There’s nothing more terrifying than feeling your steering wheel start to shake and vibrate while you’re driving, and it’s not a problem you want to ignore.
This is a problem that’s not just annoying but can make it hard to get control on the road, and is too dangerous and distracting to overlook.
What does a steering wheel shake? The most common cause of a shaking or vibrating steering wheel are damaged brake discs, unbalanced tyres, misaligned wheels, or worn suspension components, but there are others as well.
The best way to pinpoint the issue and rectify it is by seeking an expert opinion from a mechanic.
The steering wheel of a car is responsible for directing it where it needs to go and when it’s not functioning properly, you lose all control. We’re going to walk through some of the most common causes of a steering wheel shaking and how to fix them so you can drive safely once again.
Causes of Shaking Steering Wheel and How to Fix Them
Driving with a shaking steering wheel can be annoying, but more importantly than that, it’s an indication that something else is wrong with your car.
These are the most common causes of a shaking steering wheel, and what you can do to rectify them.
#1 Tyres Are Unbalanced
Any time you get new tyres installed, they need to be balanced by making sure the weight has been evenly distributed.
This is done with the addition of small weights that balance out the wheel and rim, and it should only be done by a professional technician who has experience with tyres.
If this wheel hasn’t been balanced properly or something has happened to throw it off-kilter, you may feel it through the steering wheel.
This can be more common in newer cars because of the low-profile tyres and lightweight suspensions but it also happens in older models.
To fix unbalanced tyres, you simply need to take the car into a dedicated tyre shop and have them look at the wheels.
They can perform the job fairly easily and you’ll notice an immediate improvement in the car’s overall performance but especially in the steering wheel.
#2 Damaged Brake Discs
The brake system of your car is one of the most common causes of a shaking steering wheel, and it can sometimes cause a vibrating brake pedal with it.
If it is the brake system or discs that are leading to this issue, these are the likely culprits:
The brake discs can sometimes come out of alignment if they weren’t installed correctly, are exposed to contaminants like rust or dirt, or have been screwed into position too tightly.
If any of these are the cause of the shaking steering wheel, they need to be replaced immediately as it’s too risky to drive with a faulty brake disc.
Disc Thickness Variation (DTV)
Another issue that comes with incorrect installation is disc thickness variation. DTV is diagnosed when the brake disc gets uneven damage or wear to it, and this can come from dirt, rust, and other deposits.
When the surface of a disc is uneven, you’ll feel it through the steering wheel when pressure is applied by the brake pads, and it can be as serious as causing total brake failure.
To have it fixed, you’ll want to take it to a mechanic immediately to have them replaced.
Lots of things heat up in a car with regular use, and if you’re prone to lots of braking, the brake discs will be one of them.
If these discs overheat, they’ll warp, and you’ll feel it right away through the steering wheel as it starts to wobble and shake as the brake pads apply pressure to them.
This issue can’t be fixed without a total replacement of the discs and needs to be rectified right away.
#3 Worn Suspension Components
The suspension components of a car are complex and made up of several smaller parts. If you’re unable to find the issue through brakes or wheels, it could be due to an issue with one of these.
When the suspension is worn down or damaged, it causes issues with stability, and likely will result in a shaking steering wheel, among other issues.
During a car service, a mechanic will be able to check the condition of the suspension, but if it’s not picked up and there’s an issue, you’ll feel it in the steering wheel.
During the inspection, they can look at parts like the ball joints, shock mounts, springs, tie rods, and bushings.
If they spot anything that’s worn or needs repairs, it’s a pretty easy fix, and if you get on top of it soon, it’ll prevent any further damage from being done to the rest of the suspension system.
#4 Wheels Not Aligned
The wheels of a car need to be perfectly aligned to allow for better control and safe driving, and if they’re not, it’ll be pretty noticeable.
A car driving with unaligned wheels may feel like it’s pulling off the road to either side as you drive, and the steering wheel starts to shake.
The good news is, it’s an easy problem to rectify, and usually something you can find yourself without needing to take it into the shop.
If you can’t feel it, a quick inspection of your wheels will probably solidify your guess, as you’ll see the inside tread of the tyres is much more worn than the outside.
To fix the issue, take your car into a tyre centre or mechanic and have the wheels aligned, and they’ll also look at the suspension which is the likely cause of the problem.
While you’re there, they might want to replace or rotate your tyres to make driving more balanced, and this will solve the shaking steering wheel as well.
#5 Warped Brake Rotors
Aside from the multiple issues your brake discs can cause on a steering wheel, another culprit might be the brake rotors.
The purpose of a brake rotor is to be the place where a brake pad presses and they need to be in good shape if you want to rely on your brakes working properly.
Sometimes, this pressing action causes too much heat, and as the brake rotors are made of metal, they can warp permanently.
As the brake pad then pushes on them, it’ll feel this unevenness, and you will too, usually with the brake pedal or the steering wheel shaking and vibrating.
Not only is this annoying, but extremely dangerous, and it means the brakes aren’t operating as safely as they should be.
Take your car into a professional and have them assess the brakes, and if needed, replace the rotor for a new, unwarped one that won’t cause you any more shaking.
#6 Damaged Wheel Bearings
A wheel bearing’s job is to keep the wheel hub attached to the suspension so that the wheels turn as directed.
However, these bearings can sometimes become damaged due to regular wear and tear or improper driving practices, like driving over potholes or on dirt roads, especially at high speeds.
The wheel bearings are an important part of your vehicle and if they’re damaged, it can be very unsafe to drive.
You’ll notice an issue with them if your car’s steering wheel is shaking or feels loose, and also unusual noises that happen when you accelerate.
To fix this, take it to an experienced mechanic for a look, and if they find an issue, you’ll need to replace them.
With the bearings brand new and securing the suspension and wheel hub together, you’ll find the steering back to how it should be.
#7 Flat Tyres
This one is easy enough to fix on your own if you know how to change a tyre, and it’s a handy skill to have.
Sometimes, a shaking steering wheel isn’t due to some internal issue or complication part, it’s just because one or more of your tyres are deflated.
When you drive with a flat tyre, the car shakes, and more specifically, the steering wheel.
The unevenness that this creates will be felt almost instantly by everyone in the car, so hop out and take a look here first.
Just a little bit of care with your tyres and how you drive can prevent many issues that cause a shaking steering wheel.
Be mindful of the speeds, how hard you brake, and whenever you approach something like a speed bump or curb going faster than you should.
These few healthy tyre habits will prevent a lot of problems with your steering wheel and make your tyres last longer as well.
The Dangers of Ignoring the Problem
Like anything do with car repairs, the sooner you tackle a shaking steering wheel problem the better.
Otherwise, a shaking steering wheel and the part that caused it will eventually start to damage other components like the suspension, struts, and brake system of the vehicle as well.
If you’re driving with one of these vibrating wheels, there’s a good chance you’re distracted by it and not giving your full attention to the road.
Likewise, you might not get a good grip on the wheel because of it, so you’re not driving as safely as you can be.
Most importantly though, a shaking steering wheel is a symptom of something else, and if this problem is as serious as brake damage or faulty tyres, you don’t want to ignore it.
The steering wheel is alerting you to a bigger issue that needs to be dealt with, and the longer you drive with it the more you put yourself and your car’s passengers at risk.
Tips for Keeping a Steering Wheel Steady
A shaking steering wheel is usually caused by a problem with another car part or component, and as always, general maintenance and awareness of your vehicle is the best way to prevent it.
Make sure you’re keeping up with these things to keep your car in good shape and ensure your steering wheel is smooth and safe when you drive.
Driving Smoothly Once Again
Not only is a vibrating steering wheel annoying, but it’s also dangerous, and if you’ve started to feel some shaking in yours when you drive, have it seen to immediately.
The underlying problem could be bigger than you realise and it’s not worth the risk, so take whatever steps necessary to get some control back in your steering wheel.
The steering wheel is just one of your car’s parts that can indicate a larger issue, and you should heed the warning signs when you feel it start to shake.
There are plenty of other things to be mindful of when you own a car, so read on to learn a little more about auto maintenance with these FAQs.
How Long Will Tyres Last With Bad Alignment?
As soon as you notice your tyres aren’t aligned, you should have them fixed immediately as driving with bad alignment will take at least a few thousand kilometres off the life of tyres.
In addition to the costs and premature replacement of the tyres, it makes the vehicle unsafe to drive and needs to be fixed right away.
How Often Do You Replace Brakes?
There’s no specific rule in place for when brakes and their components need to be replaced, so as long as they’re being inspected during service, this is the best way to keep an eye on them.
Some cars might only last 25,000kms before needing to replace the brakes and others will go up to 80,000kms, and there are lots of factors that can influence this.