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New Jeep Wrangler JL owners have been complaining about frame welds for months, and some have even experienced frame failures at a critical suspension mounting bracket. Now Fiat Chrysler is issuing a recall due to risk of a “vehicle crash without prior warning.” Here’s why this is such a big deal.
Jeep will issue a recall and stop-sale on some 2018 and 2019 Jeep Wranglers because a weld meant to hold the track bar bracket to the frame might fail, “potentially resulting in the bracket separating from the frame,” and possibly causing a crash, Fiat Chrysler says in the safety recall advanced communication shown below.
FCA hasn’t confirmed the legitimacy of this official-looking document posted onto the JL Wrangler Forum earlier today, though a spokesperson did confirm over the phone that “recall notices are pending” in relation to weld failures at the track bar bracket, so it’s safe to assume it’s real.
FCA also said that affected cars are a “very defined population,” and that the company knows of no accidents or injuries related to the issue.
Update Oct. 5, 2018 5:52 p.m. ET: FCA says the recall population includes approximately 18,000 vehicles, which will all be inspected. Of those, the company estimates that 4 percent (roughly 720 vehicles) “may have the issue.”
This comes after numerous owners have spoken out about Wrangler JL frame weld problems. Just look at some of the images in this 24-page “JL welding Issues” thread on JL Wrangler Forums. That’s just one of many threads including pictures of what look to be rather hideous welds.
It’s not just the appearance of the welds that owners have been complaining about. A number of people have had their frames actually fail, particularly at the track bar mount—the location mentioned in FCA’s recall document above.
The video below, posted by North Carolina resident and 2018 JL Unlimited Rubicon owner Bret Stevens, shows where his track bar bracket ripped right off his frame. Watch as the bracket gets pulled away from the rail as Bret’s wife turns the steering wheel:
Bret posted about his experience on the JL Wrangler Forum back in August; I had a chance to speak with him over the phone to learn more about what happened. He said he’s only had his Jeep since mid July, and that it only has 1,300 miles on it. He’s taking it off-roading once, but says he “definitely didn’t beat on it or anything.”
Back in August, Bret was merging onto the highway after dinner with his wife in the passenger seat, when—on the onramp—“the steering wheel acted like it locked up for a second.”
“It kind of felt like it was wanting to drift to the right even though I was putting steering input to the left,” he went on. From there, the traction control, brake, and service electronic stability control lights popped up on the dash.
Once he exited the onramp and got onto the highway, Stevens says he had to keep the steering wheel at a 45 degree angle just to keep the car straight.
He was able to limp the car home, though he admits that, in hindsight, this “probably wasn’t wise.” That’s because, upon inspection, Stevens found the inboard weld for the track bar bracket intact, but the outboard one “looked like it never touched the frame. It looked like it was just welded to the track bar mount itself.”
“[I] wasn’t expecting the mount on the track bar mount to pretty much shear off,” he told me. Upon seeing this, Stevens had the Jeep towed to a dealership in Eden, North Carolina, where it now sits.
“I do not trust my vehicle’s integrity,” he said, going on to tell me that he’s worried that other welds on the vehicle might also be compromised, and that that’s why he’s insisting on a vehicle buy-back from Jeep.
“[My track bar] was held on by one intact weld...I was fortunate,” he said. “Just because nothing happened to me and I’m fine, it doesn’t negate the seriousness of the issue,” he told me, saying that when it comes to a failure as important as a track bar, “one is too many.”
Stevens says his JL is in the process of being replaced.
Bret’s video showing the track bar failure isn’t the only of its kind, as I happened upon one while surfing a Facebook page for car technicians.
There, a tech claiming to work at an FCA dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina posted the video above. I reached out to the tech, who wanted to remain anonymous, and he told me that this is the first such issue that he’s come across. When I asked him what might have happened, he told me:
Not sure yet, looks like it may have just been a bad weld from the factory. You never really know what customers do with their vehicles, so anything could have happened, but there was no other visible damage to the vehicle.
Then there’s the story of Ross from New Jersey, whose track bar completely separated from his frame. You can see the images of the failure on his JL Wrangler Forum thread titled “Track bar sheared off at the weld. I feel like I’m cursed with my new JL.” In that thread, he describes what happened to his 700-mile 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, writing:
Rewind to Friday night. Driving down the highway. Everything is great. I go to switch lanes, turn the wheel and to my surprise realize I’ve lost all steering control in the steering wheel. My vehicle starts to track on its own and I almost kill two other people on the road before I’m able to pull over on the shoulder. (Good thing I was in the middle lane...) I get a warning lamp of ESC (electronic stability control) malfunction.
Call Jeep assist. Tow truck comes. Dealer calls me next day to tell me my track bar has been sheared off At the weld. (Says it looks like a horrible manufacturer defect).
He goes on to say the situation has him “in disbelief.”
Right in Ross’s thread, someone named Jason from Miami, Florida posted about his own JL Wrangler track bar weld failure, even posting an image showing clear separation between the bracket and the frame. I wasn’t able to speak with Jason (or Ross, for that matter), but he describes what happened in the thread, writing:
1,100 miles and no issues until this morning when I was getting off of the Palmetto Expressway in Miami and my steering wheel went right and I kept going straight. Luckily I limped it to the closest Jeep dealer and they where shocked to say the least.
He goes on, saying that the track bar was “off the frame,” and that turning the steering wheel made the front end “[buck] up and down like a low rider.”
Complaints about JL frame welds have gotten so numerous, that one Colorado JL owner who goes by Capt-Zoom on JL Wrangler Forums even created a thread urging people to send in petitions to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in order to push the organization to accelerate an investigation into the bad welds. Capt-Zoom’s letter to NHTSA outlines the complaints JL owners have had about their frame welds:
Poor Track Bar Bracket welds that have broken and will cause complete loss of steering.
Porous welds exceeding safety standards that could lead to catastrophic failure.
Slag on nearly every weld on the frame which paint will not adhere to. This will eventually cause rusting of the frame at the welds leading to potential catastrophic failure.
Lack of Penetration on some welds that could lead to catastrophic failure
Over penetration on some welds that could lead to catastrophic failure
Overweld or weld drip on several welds
Weld Splash on various part of the frame that will result in lack of long term paint adherence and increased likelihood of rusting of the frame.
Hop onto NHTSA’s online database, and you’ll find 13 JL Wrangler complaints that fall under the category of “structure.”
“Missing and failed welds on front chassis where track bar and everything else meet,” one reads. “Welds on track bar mount not lined up correctly. Throughout the rest of the frame, lots of slag, misaligned welds, bad penetration, malformed weld caps, spatter, and porosity,” another complaint says.
Still another one states: “Many welds on the frame to include the track bar are extremely porous. If/when the track bar weld gives the vehicle will result in a total loss of steering. Making it a high risk for accident and injury.”
One after another, owners from around the U.S. wrote out about poor JL frame welds. Here’s one from Florida warning about how these bad welds could cause a “catastrophic” failure:
Here’s one from an Illinois JL driver who feels “very unsafe” in their new JL:
Then here’s one from someone in California appearing to claim that their Jeep’s track bar failed in a similar fashion to Bret’s JL, Ross’s JL, Jason’s JL, and the JL filmed by the Charlotte, North Carolina dealership technician.
Obviously, I can’t confirm the validity of these complaints on NHTSA’s website, but there are 13, which isn’t insignificant, and that’s not even accounting for the whopping 130 JL complaints that fall under the category of “steering.”
Some of those complaints appear to describe similar vehicle behavior to what Bret described when his track bar frame bracket failed. This one, for example:
IT WILL NOT TRACK STRAIGHT AND IT WANDERS ON THE ROAD. IT IS DIFFICULT TO KEEP IT IN THE LANE WITHOUT A LOT OF CORRECTION. IT IS UNCOMFORTABLE AND IS UNSAFE
And this one:
LOOSE STEERING CAUSING VEHICLE DRIFTING AT HIGHWAY SPEEDS RESULTING IN CONSTANTLY CORRECTING THE VEHICLE TO MAINTAIN STRAIGHT LINE AND STAYING IN LANE. VEHICLE DRIFTS TOWARDS OTHER LANES AND VEHICLES WHICH IS VERY DANGEROUS TO DRIVE. REQUIRES DRIVER TO CORRECT STEERING WHEEL TO STAY IN LANE CONSTANTLY.
(It’s worth mentioning that in May, FCA issued a recall related to an intermediate steering shaft issue that could cause issues like the ones described above).
These track bar failures—and this recall in general—is a big deal because track bars are critical suspension components. The 2018 Jeep Wrangler’s coil sprung solid front axle suspension consists of five major links: four control arms running fore-aft between the frame and the front axle, and a track bar running laterally from the frame to the axle.
The four control arms locate the axle in the fore-aft direction, but it is solely the track bar that is charged with keeping the axle centered laterally, and for taking up the side-loads on the axle.
In other words, a failure of this part means there’s no structural component keeping the axle in its correct lateral position, which is why, in Bret’s video, turning the steering wheel moves the whole axle back and forth instead of effectively turning the front wheels.
FCA says it’s working to get us more information on this issue (like total number of vehicles effected). We’ll update this story as we learn more.
h/t: Zerin Dube
This post has been updated with additional information about the recall from FCA.