A noticeable problem such as shaking in the steering wheel can be not just an inconvenience for the driver, but also an indicator that there is a fault in your vehicle that should be addressed at the earliest opportunity.
The root cause can be to do with your suspension, brakes or tyres, to name but a few, and it can be difficult to identify if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here’s our response to the question that is perhaps as old as the automotive industry itself, “why does my steering wheel shake?”, in a comprehensive overview of the potential underlying causes of steering wheel vibration.
If you only experience shaking in your steering wheel when braking, or it is also noticeable through the brake pedal, then it is most likely a brake system problem. While it is possible that it could be a hydraulic or mechanical fault, it is more likely to be about brake disc alignment or disc thickness variation.
Brake disc alignment
Badly installed brake discs that pull out of alignment can be the reason why your car shakes when braking; rust or dirt build up between the disc and hub creating an uneven surface. A disc being fitted to a warped hub is a common culprit of this problem.
If you suspect this to be the case, get it looked at straight away as it can affect stopping distances or lead to brake failure in extreme cases.
Brake disc thickness
Uneven wear and tear on brake discs, usually caused by errors in the installation or alignment of the brake discs, can create thinner and thicker spots on the brake discs. The build-up of rust or dirt on a brake disc can also cause a variation in the discs thickness.
When pressure is applied by the brake pads, and the discs are uneven, steering wheel vibration is a common side-effect. As with a fault in the brake disc alignment, any significant disc thickness variation will lead to an increased stopping time and potential brake failure. If you think this may be the underlying cause, make sure you get it looked at immediately by a trusted mechanic.
Suspension- and wheel-related issues
If you experience steering wheel shaking more frequently than only under braking, or have eliminated the possibility of a braking system fault, there are a few other potential causes of the steering wheel wobble.
Worn suspension or steering parts can lead to steering wheel shaking, and will also reduce the stability of your vehicle. In addition to the vibration felt through the steering wheel, the impact of a small amount of slack in either the steering or suspension system can have a seriously detrimental effect on road safety. Again, this is something you will want to examine as soon as possible.
Wheel hub bearings
Worn wheel hub bearings can also be the underlying cause of shaking at certain speeds or when braking. Damage to wheel bearings is often caused by rough roads, speed bumps, potholes or even result from modifications to your steering or suspension. These bearings secure the wheel hub to the suspension, and any issue with these is a serious safety concern.
Likewise, issues with wheel alignment send vibrations through the steering wheel when braking or otherwise. This can be remedied easily, and is also quite straightforward to identify. If your wheels are not aligned correctly, you are likely to have uneven wear on your tyres, particularly the inside tread being more worn than the outside tread.
Finally, the cause of the steering wheel wobble when braking, particularly if the car vibrates at certain speeds, could be unbalanced tyres. Namely, there is always variance in tyre weight distribution. To compensate for this, when a new tyre is installed, additional weights are frequently added. When these weights move, or in some cases fall off, the wheel becomes unbalanced.
Unbalanced tyres can cause your steering wheel to shake, both when braking and when travelling at speeds over 50mph. An unresponsive steering wheel driving on the motorway or braking is not only dangerous but also damaging to your vehicle. Unbalanced tyres can lead to wear of the steering and suspension parts, potentially resulting in blown tyres and reduced fuel economy.
Getting your tyres repaired if you notice any signs of imbalance, understanding tyre lifespan and making sure the tyres are balanced following any tyre repair or installation, is the best way to manage this. If you ever experience sudden vibrations through the steering wheel that aren’t caused by the surface of the road, do not hesitate – identify the problem at its root before it does any serious damage to the vehicle or your health.