A shaking steering wheel is concerning, especially when you’re driving at higher speeds or coming to a stop. In most cases, it’s nothing severe and likely improper balance; things like low tire pressure or uneven treadwear on your tires. Still, sometimes a shaking steering wheel can be a symptom of a much larger problem.
The good news is that we’re here to help. We’ll take you through everything you need to know about a shaking steering wheel and how to fix it.
Common Cause of a Shaking Steering Wheel
Several things may result in a vibrating or shaky steering wheel. Issues may be simple, like wheel alignment, or severe, like worn bearings. The most common causes are unbalanced wheels, misalignment, suspension damage, work bearings, and brake problems.
One of the most common causes of a shaky steering wheel is a lack of balance in one of the wheel assemblies. When each tire is installed they’re balanced separately on the rim. Even a slight weight change (as little as a quarter-ounce) will cause a wheel to become unbalanced.
A wheel assembly becomes unbalanced when wheels have a bent rim or a bad connection between the tire and the rim. These factors contribute to how road force is applied to a tire and even slight alterations to a tire will result in shaking or vibrations that you can feel in the steering wheel.
Wheels must be properly aligned or the tires will experience rapid treadwear. The process of wheel alignment involves mechanical adjustments to a vehicle’s suspension to ensure that the tires contact a surface in the specific way that the manufacturer intended.
The result of accelerated wear to your tires is a shaking or vibrating steering wheel. Moreover, driving around without proper alignment will damage other components like the shocks and struts. Misalignment may happen fast and is usually the result of driving over a pothole. It can also happen over time, so always check your alignment if your steering wheel is vibrating.
Bearings don’t last forever and when they begin to wear down your steering wheel starts to shake. Thankfully, it’s easy to tell when you’re experiencing a bearing problem because the wheel will only shake when the vehicle turns. Bearings may also be fixable without replacing them.
Sometimes bearings just need some more lubrication to get the job done but this will only work if it’s easy to reach your vehicle’s bearings. Depending on the make and model it might not be possible.
Bad Suspension Components
A vehicle’s suspension is essential for longevity, safety, and performance. When suspension components get damaged it throws off the balance of your vehicle and causes the steering wheel to shake.
Bad suspension components that cause your steering wheel to shake include the shocks, struts, and an imbalanced driveshaft. Factors that contribute to suspension decline include driving on rough terrain, lowering the suspension, and the age of the suspension component.
Problems with Brakes
In some cases, your steering wheel won’t shake unless your foot is off the gas and on the brake. If the wheel only shakes when you’re coming to a stop, it’s most likely a problem with your brake system.
Problems with your brakes may include brake pads, calipers, and rotors. Brake problems are one of the easier problems to diagnose because they won’t happen unless you’re stopping. Rarely, it may shake when you’re driving slowly from a stoplight if the calipers are seizing up.
What Repairs Can Be Done to Stop the Shaking
You don’t have to drive with a shaking steering wheel forever and you should fix the problem as soon as possible. Failing to address the issue will result in more expensive repairs down the road. Some repairs you can do to fix a shaking steering wheel include fixing the brakes, adding tire pressure, and examining suspension components.
Correcting Unbalanced Wheels
If you notice that there is a dent in your rim or that the tire is not properly connected to the rim, you must correct the balance to fix the shaking. Correcting the balance takes a bit of patience and a roller that measures road force.
One option is to match-mount the tire by rotating it on the rim to reduce road force; this is one of the most common methods. Another method is to massage the bead of the tire to better fit the rim and seal any gaps.
While those methods are the most efficient, you can also move the higher road force assemblies into less sensitive wheel positions. This method works best if you don’t have the tools to massage the bead or rotate the tire on the rim.
Have Your Wheels Aligned or Change the Tires
Check the treadwear on your tires to determine if it’s uneven. Uneven treadwear is usually the result of misalignment. When misalignment happens the only solution is to have your wheels aligned again. However, if the tires are too far gone it’s important to replace them. That said, tires with uneven wear should be replaced to avoid other problems.
Fix the Brakes
Brakes aren’t difficult to replace if the brake pads are the problem but some brake issues are serious like damage to the caliper. While anyone can replace brake pads, we recommend taking your vehicle into the shop for rotor or caliper damage. It’s also a good idea to replace the brakes together. For example, replace the front brakes together for the best consistency.
Replace or Lubricate Bearings
Bad bearings cause your steering wheel to shake or vibrate when you turn the wheel. If bearings are the problem, you have a few options. First and foremost, determine if the bearings are worn or just unlubricated. Worn bearings must be replaced but sometimes adding oil to the bearings will extend their lifespan.
Replace Damaged Suspension Components
Components in your vehicle’s suspension system wear down over time, especially the shocks and struts. When these components are damaged it’s important to replace them sooner rather than later to prevent extensive damage to other suspension components. Each suspension component has different instructions for replacement, so it’s best to take your vehicle to a professional.
What Maintenance Can Be Done to Avoid It
Properly maintaining your vehicle is the best way to prevent your steering wheel from shaking. Plus, maintenance will prolong the lifespan of other components on your vehicle and save you money over the long term. We’ll take you through some maintenance tips below.
Check Your Tires Often
Tires are often the cause of your steering wheel shaking. Fortunately, checking your tires can prevent the problem from happening. Every six months to one year, check the treadwear on your tires. Make sure the wear is even to prevent imbalance.
It’s also important to check the pressure if your vehicle doesn’t do it automatically; this becomes more important during the winter months as air pressure changes. Lastly, have your tires rotated to prevent uneven wear if you have a front-wheel or rear-wheel drive vehicle.
Change Your Brake Pads
To maintain your brakes properly it’s important to check your pads and replace them when the pad is worn down. Replacing brake pads when they’re 3/32nds of an inch or less will prevent the calipers and rotors from getting damaged. Plus, your steering wheel won’t shake when you’re coming to a stop.
Also, look over your calipers and rotors to see if there are any scratches or faulty components. You can have the best brake pads in the world but with bad rotors or calipers your steering wheel will shake.
Keep Everything Lubricated
Lubrication is key for many suspension components and your vehicle’s bearings. Unfortunately, lubrication wears down over time, so it’s important to stay on top of it. A good rule of thumb is to grease the bearings when you change the brakes.