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If you’ve spent any time around or underneath a solid-axle 4x4, you’ve likely noticed what appears to be a shock absorber mounted parallel to the front axle—and you aren’t wrong! Steering stabilizers, also known as steering dampers, are a common component of most solid-axle front suspension systems, included as factory equipment on Jeeps, solid-axle SUVs, and several 4WD ¾ and 1-ton pickups.
If you’ve been around the 4x4 scene long enough, you’ve heard debates about whether steering stabilizers are necessary. While some swear that a properly set-up front axle shouldn’t even need a stabilizer, others throw on double or even triple-stacked units for additional effect! But which camp is right?
Before coming to a conclusion, it’s important to have a firm grasp as to what exactly steering stabilizers are and their intended purpose; that’s where the experts at RealTruck come in. We’re here to discuss all the common talking points surrounding steering stabilizers; by the end of this article, we'll have answered all your questions and more!
Just as your steering input at the steering wheel translates into the steering box, down the drag link, through the tie-rod, and into the steering knuckles, the reverse can also occur. Bumps, dips, and obstacles on the road or trail can transfer undesired motion from the tires, all the way to the steering wheel. To help mitigate this condition, solid axle front ends are typically outfitted with steering stabilizers.
Steering stabilizers, like suspension dampers, are engineered to dampen movement; however, as opposed to slowing compression and rebound, steering stabilizers dampen the motion of your vehicle’s steering linkage. Typically, a steering stabilizer features one or more shock absorbers affixed to the center tie rod on one end, while the other is mounted to a fixed position on the axle.
In practice, steering stabilizers help to hold your vehicle’s steering linkage on center, dampening any unwanted side-to-side movement. The effect is that your vehicle’s steering is tighter, less floaty, and less likely to incur quick directional changes caused by bumps and dips in the road–also known as “bump steer.” Steering stabilizers are even said to fix the dreaded Jeep “death wobble,” though we’ll touch on whether or not that’s true later.
There are several styles of steering stabilizers depending on the type of vehicle you’re piloting, the modifications done to said vehicle, and what it’s typically used for.
Factory-style replacement steering stabilizers directly replace worn, leaky, poor-performing factory units. While offering minor performance benefits over the OE steering stabilizer, the most notable gains from factory-style replacements occur when replacing a worn unit.
Factory-style steering stabilizers feature the same design as the OE unit, constantly expanding and pushing the tie rod; however, any steering pull is negligible, if at all present. Factory-style steering stabilizers are best suited for applications running stock or slightly larger than stock tires, ensuring adequate damping forces and proper driveability.
Like factory-style replacements, high-performance steering stabilizers install in the factory location; however, the technology within the damper is far more advanced. Unlike factory-style gas or oil-charged shock absorbers that push against the steering linkage, most high-performance steering dampers have a neutral charge, meaning that the damper doesn’t pull or push the tie rod.
As a result, your vehicle’s steering is incredibly neutral, predictable, and controllable. In addition, high-performance steering stabilizers can easily handle the additional strain of oversized tires, keeping even heavily-modified vehicles centered on the road.
If one steering stabilizer is good, two must be even better, right? So states the methodology of dual steering stabilizers.
Dual steering stabilizer systems typically feature additional bracketry to reposition your ride’s factory steering stabilizer and mount an additional shock absorber. Dual steering stabilizers increase damping forces on your ride’s primary tie rod which, in theory, stabilizes your steering twice as well.
In reality, a dual steering stabilizer setup more-or-less performs like a single high-performance steering stabilizer; as one shock compresses, the other extends, creating a neutral steering feel. Like high-performance single steering stabilizers, dual steering stabilizers are best used on heavily-modified applications running oversized tires.
Now to the core of the discussion; does your ride need a steering stabilizer? We’ll answer that question with a conditional…maybe; let’s dive deeper into that response.
As mentioned previously, some vehicles come from the factory with a steering stabilizer, such as ¾ and 1-ton pickups and Jeeps. On these applications, we’ll suggest always running a steering stabilizer whether modified or bone stock. While inconveniently placed drain plugs and impossible-to-reach spark plugs may make us question our faith in engineers, in this case, if it’s designed to run one, keep it that way.
But what about a vehicle that didn’t come with a steering stabilizer from the factory? On these applications, maybe. While a steering stabilizer won’t technically harm your ride’s steering system, it won’t necessarily improve a properly functioning one either. A well-maintained, unmodified vehicle with minimal play in the ball joints, tight steering linkage, a healthy steering box, and a proper alignment shouldn’t need a steering stabilizer. However, if you’re running significantly oversized wheels and tires, a steering stabilizer can be advantageous.
Now, if you’re looking to quell existing drivability issues on a high-mileage vehicle–like steering wander or death wobble–that’s a scenario where installing a steering stabilizer isn’t recommended. Often, individuals attempt to apply a bandaid fix over their vehicle’s steering woes; however, that isn’t the proper solution. Before installing a steering stabilizer, it’s crucial to address worn components first; no steering stabilizer can or should be used to cover up wear, tear, and neglect.
In the case of death wobble–an erratic and uncontrollable back-and-forth jarring of your vehicle’s steering components–a steering stabilizer isn’t a cure. Death wobble is almost always symptomatic of a more severe underlying issue, like a worn drag link, track bar, ball joints, tie rods, and/or steering box. Once you’ve found and addressed the source of your ride’s death wobble, you can order a steering stabilizer from RealTruck!
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