I will be the first to admit, I fell in love immediately when I first laid eyes on it and couldn’t wait to see custom gladiators and YouTube videos of these beasts performing off-road. The Gladiator was released with a V6 Pentastar Engine which incorporated Stop-Start technology, 285 horsepower, 260 lb-ft torque, and a 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto transmission. What made this vehicle unique is that it is the ONLY convertible pickup truck on the market with a removable hardtop, soft top, or both options available. UN-FREAKIN-BELIEVABLE!!!
However, just like any new model that rolls off the production floor, it comes with its share of niggles. Many owners have been complaining about the steering of the Gladiator, saying it feels loose, unresponsive and causes the Gladiator to wander slightly. Many of these complaints or observations are from seasoned Jeep drivers who are familiar with the driving dynamics of the Wranglers and are very familiar with solid front axle driving dynamics.
So are their claims valid? Are they perhaps just being a bit paranoid after the JL Wrangler steering disaster or Is there a legit problem with the Jeep Gladiators steering? Are new Gladiator owners perhaps asking a bit too much from a solid front axle vehicle?
Let’s look a bit closer at these steering complaints.
Jeep Gladiator Steering Issues
Since the release of the Gladiator, a few owners have reported the steering phenomenon to their dealerships, only to t be told that it’s perfectly normal for the Gladiator steering to behave that way and that the vehicle is completely within spec. I can’t help but add that the Wranglers and the Gladiator are solid fronts and rear axle vehicles designed for hardcore off-road use, not a street bias vehicle with crisp handling. It will never drive like a car and should never be expected to perform like an IFS (Independent Front Suspension) Monocoque type chassis vehicle. The Wrangler is designed to excel when driving off-road yet also have acceptable on-road manners.
Read more about that below:
But, let’s not jump to any conclusion before we have all the facts. To understand if their complaints are valid, let’s first have a closer look at some of the symptoms owners have reported to see if it’s reasonable and worthy of further investigation.
One guy walked into a dealership and went so far as to post a video that appears to highlight the amount of play in the steering. He adds there is about 1/8 to 1/4 of complete no resistance in the steering wheel. Now, this was an observation made without actually driving the truck, which I feel is a bit unfair since, firstly, the engine is off, meaning the steering pump/motor is inactive. Secondly, most vehicles even IFS types have a small degree of play in the steering.
This is by design, which allows a measure of tolerance in the steering box to compensate and absorb minor irregularities in road surfaces. Without this tolerance, your steering box gears would wear out faster and the driving experience would be very uncomfortable due to all the feedback resonating on the steering wheel. You would literally feel every single bump in the road on the steering wheel, making the drive extremely uncomfortable.
One driver relates the following:
I love the Gladiator, but really think something is wrong with the steering, or maybe it’s just my steering. JeepCares saw my post, and someone called me. I’ve been to two different dealers, and both said that’s a common complaint with the JL and it is what it ishttps://www.jeepgladiatorforum.com
Another customer posted a video report on his Gladiator steering, have a look at this video.
He notes his Gladiator is running on a set of 37” tires with the tire pressure set to 30psi for highway driving. On 35” tires, he ran it at 28psi.
Another owner gave some feedback on his Gladiator and noted the following:
It is flighty at 55 mph and up. Much more so than my JKUR on 35’s. I dropped psi to 35 then 32 but it’s still the same, just drifts a lot and requires constant focus to keep in the lane. New 35” Goodyear Duratracs on AEV wheels made no difference either.https://www.jeepgladiatorforum.com
Could they all be exaggerating?
Possible causes of the loose steering
It’s very important to note that incorrect tire pressures could also cause a vehicle to wander all over the road if they are over-inflated. Why is this? Well, over-inflated tires cause a tire “ballooning” effect, resulting in the outer parts of the tire to not make full contact with the road surface. This results in the contact point of the tire only being in the center of the tread pattern. The truck will have a very fidgety, sensitive steering effect which can lead to the vehicle wandering a lot easier. So, first, check your tire pressures and consult your owner’s manual for the recommended tire pressures when driving empty vs loaded.
What else? Let’s see
Possible solutions to tighten things up
The following are possible solutions to tighten up a wandering or loose steering feel.
- Ensure correct tire pressure
- Ensure correct caster alignment angle
- Check for worn track bar bushings and loose bolts
- Check for loose steering linkage joints and geometry out of wack
- Worn ball joints
- Damaged/Worn Steering Box
- Worn steering stabilizer
Jeep Wrangler JL vs Gladiator JT’s Steering feel
Now as far as the Wrangler JL goes, we are well aware of a whole bunch of issues, including the infamous “death wobble” You can read more about that here.
The death wobble was chalked down to be caused by a worn or loose track bar. The jeep apparently was upgrading the track bars as well as the ball joints to eliminate this phenomenon on the wrangler. There were multiple complaints about how loose and uncomfortable the steering was on the JL Rubicon. Hopefully, this phenomenon didn’t carry over to the Gladiator.
The fact that many of the complaints were emanating from owners with aftermarket suspension upgrades, combined with the fact that a batch of JL front axles was released with loose lower ball joints, all contributed to the vague steering feel, didn’t help the cause either.
This didn’t take anything away from the fact that there was actually a serious problem with the JL Wranglers. Many owners with brand new, factory stock JL Jeeps were complaining about wandering and the vague steering. There was eventually a Technical Service Bulletin released, which you can read about here. This TSB explains there were issues with the ball joints, end joints, and track bar bushings.
We are all aware of the Death Wobble phenomenon and the wandering steering on the 2018 Jeep Wrangler JL with approximately 18000 vehicles being affected. There have been literally hundreds of complaints about the JL steering and now a few owners are complaining about the Gladiator suffering from the same phenomenon. Many potential Gladiator owners have gone and test drove the new Gladiator to compare the steering feel to the Wrangler and reported it to be much more responsive and stable. Perhaps it’s the longer wheelbase and increased weight that improved the handling or maybe Jeep incorporated some improved steering components. For now, it seems the Gladiator tracks just fine… for a Jeep!