Why Is My Steering Wheel Shaking? Causes and Solutions
A shaking steering wheel is typically the result of tire/wheel problems, suspension and steering problems, brake problems, or some combination of the three. If you are experiencing a shaking steering wheel, your vehicle likely has one or more of the following issues.
Tire and Wheel Problems
Many steering wheel issues are caused by problems with the tires and/or wheels of your car. If your steering wheel is shaking, you may be experiencing one or more of the following problems.
Due to inconsistencies during tire manufacture, some parts of the tire are heavier than other parts. While the tires are spinning, these imbalances can lead to steering wheel shaking, usually when the car is driven at specific speeds. Fix: Have your tires and wheels balanced.
As your tires accumulate miles, they may wear unevenly, usually due to loose steering or suspension components. This uneven wear may lead to steering wheel vibration. Fix: Replace loose parts and tires.
Because they’re made of harder rubber, summer tires and some all-season tires may develop flat spots from sitting overnight in cold weather. These flat spots will make the steering wheel shake until the tires warm up. Fix: Use snow tires in cold weather.
Even balanced wheels can become off-balance if they are packed with snow or ice, leading to steering wheel vibration. Fix: Clean out your wheels, particularly during winter.
If your tire has a slow leak, Fix-a-Flat can save you in a pinch, but it’s only a temporary fix. The Fix-a-Flat liquid sloshes around and imbalances the tire, causing the steering wheel to shake. Fix: Have the tire cleaned out and get the leak properly repaired.
Tires are a complex composite of rubber, steel wire, and steel and textile belts. The rubber keeps the air inside the tire, but the belts and wires maintain its shape. A bulge in the sidewall or tread, caused by a broken belt, leads to steering wheel shake. Fix: Replace the damaged tire.
Wheel damage is more prevalent on vehicles with low-profile tires, but it can happen to any vehicle. If the wheel is damaged, it won’t be perfectly round, causing your steering wheel to vibrate. Fix: Repair or replace damaged wheels.
The wheel is held to the wheel hub by four to six wheel nuts or bolts. If one or more of these fasteners is improperly torqued, the wheel may loosen and shake, causing the steering wheel to shake as a result. Fix: Tighten wheel nuts to the manufacturer’s specification using a torque wrench.
Loose Wheel Bearing
Wheel bearings, which support the weight of the vehicle and allow the wheels to spin, wear out over time. Wheel bearing noise is a good indicator of wear, but sometimes the bearings also loosen, shaking your steering wheel. Fix: Replace or adjust worn wheel bearings.
On front-wheel drive vehicles, as well as all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles, the front axles drive the front wheels. A worn outer universal-joint or constant-velocity joint could cause steering wheel shaking. Fix: Replace a worn axle or joint.
Suspension and Steering Problems
A shaking steering wheel may also be the result of one of these suspension and steering problems.
Out of Alignment
Suspension and steering alignment ensures your vehicle tracks straight and steers reliably. Off-specification alignment can cause abnormal tire wear and premature wear of the suspension and steering components, all of which can cause steering wheel shake. Fix: Have your vehicle aligned by a professional.
Control arms and various linkages are not solidly fixed to the body, but via ball joints and rubber bushings. Aside from making noise and wearing tires abnormally, loose components can cause the steering wheel to shake. Fix: Replace loose suspension components.
Whether you’ve got a rack-and-pinion or steering box system, plenty of wear points can cause a shaking steering wheel. Tie rod ends are common, and mounting bushings and internal gears can wear out. Fix: Replace loose steering components.
Worn Shocks or Struts
Even on smooth roads, shock absorbers and struts are in constant motion, damping vehicle motion during acceleration and braking. They’re especially hard at work on bumpy roads. However, a worn or leaking shock absorber won’t absorb any of the motion, so the steering wheel shakes as the tire(s) bounces uncontrollably. Fix: Replace worn shock absorbers.
Lastly, steering wheel vibration may be caused by one of the following issues with your vehicle’s brakes.
If the brake doesn’t release from the rotor, it will simply stay applied. You’ll likely notice the vehicle pulling to one side, a brake smell, and a shaking steering wheel. Fix: Have your brake system repaired by a competent technician.
If the steering wheel shakes only when you apply the brakes, then you might have what is incorrectly called “warped rotors.” It’s really brake material that’s built up on certain sections of the rotor—a sure sign of damage or a rushed brake job. You’ll notice the pulsation in the brake pedal as well as in the steering wheel. Fix: Resurface the rotors with an on-car brake lathe or replace bent components and torque wheels properly.
Steering Wheel Shaking Prevention
There are so many parts at play in the average vehicle that it’s no surprise that any one of them can cause steering wheel shaking. Several small faults often stack up, making diagnosis and repair a difficult and expensive proposition. Still, there are a few ways you can avoid a shaking steering wheel in the first place, and it all boils down to regular maintenance.
- Have your tires rotated and balanced every 5,000 miles.
- Use seasonally-appropriate tires.
- Check and adjust tire pressure at least once a month, if not weekly.
- Be sure to only hand-torque your wheels to prevent damage from loose or overtightened lug nuts.
- Once a year, as well as whenever you get new tires, ask for a computerized four-wheel alignment.
- When driving, do your best to avoid potholes and major bumps. If you do hit something severe (e.g. a pothole or curb), you might need an alignment to correct any damage.
- Every six months or 5,000 miles, have your vehicle completely checked by a competent auto repair technician.
- Have any loose parts replaced or adjusted as soon as possible.