This is only the steering wheel that connects you with your vehicle and ultimately the road. That’s why if anything goes wrong or out of balance, you feel it through the steering wheel vibrations.
However, occasional slight shimmy in the steering wheel is normal especially when you drive on a bumpy road.
But if you experience shaking steering wheel frequently or every time when you drive, this could be a sign of a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
What Does it Mean When Your Steering Wheel Shakes
The bad shake in the steering wheel can happen for many reasons but generally, the unbalanced tires, warped brake rotors, or faulty suspension system parts are mainly responsible for causing steering wheel shaking. But to get to the root cause of the problem, you will need to analyze that at what particular action you feel the vibration.
The steering wheel can vibrate when you accelerate or when you put the vehicle at low speed or it can happen at both speeds. If the fault lies in the braking system, it can be the cause of a shaking steering wheel when applying the brake.
Steering Wheel Shakes When Driving
It could be quite frustrating when you feel shaking the steering wheel while driving. The most common culprit of a shaking steering wheel is the tire problem.
1. Unbalanced Tires
Even if you have brand new tires, but if they are not properly balanced, they can cause annoying vibrations in the steering wheel.
The tires need to be balanced properly so that the weight can get distributed evenly across the entire tire. The heavier areas of the wheel need to be matched with the lighter areas of your tire. In some cases, additional weight is added to balance the tire.
These counterweights help to compensate for the weight distribution. But these additional counterweights can fall off over time and make the tires imbalanced. Therefore, time to time rebalancing of tires is very important.
Expert says you should get your tires balanced after every 3000-6000 miles. And make sure you rotate the tires after every 7000 miles. You should always ask the mechanic to balance the tires whenever you go for changing the oil.
2. Misaligned Tires
Incorrectly aligned tires are another cause of steering wheel vibration. If the tires are misaligned, you will notice that your vehicle pulls to one side despite having a straight and centered steering wheel.
The easiest and quickest way to diagnose misalignment is to check the tires’ tread. If you notice uneven tire wear, it is likely that your vehicle’s tires are out of alignment. And the quick fix to wheel alignment can help stop shaking steering wheel.
Wheel alignment is important to achieve solid contact with the road. How often you need wheel alignment depends on how frequently and how faster you hit the potholes and curbs. The wheel alignment can get affected through minor damage, driving on bumpy roads, or also through general periodic wear.
Usually, it is advised to get your wheels aligned after every 2 to 3 years if nothing is affected in the suspension parts. However, to ensure the optimal safety of your vehicle, you should go for wheel alignment whenever you go for general servicing of your vehicle such as oil changing.
For the servicing of wheel alignment, you should avoid DIY and contact an expert mechanic to diagnose and resolve the problem.
If you have started noticing sudden jerks or vibrations, there is a possibility that either axle got bent or damaged. The damaged axle makes the communication between tires and steering wheel poorer and causes too much steering wheel shakes. And the shaking of the steering wheel increases as you accelerate the speed.
A worn axle causes random jerkiness of the steering wheel. The front axles drive the front wheels and if it gets bent or damaged, the steering wheel jerks either left or right on its own. In such a case, you should take the car to a mechanic and get the worn axle replaced immediately.
4. Brake Caliper
Another common issue that can cause the steering wheel shaking is when the brake caliper sticks on. When this happens, the shaking of the steering wheel becomes worse when you drive at high speeds. The faster you drive, the poorer the condition of steering wheel gets.
You also smell a burning odor that is an indicator that something is wrong with the car. However, brake caliper sticking is very rare and generally, it is caused by debris or improper installation of rotor or brake pads.
If this is the debris that is causing the brake caliper to stick on, then only a simple cleaning will be enough to bring it back to the working condition else take the vehicle to a mechanic for a thorough diagnostic and repair.
Steering Wheel Shaking When Braking
If you notice shimmy in the steering wheel when you brake or stop the vehicle, something is wrong with the brake system. There are a number of reasons such as worn brake pads, dry guide pins, and warped rotors that can cause steering wheel shakes.
Let’s find out more about each part causing the problem.
If your steering wheel vibrates when you are braking not when you’re driving, the following can be the source of the problem.
1. Worn Brake Pads
When you step on the brake pedal, the caliper applies pressure on the brake pads that further push down on the rotors that bring your car to a stop. If the brake pads get worn, warped, or dirty, will not grip the rotor properly and affect its working that causes the steering wheel to vibrate.
The brake pads tend to wear out over time that you can easily find out just by looking at them.
There are several symptoms also that indicate bad brake pads such as clicking or grinding sound and a vibrating brake pedal. The good news is that these can easily be replaced.
2. Dry Guide Pins
If your steering wheel shakes when you apply the brake, dry guide pins could be the defaulter. As the name suggests, the guide pins help to guide the brake pads to the rotor. And for their effective working, they need to be cleaned and lubricated.
If somehow these guide pins become dry, they can prevent the brake bad to press the rotor at the right angle.
They can also cause the caliper to stick on that result in steering wheel shaking.
If this is the case with guide pins, it is best to approach a professional mechanic for diagnostic and repair as this is the task that can be performed with the help of special tools.
3. Warped Rotors
If you notice sudden pulsing in the brake pedal and slight shaking in the steering wheel, the warped rotor could be the culprit.
When you step on the brake pedal and the brake pads press down on the rotors, the rotors become extremely hot that causes the rotors to become worn over time. The rotor can also wear out too early if you use brakes excessively or take an immediate stop at high speed.
It is best to leave it to a professional who can diagnose the rotor problem only by spinning the rotors by hand. If it is out of balance, the movement of the rotor will make it feel.
Experts can also check the thickness of the rotor with the help of a micrometer. If the rotor is worn down badly that it is about to touch the bottom plate, it is the best time to replace the rotor.
Steering Wheel Shaking When Driving Slow
If your steering wheel shakes even at low speed, there is a high possibility that the problem is in the suspension system. The probable cause could be either any of the suspension parts has become loose or worn out. This causes the steering wheel to vibrate as well as make you lose control and stability on the wheels.
You can move the suspension parts using your hands to check if any of the parts has become loose. If there is any fray or cut, you can easily find them by looking at them carefully.
Another important thing is that if the problem is with the suspension system, you will feel the shimmy steering wheel the moment you start the vehicle and move on.
There are mainly four parts in the suspension system that causes the steering wheel to vibrate.
Problems with the inner and outer rods
The inner and outer rods of the suspension keep the steering wheel straight and stable. However, they have quite longer life-span but over time, these rods can wear out. A worn tie rod affects the overall balance of the vehicle which further causes uneven tire wear.
The tie rod is the one that connects the steering wheel to the rack and supports the vehicle when turning the wheel. If it gets wear out, you are sure to experience shimmying steering wheel when driving.
The best way to diagnose the tie rod problem is to feel the steering wheel shaking. If you feel the steering wheel is vibrating when you make the turn around the corner but not when you drive straight, it means the problem is with the tie rod.
1. Suspension Ball Joints Issues
The ball joints keep the suspension parts in their place just like they do for other internal parts of the vehicle. They wear out over time and worn suspension bolts can make the parts loose which results in shaking steering wheel.
When there is a problem with the suspension bolts, unusual clunky sound comes out of the suspension whenever you drive your vehicle. It is more likely that the problem is with the suspension ball joints if you feel the vibrating steering wheel when driving straight but not when you turn.
2. Worn Control Arm Bushing
In almost all vehicles, there is a control arm bushing in the front and rear suspensions that connect the wheel hub and steering to the chassis. It has ball joints and bushing that allow for smooth movement according to road conditions and steering input.
If anything goes wrong with the control arm bushing, the wheel would not connect properly to the steering and further the vehicle frame which would result in misaligned wheels. And misaligned wheels can cause the steering wheel to vibrate. This steering wheel vibration may increase as you accelerate.
3. Problems With the Suspension Springs
The key function of the suspension springs is to support the vehicle when driving through potholes and bumps. When the suspension spring wears out, it tends to compresses quite easily, that’s why you feel like your vehicle is bouncing especially when you drive through a bumpy road.
If you notice that one corner of the vehicle sits low when it’s parked, it is more likely that the problem is with the suspension ring.
Steering Wheel Shaking at High Speeds
If the steering wheel vibrates only when you accelerate the speed, the incorrect tire balancing, broken axles, or broken front shocks, either can be the culprit behind the problem.
Let’s know about them in little detail.
1. Incorrect Tire Balancing
Tire balancing plays an important role in reducing vibrations in the steering wheel. If you drive with unbalanced tires, you are more likely to see uneven tire wear and flat spots in the tire that causes vibrations in the steering wheel. Whenever you replace the tires, make sure you balance the wheels with the tires.
You should always check the balance using the balancing machine. Simply take off the wheels from the vehicle and put them on a balancing machine one by one, the machine will let you know what amount of weight is required to properly balance the wheels.
It is best to leave it for a professional. If the wrong amount of weight is added to the wheels to balance them, they are more likely to cause instant shaking steering wheel problems.
2. Broken Axles
When you have a broken axle, your vehicle vibrates at both low and high speeds. But the intensity of vibration gets stronger as you increase the speed. Remember that axle can get damaged even with a minor accident.
Therefore, if you notice shaking in the steering wheel instantly after you met with an accident, the broken or bent axle could be the cause of the shaking steering wheel.
3. Broken Front Shocks
The broken front shocks or struts may cause the steering to vibrate at both low and high speeds.
Almost all vehicles have a coil spring in the suspension system that helps to absorb road shock. The shock absorber controls the movement of the coil spring so that the wheels do not move excessively and make the drive uncomfortable.
The problem of broken front shocks can be identified quite easily just by looking at the surrounding area of the wheel. If you see there is an oil leak either on the wheels, axles, or the hub, it is more likely that the shock absorbers are broken.
If your vehicle is equipped with gas-operated shock absorber, then press down on the shocks and check if they bounce excessively.
Generally, the shock absorber should bounce only once after pressing hard on it. If it bounces overly, it means it needs to be replaced.
Steering Wheel Shaking When Turning
If the steering wheel only vibrates while turning the vehicle, the most common culprit can be the damaged or non-lubricated wheel bearings. This is the wheel bearing that connects the wheel hub to the suspension system and allows for the smooth turning of wheels.
If the wheel bearing gets damaged or not lubricated properly, it can result in excessive vibration in the steering wheel. Apart from shaking the steering wheel, the unusual sound coming out of the wheel hub is another sign of worn wheel bearing.
The wheel bearing can wear out with regular driving on potholes, bumps, curbs, and rough roads.
Sometimes, improper modification to the suspension system can cause wear on the wheel bearing.
Here is a quick method to check wheel bearing. You can do it yourself if you have a jack.
First, raise the front part of the vehicle. Now, place your hands on the wheels and rock them in and out.
If you listen to the abnormal clunking sound or the wheel moves excessively than it should, it is likely that wheel bearing is worn out.
If you don’t have the jack, you can determine the condition of the wheel bearing by listening to the abnormal noise while changing the direction of the wheel.
If the noise gets louder with the directional change, whichever direction you notice the sound getting louder, the worn out wheel bearing from the opposite direction needs replacement.
For example, if the noise gets louder while turning left then the wheel bearing from the right front is damaged or worn out. It is important to diagnose the wheel bearing issues instantly as driving with damaged wheel bearing can cause catastrophic damage if the wheel bearing gets failed or seized.
The cause of the vibration issues can be mild or severe both. In some cases, it can signal to a more serious problem. If ignored, it can risk the vehicle’s safety and cause the heavy destruction that you may not have probably anticipated.
Therefore, it is good to know all of the causes of steering wheel vibration that negatively affect vehicle performance and safety. We hope this article has provided you sufficient information you need for the wellbeing of your vehicle.