7 reasons car’s steering wheel shakes when braking & at high speed

When driving on a rough surface, you’re bound to experience some turbulence. Much can be blamed on the rocky road, from vibrating car seats to shaky steering wheels. But what if it continues to shake even on a smooth surface?

Ford steering wheel

In that case, you wouldn’t be alone. The problem is reported by many drivers, especially when they’re racing their vehicles at high speed or bringing it to an abrupt stop. Before your problem gets out of hand, let’s figure out the root causes. It’s no matter whether it’s when braking or at high speeds.

What causes the steering wheel to shake?

Before you can go looking for a quick fix to the problem, it’s imperative to understand why exactly you’re experiencing the vibration in the first place. The vibration is generally a sign of a bigger problem, which could have severe repercussions if not fixed in time.

young woman driving

There are several reasons why your steering wheel shakes. Most commonly, it’s the following:

1. Unbalanced tires 

Similar to how you’re likely to find yourself disoriented without balance in your daily life. Your car undergoes the same reaction.

All four tires must evenly distribute weight to rotate at the same speed. If either of the tires is a little off-balance, your steering wheel begins to vibrate. Especially if you recently purchased a new tire, the weight distribution is disturbed. Typically the weight imbalance is corrected by adding or mounting it on a tire balancing machine.

As long as the tires are unbalanced, you will feel the vibration. Mostly, the vibration hints toward an imbalance in the front wheels. And it becomes noticeable when you’re driving at 60 mph. 

2. Misaligned wheels

Just as your yoga instructor emphasizes alignment, your car mechanic would probably suggest the same. Wheel alignment is the adjustment of the suspension system, which connects your car to its wheels.

If the alignment is off, your vehicle is more likely to steer sideways and vibrate to indicate a problem. As for the steering wheel, it begins shaking vigorously when you’re driving at high speed. It is generally above 70 mph. Suppose you’ve recently been in a car accident or ran over a pothole. In that case, it’s advisable to get your vehicle checked for misalignment.

After an alignment service, the angle of contact between the tires and the road is corrected. You no longer have to work in a shaky situation.     

wheel alignment

3. Damaged bearings

Let’s say it’s a beautiful day for a drive. You turn to the nearest exit as you’re racing down the highway.

While turning, you suddenly feel that your steering wheel starts to shake. It’s time you get the bearings checked out! The bearings are an integral part of your car. They connect the wheel to the axle. You generally wouldn’t have to worry for about 100,000 miles, but there are certain cases where the bearing life is cut short.

If you’re used to driving on rough roads and hitting bumps at high speed, it might damage your bearings.

car bearings

4. Worn out suspension parts

The steering wheel and the suspension systems are two peas in a pod.

Meaning the slightest damage in anyone can alter the function of the other. The connection between the two allows the wheel to move on the road without changing the angle effortlessly. However, any wear-and-tear to a suspension system part not only makes it difficult to steer but causes the wheel to vibrate. 

Get it checked out whether the fault lies with the springs that wear out over time or the ball joints that lack lubrication. The lubrication will and your steering control will be the first to inform you when there’s an issue.  

5. Damaged axles

By now, you’ve probably realized that a vibrating sensation doesn’t happen by chance. Instead, it’s caused by a more significant underlying issue.

Maybe you begin to notice a shaking after you’ve been in an accident or frequently traveling on bumpy roads. The axles might be damaged. The vibrations caused due to a faulty axle become more pronounced when speeding up or slowing down. It could also happen when making a turn. Essentially, the axle rotates the tires and carries the car’s weight. Any damage to such a crucial part could produce detrimental results.

Typically, the vibrations can be felt even at speeds below 40 mph and are accompanied by a striking thump. They’ll happen every time you put the car into gear. 

car axle

6. Tire flat spot

If you thought getting a flat tire was a nuisance, you would be utterly annoyed by flat-spotted tires. When a car remains parked for a long time, the part of the tire that meets the ground becomes flat.

Sometimes the flat spots are evident, especially if the car has been lying idle for a considerable time. Other times, the problem might not be visible right away but causes your steering control to vibrate. It becomes increasingly difficult to steer the car with vibrations as the tires lose their integrity.   

7. Distorted brake rotors

Coming to an abrupt stop might be sent vibrations through your entire car.

But if it shakes every single time you slow down, your brakes might be at fault. The braking system is complex and made up of many elements. However, the brake rotors play an especially critical role in steering. The rotors are typically long-lasting, but excessive braking or sudden halting can damage over time. As the brake rotors go out of shape, the brake pads press against a jagged surface. It causes a vibrating situation.  

brake rotor

When driving

You may think that driving at a reasonable speed guarantees an effortlessly smooth journey. While mostly you may be correct, you might have an underlying problem at hand. It’s especially if you begin experiencing a shaky steering wheel. Suppose the vibration is specifically felt when you’re driving at a steady pace. In that case, it’s likely an issue of unbalanced or flat-spotted tires. 

steering wheel in small car

Getting a new tire interrupts the balance already reached by the previous set. Therefore you’ll probably experience a shaky ride immediately after. The intensity of the vibration determines the weight imbalance amongst the tires. Though generally, even a weight difference of half an ounce produces vibrations. It may come coupled with difficulty steering the car or moving the wheel altogether. 

Suppose a car has been sitting idle for an extended period. In that case, a patch of flat surface develops on the tires. Again, the problem is generally fixed once you begin driving the car as the tires get warmer and regain their structure. If the damage is lasting, vibration will often pulsate through the steering wheel. 

When accelerating

As you speed up your car, you’re bound to experience a greater force. It’s something that you shouldn’t feel is a vibrating steering wheel. If the wheel beneath your palm begins to shake, it could be a result of misaligned tires or damaged motor mounds. It can also be caused by loose lug nuts or a bent axle. 

A slight shift in the adjustments of the suspension system results in the steering wheel beginning to shake as you accelerate. Since the connection between the car and the wheels is compromised, any attempt at speeding up has repercussions. 

Motor mounds absorb shock and vibrations as your drive the car. If you push the pedal, it adds additional pressure on the remaining mounds. It’s going to be a significant force when you’re going over 70 mph with a damaged or broken mound. With one or more flawed mounds, the vibrations are not absorbed. Therefore, it causes your steering control to shake.   

Another reason why speeding up may cause unnecessary vibrations is because the lug nuts need a slight tightening. They secure the wheel in place and center it on the axle to allow swift movement. If the nuts are loose, the wheel isn’t intact in place. This disrupts normal motion and produces vibration. 

Lastly, axle problems become increasingly apparent after a severe accident. The axle supports the car’s weight and spins the tire. Any damage to it is immediately felt but especially as your cross 60 mph. 

steering wheel seen from above

At low speeds

With great speed come great responsibility and an even more significant threat. Driving at a lower speed sometimes creates some bad experiences. Going at 40 mph or lower should be an untroubled ride. All of a sudden, you feel the steering wheel vibrate. It may be due to engine or axle issues. It can also be brake issues. 

Problems with the engine shake up the entire car, but you’re likely to notice it at the steering wheel first. Several elements in the engine compartment could be compromised. Air induction and fuel delivery hinder plain sailing most commonly. 

It shakes and then goes away.

The phrase ‘consistency is key’ even applies to nuisance. Where a problem persists for an extended period, you’re expected to take action. Any issue that appears intermittently is typically ignored. When it comes to driving, you need to watch any changes. It’s no matter whether they’re consistent or not. 

If you experience shaking every once in a while, there is a chance that no real damage has occurred. Instead, problems with tire balance or a simple wear-and-tear are more probable. It just might be an indication to change travel routes from a rough and bumpy road to a smoother surface.

When turning

You might hear your car make a loud, screeching noise as you take a sharp turn. But seldom do you experience vibrating when you turn.

It’s now evident that steering wheels only vibrate when a more considerable force is at play. What urges it to shake as you turn it? Generally, faulty bearings at turnarounds affect the stability of the car. Since the bearings reduce friction and make it easier for the car to rotate, any damage limits your driving directions.

woman laughing inside car

With worn-out or corroded bearings, you may be able to go straight ahead. Just as you think of turning, the steering wheel begins trembling. To figure out if the damage on the bearings is permanent or something that can be fixed with a lubricant, you’ll have to consult a mechanic.

After new brakes and rotors

Similar to how breaking into new shoes requires effort, revamping the braking system also requires a little work. If the new pieces aren’t perfectly compatible with the entire system, you’re bound to experience backlash. The steering wheel is shaky if you have recently had new brakes or rotors introduced. You might need to get it checked.

There might be an issue with the placement of the rotors, as incorrect installation can lead to vibration pulsing through the steering wheel. Another reason you might experience the vibration is if the structure of the new piece has affected the brake pads’ ability to clamp together.

steering wheel

FAQs

Will an alignment fix shaking when braking?

Tire misalignment is one of the most prominent reasons for a vibrating steering wheel. It takes your car to the mechanic, for the alignment is a step in the right direction. Depending on the vehicle you’re driving, the wheels and axles are adjusted to ensure they’re moving in the same direction.

However, there are many reasons why it shakes when you hit the brakes. If you continue to experience shaking even after the alignment, your issue probably lies within the braking system.  man holding a shaky steering wheel

Can unbalanced tires cause a vibration when braking?

Unbalanced tires are amongst the most common reasons for shaking. The role of the tires is to distribute weight equally to function at the same rotational speed. Unbalanced tires cause a severe issue to the car’s movement.

In addition, the weight imbalance between the tires affects the axle and the suspension. It causes vibration. 

How do I fix my steering wheel shaking?

Before you can find a solution that promises a permanent fix, you’ll need to shortlist the cause. Try identifying the situations in which you’re experiencing it. Then find similarities between the said situations. If you sense vibration when you hit the brakes, the problem probably lies with the braking system.

If the shaking occurs when you accelerate, you might need to get your engine checked for any severe damage. If all else fails, you can take your car to a professional for a quick check-up. 

Is it safe to drive with a shaking steering wheel?

Shaking seldom presents an immediate problem.

Instead, it indicates an underlying issue that could eventually progress into something far more serious. Therefore, you can travel miles and go days before getting the problem fixed. If you’d like to remain on the safer side, it’s advisable to get it checked at the earliest convenience. 

Is it bad if my car shakes when I brake?

Unless the problem persists and worsens over time, you’ve got nothing immediate to worry about.

For example, breaking downhill after driving at high speed will probably shake up your entire car. Or traveling on a rough road might vibrate the vehicle once it finally comes to a stop. Typically, the shaking indicates a problem in the tire balance or alignment. If that’s not the case, you could hold your braking system. It’s the culprit.    Driver experiencing a shaking steering wheel

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