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Nuts & Bolts - Can Wheel Backspacing Cause Death Wobble?

Posted in How To: Wheels Tires on September 16, 2016
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Nope and Nope
I wanted to comment on the many questions and responses about death wobble that I have read in this and other magazines. One possible cause that I do not recall being mentioned is wheels with incorrect backspacing. My first (and so far only) experience with death wobble was when I tried to use wheels with much less backspacing than the stock wheel. It scared the crap out of me, as I was just a teenager with very little driving experience at the time.

My question is regarding our 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 4.0L engine. We have over 220,000 miles on the original timing chain. Should I replace this asap? I have been told that this is an interference motor by one person and told that it is not by another. I think that if the chain breaks and the pistons do not hit the valves then I would not worry about it. If the pistons could hit the valves then maybe it is time to replace the chain. Can you tell me which is correct?
Jeff B.

Sorry, but wheel backspacing by itself will not cause death wobble. Using wheels with less backspacing can aggravate an already existing death wobble by placing more leverage on the wheel bearings, but backspacing will not cause it. Using wheels with less backspacing moves the contact patch of the tires outward relative to the wheel hub, which places more stress on wheel bearings, ball joints, steering components, the track bar, and other components that can cause death wobble, but that's where the connection between backspacing and death wobble ends.

>We wouldn't worry about the timing chain on your high-mileage 4.0L. While 220,000 miles is a lot for some engines, it's not uncommon to see 4.0Ls go 300,000 miles or more with nothing but oil changes and regular maintenance. We've also never heard of a 4.0L timing chain breaking, and the timing sets will usually last for the life of the engine. The chains themselves are fairly short so there's not a lot of opportunity for them to stretch, and they get plenty of oil. In the highly unlikely event the timing chain does let go, the 4.0L in a noninterference engine, so the worst thing that will happen is having to call a tow truck.

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