imbalanced, why would a flat, even road matter?)
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Unread 08-22-2014, 08:17 PM   #8
HAYSHAKER170
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Based on this comment:

Other investigations/things I've noticed
-I've tried putting all tires off the ground and running in 4x4. I cannot personally see/hear anything wrong with the front wheel bearings. Wheels have a little bit of play when off the ground but not enough to think ball joints/wheel bearings IMHO.


It sounds like you may need ball joints or wheel bearings. Any movement would be bad.
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Unread 08-23-2014, 08:29 PM   #9
wolfman
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Weekend update: After more dry steering tests and playing around, I decided that finesse and deduction aren't working for me or the dealership mechanics, and its time to try brute force: I decided just to replace the trackbar as the most likely culprit, I found one that wasn't too pricey (regardless, taking apart the old track bar ball joint with my pickle fork destroyed it). I noticed that the bolt hole on the track bar axle mounting wasn't significantly oval'ed, but (as some have mentioned on here) I upgraded the stock bolt to something thats beefier and fits the hole better anyways. The track bar is now brand new and tight as a virgins...well, you know.

Results
Good news - the shimmy is much reduced.
Bad news - the shimmy is still present. When I go at 95 km/h I can definitely still tell its there. It reminds me of 8 months ago when I first noticed it and did nothing to fix it because it didn't seem too bad, before it got a lot worse. I still need to find the root cause.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HAYSHAKER170 View Post
It sounds like you may need ball joints or wheel bearings. Any movement would be bad.
I hear ya. So I had the passenger side ball joints replaced 3 weeks ago as the grease nipple for it had broken off and it was in need of replacing due to rust contamination; the drivers side ball joints I haven't done yet. As for wheel bearings, they are original and have taken 173k km, but I would think that if they failed I would hear noises and notice other warning signs (?). Youtube tells me that when they go, visually its unmistakable, I don't see that much play in them. Thoughts? Truthfully I am a novice mechanic, I am basically learning as I go with help from kind forum members and youtube. My local auto parts store has wheel bearings replacements for about $100/each and I can do that myself no problem (I did my own axle shaft u-joints earlier in the summer).

Operation "Burn Money" will continue replacing items in the following order, unless there are suggestions for other investigations or moving items up or down in the priority list.

1. Driver's side upper and lower ball joints
2. Steering stabilizer
3. Wheel bearings
4. Passengers side axle shaft
5. Lower Control Arm Bushings
6. Upper Control Arm Bushings
7. Entire jeep
8. Buy bus pass

Thanks again for all who have chimed in with advice
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Unread 08-26-2014, 09:04 AM   #10
wolfman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HAYSHAKER170 View Post
Based on this comment:
It sounds like you may need ball joints or wheel bearings. Any movement would be bad.
I've taken a second closer look, and there is no movement. Possibly I had noticed movement before the passenger side ball joint, or maybe I was mistaking it for the tire squishing a bit.

What about my steering box or steering linkage? Could that cause vibrations like this? The steering box has been dripping fluid for a year. Also, when someone turns the wheel during a dry steering test, it seems like there is some play in the wheel before it translates into turning the pitman arm. The steering doesn't seem "tight".
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Unread 09-02-2014, 08:15 AM   #11
wolfman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
What about my steering box or steering linkage? Could that cause vibrations like this? The steering box has been dripping fluid for a year. Also, when someone turns the wheel during a dry steering test, it seems like there is some play in the wheel before it translates into turning the pitman arm. The steering doesn't seem "tight".
Any ideas? I'm still pretty stuck on this.
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Unread 09-02-2014, 10:14 AM   #12
HAYSHAKER170
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
Any ideas? I'm still pretty stuck on this.
Put one hand on the pitman arm and the other on the steering shaft where it goes into the box. Now have someone turn the steering wheel back and forth slowly and see if you can detect any play or clunking there. The fact that it's leaking could mean the shaft is loose too.
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Unread 09-03-2014, 11:04 PM   #13
wolfman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfman View Post
-Alignment
-Took off my winter tires rims and put on summer tires and summer rims (along with Road force balancing summer tires 2 times)
-Front ball joints
So I put my winter tires and rims on for a test tonight and the vibration is gone. My best guess is that the vibration I felt last winter was either the track bar or ball joint that I replaced over the summer, and that my summer Mud Terrain T/A tires or that set of rims is the issue.

Could it be a bent rim? Out of round? I've had the tires road force balanced by a tire shop and they said that the tires were fine, just a bit old. Should I just replace the tires and be done with it?

I took the tire pressure down from 28 psi to 25 psi as a test for tomorrow.
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Unread 04-21-2015, 10:05 AM   #14
wolfman
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Update: I am stilling having this vibration issue. Since my last post, I've replaced the passenger side axle shaft and both front wheel bearings.

Still getting the same shimmy on the highway.
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Unread 04-21-2015, 12:18 PM   #15
joe_jeep
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You got some miles on the jeep.
If you cant find the issue, and are gonna throw parts at it, start here.

I would replace the whole steering system. Its not hard to do, and pretty cheap.
its a tie rod, drag link, 2 tie rod ends, 2 adjuster sleeves, and a stabilizer shock.
I just did it on mine, cheap stuff cost me 102 shipped to my door.
Good stuff should b under 200. Shop rock auto for good prices, or ebay for china junk.

Then I would look closely at the track bar, and upper control arm bushings on the axle.
they are all common culprits. Might wanna change them out too.

dont replace the bushings in the rest of the arms, buy new arms, they are cheap.

Replacing alot of parts on a high mile jeep is not uncommon.
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