Hey, Why Is My Car's Steering Wheel Shaking?

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Four common causes for a vehicle steering wheel shaking and their related parts.
The steering wheel is the mechanical link from the driver to the road. Between the steering wheel and the road, there are many components that can wear or become defective that can be felt through the steering wheel. So determining when the vibration is felt and at what speed and what the vehicle is doing is critical to pinpointing and directing someone to the failing component.

Is Your Car's Steering Wheel Shaking?

The steering wheel is shaking because of bad suspension, tire-related issues, or a loose tie rod. In this sense, the wheels could be bent or out of balance. Alternatively, it might be the brake rotors if it only shakes when braking.

The steering wheel puts you in control of your vehicle. Since you're constantly touching it, it's an easy place to notice irregularities across the steering, braking, and suspension systems of your car. Also, since the steering wheel directs so many parts, it might indicate several problems if it vibrates.

Because the steering wheel guides your tires, it's often the first thing associated with a troubling vibration. However, since the brakes are connected to the wheels, the suspension, and the axles, there could be many points where this disturbance originated. No matter the cause, the feeling that you can't control your vehicle while driving is unsettling and often presents a serious safety concern.

A shaking steering wheel can offer a clue as to what is wrong with your vehicle. Paying attention to your speed and road conditions is the first step toward identifying what is malfunctioning in the chain of parts that connects you to the road. Whatever the cause, stopping vibrations in your steering wheel means stopping jolting that causes wear on many of your vehicle's crucial parts.

Let's Get To The Bottom Of It!

  • Q: Does your steering wheel shake after driving over a pothole?

    You may also hear clunking noises when steering over bumps or notice your steering wheel shifting as you drive at slow speeds.

    Your vehicle's tie rod is a ball-and-socket joint that connects your steering rack to the steering spindle. Everyday driving can wear on these parts, which will cause shaking after impacting a pothole. Your vehicle may even make a violent "death wobble," which won't stop jerking until the car stops.

  • Q: Do you hear a humming noise from your vehicle's tires that gets louder the faster you drive?

    You may also experience your vehicle's front end rising when you accelerate and dipping when you brake.

    Struts make sure that your vehicle is flat on the road. Their assembly is made from oil running through small passages that keep pressure on your tires. Wear and tear to this system loosens the pressure. If the tires are pushed against the road, they will bounce diagonally across the surface as they drive. In addition, you'll hear a humming sound from air clapping between your tires and the road. The faster your tires are spinning, the louder the hum.

  • Q: Does your steering wheel shake only on acceleration?

    When accelerating, you may also feel a vibration under the floorboards or through the entire vehicle.

    Your vehicle has a CV (constant velocity) axle that transfers torque from the transmission to the wheels. Greased rubber boots protect the joints of this axle at each end but get worn over time and may wear worse when they get dirty. When this happens, they are loose against the wheels, and this disruption feels like a vibration in the steering wheel during the increased acceleration torque.

  • Q: Does your steering wheel vibrate at low speeds?

    Additionally, you may feel vibrations in your seat or your steering wheel moving back and forth while braking.

    Tires must be perfectly round for a smooth ride, requiring them to be mounted to perfectly-fitting wheels. So, if the rim of your wheels is bent, your tires will take on an irregular shape. Also, when you drive slowly, you'll notice a vibration in the steering wheel whenever the tire is in its low spot.

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Vehicle Health Inspection Proof

Explore the following typical inspection results that show a potential cause for the symptom and select the one you believe is similar to your vehicle's issue.

Tires out of balance

The proof image shows an out-of-balance tire being balanced on a tire balancer.

A customer dropped off their vehicle after noticing its steering wheel shakes when driving 65 mph on the freeway. When they reached 85 mph while overtaking another car, the vibrations intensified, affecting the steering wheel and under the vehicle's floorboards.

The technician did a test drive and felt the vibrations once they reached 57 mph. They also noticed that the vibrations intensified while increasing speed.

They didn't find other problems during the vehicle health inspection. So, the customer approved additional tests.

Since the vibration came from the steering wheel and floorboard, the technician recommended balancing all four tires. However, upon testing them, the technician found that all four wheels were out of balance.

The technician balanced the wheels and test-drove the vehicle to ensure the vibration at high speeds was gone.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Loose tie rod

The proof image highlights the position of the outer tie rod end's looseness and play.

A customer dropped off their vehicle after the steering wheel jerked roughly against their hands after they drove through a pothole. They reported driving 45 mph when they went over the pothole, and the car wouldn't stop shaking until they pulled over. They said the car only shakes like that when it hits potholes, not during everyday driving.

On the test drive, the technician got the vehicle to do the violent shaking, known as the "death wobble," after crossing railroad tracks at about 45 mph. They also had to stop the car to interrupt the vibration.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician found movement in the left front outer tie rod end. As a result, they recommended doing a steering suspension inspection to check for more damage. So, the customer approved additional tests.

The tie rod is a car's steering system component that helps connect the steering linkage to the front wheels.

The technician did a full steering and suspension inspection, checking all components, including tie rod ends, ball joints, and bushings. They found that the left outer tie rod had excessive play and looseness and recommended replacing it.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Worn struts can cause extra vibrations in the vehicle, either during acceleration or braking

The proof image shows oil leaking through a failing strut (a suspension component). In this case, the worn strut contributes to other suspension issues, leading to oil leaks.

A customer dropped off their vehicle after the tire noise had gotten so loud when driving on the freeway that they could barely hear the radio. They said the tires used to be silent, but now it felt like they had tractor tread on them and the steering wheel was vibrating.

The vibration also happened when braking at around 60 to 80 mph. On the test drive, the technician heard a lot of tire noise. The technician also noticed that when they braked hard, the vehicle tipped forward more than it should and had a bouncy feeling in the front.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician noted that the rear tires had diagonal wear across the tread and that both front struts were leaking.

The technician recommended replacing the worn front tires and the leaking front struts with newer ones that include proper mounts and springs.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Warped brake rotors

The proof image shows a dial indicator, a tool to check the rotor runout. It indicates warped brake rotors.

A customer dropped off the vehicle after noticing violent steering wheel vibrations whenever applying the brakes. In addition, the customer noted they recently towed a horse trailer with two horses over a mountain. The customer thought that perhaps the tires were unbalanced.

On the test drive, the technician noted that the vehicle had a shaky steering wheel, even after warming up the front brakes. However, the technician also said the vibration disappeared after letting the brakes off.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician did not notice anything related to the customer's concerns. So, the auto shop got the customer's approval to perform additional tests.

The technician removed the wheels from the car, secured the rotor (a part of the braking system), and used a tool called a dial indicator to measure the amount of "runout" on the rotors. The result indicated warped rotors.

Note that runout refers to the amount of lateral or radial movement of the rotor as it spins. If the runout is excessive, it can cause the rotor to vibrate or wobble. A professional mechanic can quickly spot a working rotor because unlike warped rotors, these do not create the slightest vibrations.

They did the same on the front rotors, which were normal. Still, a rotor turning and brake pad scuffing was recommended on them.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Bent wheel

The proof image shows a visible bend in the wheel's rim, causing low speed vibrations and damage to the wheel bearings.

A customer dropped off their vehicle, reporting the tires would vibrate at slow speeds. Then, on the way to work, they noticed a vibration in the steering wheel. They said it didn't shake when speeding, but the throbbing returned when they slowed down.

On the test drive, the technician noted that a vibration or wobble from the right front wheel started at about five mph and faded at about 40 mph.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician noted that the right front tire and rim had damage. Then, they saw a dent in the rim's bead when spinning the tire.

The technician recommended replacing the bent rim, rebalancing the wheel, and then road-testing it to verify that it was working properly.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Failing cv axle

The proof image shows a CV axle with a torn boot, causing debris to wear the joint and causing the steering wheel to vibrate on acceleration. This also affects suspension components.

A customer dropped off their vehicle after noticing a steering wheel vibration during acceleration while driving uphill in their driveway. However, they said there weren't any vibrations going downhill or on flat surfaces.

On the test drive, the technician performed several high torques starting from a stop and felt a vibration coming from the left front side of the vehicle.

The technician noted that the left outer CV boot was torn during the vehicle health inspection. However, the technician didn't note any other issues related to the customer's concern.

The technician raised the vehicle on the lift with an associate in the driver's seat. Under light braking, the technician put the vehicle in gear and increased engine speed. The technician verified that the vibration was coming from the left CV axle. The technician recommended replacing the left CV axle.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it

Typical Fixes to Address the Cause(s)

The following chapters bases themselves on experiences from our auto repair shop; we'll describe related problems' causes and fixes.

"Replacing Brake Rotor" fixes "Warped Brake Rotor"

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Hey, Why Is My Car's Steering Wheel Shaking?
Sometimes a problem is more challenging to describe than it initially looked like. If you are not sure your problem is described by this article, please find below similar vehicle symptoms, which might describe better the issue you are experiencing.

Other things your auto repair shop might talk about:

Brake pads. Brake pedal. Brake calipers. Stuck brake caliper. Seized brake calipers. Suspension system. sticking brake caliper