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Wheel wobble and how to cure it

Wheel wobble or judder is present on each of the coil-sprung Land Rovers. Some 90/110's have it to a lesser degree, astoninglisly. Normally it is felt as a judder in the steering wheel not unlike the one you feel when your tires are out of balance. It can go on for a very long time and worsen to the point the car is almost undriveable. The causes are easy enough to correct so there's no reason to drive like that. I took a recent article in LRO as a base for writing this as it inspired me to do that job on my own car.

In 90% of the cases it can be brought down to Swivel bearing worn. The other possibilities are discribed following their likeliness.

1. Worn Swivel Bearings

The Swivel is the large chromed ball you see when you look under your car near the outer ends of the front axle.

This chromed ball has an upper and lower bearing that allows your wheel to turn. The bearings located inside this ball may wear which is quite normal. Extensive wear, however, is an MOT failure in most countries. Luckily you can quite easily adjust them. They need a little force on them to work properly and keep the wheel steady. If they wear they gain just a bit more space to "jump" up and down, reducing the maintaining force of the wheel considerably.
Left: This is where the lower bearing sits...

Right: ... and here's the upper bearing located. The force on the bearings is generated by shims (red arrow, below) placed under the locating pin. Or let's say shims are placed under NEW bearings and taken out when the bearing wears.

It's quite an easy task to adjust this. You need, apart from the usual tools an torque wrench, an simple spring loaded balance and I'd recommend an steering joint puller.

Jack up the vehicle after chocking the wheels. Feel for movement by pushing/pulling on the top of the wheel. Remove the wheel.

Now remove the steering joints, 2 on passenger side wheel, one on the drivers side. Use the special puller to push them apart. Don't use a hammer if possible.

Left: This one's from Facom, the famous french manufacturer. It's quite expensive but I have it for about 10 years now and it cracked every joint I could trow at it. Note that I always leave the nut on for better grip and added safety.


Now that the swivel pivots freely connect the spring balance to the arm (green arrow). Try to get a reading of the required force to move the arm. You should get values around 12 lbs or 6 kgs for an new one. You are likely to get values nearer to 0 however.

So remove the upper 2 bolts (number 6) after having hammered down the safety tap. Now fiddle with brake lines and mud shield until you can separate them. Now you have access to the locator pin (E). Note which way it's turned before removing it. For moving put a sturdy screwdriver under it and gently push it up. Oh, I forgot: Put a bucket under it as some oil will escape.

Once the pin out you will have a small pack of shims in your hand. If there are no shims under the pin it means your bearings are worn beyond use. Get new bearings and a shim pack.

Start by halving the thickness of the shim pack, then put everything up together again. No need to fiddle with the brake lines yet, just leave them out of the way.

Bolt down the pin again, evenly. Use the torque wrench to bolt them down to 60-70Nm/44-52lbs/ft. Check this value first in your maintenace book if you don't trust me. Lower pin bolts only need 22-28Nm. Work your balance again on the arm (green arrows) to see if you're right. The factory says to set them at 6 kg/12 lbs, some prefer to set it at 8kgs/16 lbs for a more precise feel.

Once you achieved the correct value you remove the 2 bolts, clean them, put the brake line holder and the locking tab under them and bolt everything together. It's about half an hours' work if you do it the first time. Repeat this on the other side.

2. It's still not gone, now what??

The second most likely reason is your tires are out of balance. This often happens with alloy wheels and stick-on weights. But it may also be some mud trapped inside the wheel. A last reason may be a tire desintegrating inside which isn't common. For all this you must take it to a good tire shop who will do this for quite cheap. If they are professionals they will recognize a tire that starts separating inside.

Take care that they don't use an impact wrench on your alloy wheels! Even on steel wheels it will damage the paint. And you will have problems taking them off later. Have them use some copper grease on the studs too.

3. Maybe it's the steering damper?

Remove the steering damper and try it by hand. It should need quite an effort to move and have no "easy" spots on it's full course. If you pull and then push and the first half an inch or so goes very easy it's a sign the damper has lost oil and must be discarded. A genuine new damper isn't expensive, aftermerkets are. It's up to you but I don't recommend using too hard dampers as they will exerce an higher force on many components and lead to premature wear.

4. ...or the shock absorbers?

Front shocks DO wear. What great news. They are already not very good to start with when new. Replacing them may be a pain in the a** as I found out recently. Read the full story on replacing front shocks here.

5. ...or track rod ends?

Track rods are the linkages in the steering to put it easy. You have 3 rod ends on Discoveries. You can judge them by putting a large lever near them and looking for any movement.

Those are the 3 linkages. Note the copper grease I used on the inner surfaces. It will make further removal much easier.

Now they can still be a bit worn. They are sure an MoT failure if they show the slightest movement. Not being very expensive (around 8 GBP each) you should change them from time to time. If you have them separated from their seats move them by hand. They should move quite softly. No cracks or spots may be felt. If in doubt replace them. If one of those fails you may have no steering left!

Right: Ball joints exist in greasable or non-greasable versions. The left's from Allmakes, the right one is by Bearmach. I used to think greasables are better as you can push out water and dirt with fresh grease. An professional told me different. Non-greasables have a much tighter seal (as no grease has to get out) and usually wear much slower in dirty conditions. What may be more relevant is that one joint uses a castelated nut while the other relies on a selflocking nut. I prefer castelated nuts as they are safer when you mount the nut using copper grease. I always use liberal amounts in the drag link too.

6. ...or a worn steering drop arm ball joint?

The steering arm drop ball joint sits in an short arm reaching down from the steering box. It can be rebuilt using a genuine rebuilding kit. This arm is VERY hard to remove as it's usually firmly settled on the box's output shaft. Some people are able to change it in situe. You must refer to the maintenace manual to rebuilt it. Though there aren't many parts inside they have a special order and are spring loaded so best drop it at your local dealer.  

Far left: That's the ONLY safe way to dismantle the ball joint. Place the stud into an large socket, put a smaller socket on the top and push on it in a press. With force applied remove the circlip. Now slowly release the pressure while wrapping a towel around it to catch flying parts.

I have seen it done by putting an jack under the arm and pushing upwards. It worked but it surely isn't a safe way.


7. Still got movement. What else?

So buddy, you're in trouble now. Some obvious other checks:

Retighten your steering box. For this clean the treads. Apply WD40 or similar. Loosen bolts some turns, then retighten to factory specs. You MUST first loosen them to break any bond between the nut and bolt.

Check your wheels. Jack up the wheel. Put a marker somewhere near the outer bevel of the rim and turn the wheel. It should show no more than a few milimetres of wobble. Steel rims are more prone to distorsion than alloys.

Check all the rubber parts. Especially the rubber on front and rear trailing arms wear out and you get some sort of wheel movement that may show strange effects.

Check the joints in your steering arm. They also may wear and their faillure usually leads to disaster.

if all this fails sell the beast as long as it's driveable... :-)