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Discussion Starter #1
I took my 2004 TJ Rubicon to local 4X4 shop and was told my driver side ball joints were bad. I checked and found a small amount of play on the upper one that I could only feel when I lifted the wheel up with a pry bar. I then took it to another shop and was told the ball joints were fine but I needed a rebuilt steering box. I have 2" of steering play in my steering wheel. How can I confirm the steering box is causing death wobble? I also confirmed I have no leaks in the box.

Thanks in advance.
 

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I took my 2004 TJ Rubicon to local 4X4 shop and was told my driver side ball joints were bad. I checked and found a small amount of play on the upper one that I could only feel when I lifted the wheel up with a pry bar. I then took it to another shop and was told the ball joints were fine but I needed a rebuilt steering box. I have 2" of steering play in my steering wheel. How can I confirm the steering box is causing death wobble? I also confirmed I have no leaks in the box.

Thanks in advance.
Ball joint issues will certainly cause DW. However, I’d suggest rotating and balancing your tires to see if there is any change before changing the ball joints.
You might try adjusting your steering box as well. Loose steering can cause DW.
Check the rest of the steering linkage as well as your track bar and control arm bushings.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
The last shop told me that the ball joints were ok with a small amount of play on the drivers side upper one. How do I diagnose a bad steering box?
 

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Best way to diagnose is with the help of a second person who can turn the wheel left-to-right and back-and-forth while you sit in front of the jeep and watch for looseness and worn components. 2 inches of movement in the steering wheel before the linkage moves is out of spec; while you can adjust the box, I'd recommend replacing it.
 

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I'm no professional but I'm pretty sure that any play in your ball joints is not a good thing.
 

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Best way to diagnose is with the help of a second person who can turn the wheel left-to-right and back-and-forth while you sit in front of the jeep and watch for looseness and worn components. 2 inches of movement in the steering wheel before the linkage moves is out of spec; while you can adjust the box, I'd recommend replacing it.
This! Ball joints would be my very last guess.
 

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I would change all the ball joints and the steering box. Also check your tierod ends and track bar. Change them if any minimal play.
 

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Here's what I can say about the steering box. I had/have a heavily wheeled 2004 TJ. Several years ago I replaced the stock Mercedes box with a PSC. As I understand it, the Mercedes box wasn't the best choice for the demands that Jeeps require. I had steering play as you do and the Jeep seemed to have a slight wander. I don't expect a new steering box to fix your wobble, but may lessen it....or not.

I investigated several replacement options. One company had a good reputation, but then was sold and quality changed. I considered buying another Mercedes, but they flat out weren't to be found anywhere. There weren't even any cores to have repaired. PSC was the only sure, high quality option out there, but almost twice the cost. I spent the money for a PSC and never regretted it. The slop was gone immediately. Turns were tighter.

It was a direct bolt on and used the stock steering pump. I did need to change one hydraulic line (mandatory modification) which can be purchased from PSC. The PSC box uses power steering fluid. The stock steering box uses ATF 4. Using ATF 4 in the PSC box will ruin the box. It wasn't that difficult to clean out the ATF 4 in prep for the new power steering fluid. I'm being redundant on purpose about the fluids to be clear.

The PSC box is longer, but bolts up fine to the frame and stock steering shaft. I did go with a Borgeson lower shaft later. I think there's a plastic pin in the stock steering shaft to drill out to allow the stock shaft to collapse further. I'm not sure if my body lift changes any of that.
Stock Box and longer PSC box....
75492
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I took my 2004 TJ Rubicon to local 4X4 shop and was told my driver side ball joints were bad. I checked and found a small amount of play on the upper one that I could only feel when I lifted the wheel up with a pry bar. I then took it to another shop and was told the ball joints were fine but I needed a rebuilt steering box. I have 2" of steering play in my steering wheel. How can I confirm the steering box is causing death wobble? I also confirmed I have no leaks in the box.

Thanks in advance.
Update to my Death Wobble - I had the tires balanced and rotated with spare placed in the rotation. I removed the upper bolts on all 4 adjustable front control arms to check the bushings - everything was fine. Torqued down the control arms according the currie specs - 60 ft. lbs for the upper and 90 for the lower. Removed the steering stabilizer and test drove going 50-60 over a very bumpy road. No death wobble. Then yesterday, returning from the store, hit a small bump going 50 and death wobble again. I called a shop in Phoenix that specializes in rebuilding steering boxes and was told the steering box has nothing to do with death wobble. The death wobble only occurs when I reach 50. I will post a video of the driver side ball joints when I lift the wheel with a pry bar. I also checked the front wheel bearings with the tires off the ground and moving the tires left to right.
 

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I would do the inspection yourself, removing/inspecting the trackbar is fairly easy. The axle end bolt hole might be elongated.
 

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Why are you not running a stabilizer? Most solid axles come from the factory with one. Do not listen to internet warriors, the engineers at Ford, GM , and Jeep are smarter than most of us.
If you are having the typical scare the he'll out of you Dw then you have something loose. Recheck as suggested.

Suspensions have shock absorbing joints in their trac bars and control arms. They even have flex in their steering linkage. This is designed so that you don't get noise and vibration inside your passenger compartment. The steering dampers job is to dampen out this flex.

Don't think you need flex in your front end? I learnt to drive on a old farm truck. Solid axle manual steering. The first rule was to keep you thumbs out of the steering wheel.
 

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My first guess would be trackbar on the axle end as John says... but I also didn't see any mention here of an alignment. Is your lift new and was it aligned after install, or did the DW appear over time due to wear/tear? I haven't had any steering box issues (knock on wood) so can't comment there.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Update - I ordered new ball joints (Spicer 706944X). I removed everything except the steering knuckle. I used a pickle fork to remove the steering knuckle. When I used the pickle fork on the upper ball joint, the steering knuckle came loose but to my surprise, the upper ball joint came right off. It turns out the upper hole in the inner C is now too large for the ball joint. Has anyone else had this problem? The bottom ball joint is still in the inner C and will need to be pressed out. I am hoping the upper spicer ball joint will fit. If not, what are my options?

Appreciate any and all comments.
 
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