I (Almost) Wish It Had Been a Mechanical Problem

The 2017 Jeep JK started to develop a little vibration, but very little.  At first I thought it might have just thrown a wheel weight (2), but on the way back from our high desert quail hunt it got worse.  It didn’t feel dangerous (3), but it was starting to feel more like something was wrong in the front end (1).  I was wrong… on all counts.

On Thursday I was waiting for a buddy from out of town to come by.  While I was waiting for him I decided to check out the Jeep.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with the front end.  Bushings, wheel bearings, tie rods, driveshafts.  Everything felt good.  Count 1.   I decided to rotate the tires and see if the vibration changed.  It did.  For the worse.  It felt even more like a front end mechanical problem.  Since It changed with the rotation I knew it was most likely a tire problem.  I was hoping it was just out of balance.  I did spot a leak starting on one of my rear shocks, so I had a pretty good idea which tire was the likely culprit.  The vibration likely over worked the shock seal.

Then my buddy showed up.  We headed out to the desert so he could learn to fly his new drone.  I was impressed.  It does very good station keeping in hover.  When a slight gust of wind came up it would just angle to counter with thrust.  If it drifted at all it was mere inches at most.  It also had a return to home function that brought it back to the launch location within a couple feet, an auto landing function, and it even alert instead of landing when the landing surface (edge of a table) would have made for an unsafe landing.  I was really impressed.  It was also not a cheap drone I found out.

We did some technical driving in my truck (I left the Jeep home), and I was impressed again how well it performs.  I think if this drive train was in a lighter shorter rig it would surpass the Jeep off road.  Its not though.  My buddy had asked to take an old shortcut, that doesn’t seem to go through anymore.  Instead there were a few little tricky bits of technical driving to get in and back out.  Finally my wife joined us, and we went out for dinner.  Needless to say I didn’t get to do any more work on the Jeep that day.

Friday afternoon I made an appointment at the tire store for balancing all four tires on the ground, and I told them which tire I thought was the likely problem.  It was but the problem was not an out of balance condition.  Not one that could be fixed with wheel weights anyway.  It had a flat spot in the middle.  I mean it was very visible on the spin balancer.  You could see the center two tread tracks go up and down significantly as it spun down.  Count 2.  Five new tires later and almost 1600 dollars (my spare had a slow leak and was a mismatch brand) the vibration is gone.  The four on the ground were all six plus year old factory originals, so they were due anyway.

I thought about it, and the only way I can think of for that tire to be like that is if the belts were coming apart internally.  Count 3.  I’ve had tires come apart on the road.  It’s scary and dangerous.  I’ve been fortunate that its never resulted in worse than a scary ride and some cosmetic (sometimes expensive) damage, but it can be very dangerous.

Now, I would have needed to replace those tires fairly soon anyway, but I could have replaced nearly any front end part (or even a couple of them) a heck of a lot cheaper than all new ties.  Well, I still should replace the rear shocks, but after the bite for tires shocks (even premium shocks) are dirt cheap by comparison.

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