(Updated on December 27, 2021)
The steering wheel is one of the most important controls a driver has, and the way it feels can tell you a lot about your car.
Ever been in a driving situation where your steering wheel starts to shake or vibrate? This is not supposed to happen; a properly working car on a flat road will drive smoothly and evenly the whole time.
Of course, there will be the occasional vibration in the steering wheel or a bumpy road that causes the steering wheel to vibrate. This driver feedback is intended to give you information about the road, and a better idea about the condition of the asphalt you’re driving over.
If the shakiness becomes a regular occurrence or gets worse over time, then you could have a broken part or component inside of the car that is throwing it off balance.
See Also: Why is My Steering Wheel Not Straight?
Top Causes of Steering Wheel Vibrations
To understand why the steering wheel is shaking while braking or driving at low and high speeds, you need to understand all the main causes of this kind of shakiness. Here are some of the most common reasons for a steering wheel shaking while driving at low or high speed.
1) Unbalanced Tires
This is the most common cause of steering wheel shakiness and the first cause that you should consider checking out. If you have a tire with low air pressure or tire treads that are worn out, this will cause your tires to be out of balance with each other as they’re touching the road.
Since the steering wheel controls the direction of the wheels which hold the tires, then this out-of-balance state will cause the steering wheel to shake.
2) Wheel Issues
Normally, wheel weights are attached to your wheels at specific points to help balance the wheel and tire assembly. Since wheels and tires are inherently unbalanced from the factory, these weights are required to give you a smooth ride.
If you’ve lost a wheel weight or bent a wheel, this will likely throw off the balance at that corner. You’ll need to visit a tire shop to get this corrected.
3) Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings often last for quite a while, sometimes for the life of the vehicle. Even so, it’s a good idea to check them anyway just to make sure they’re not the problem. Wheel bearings have been known to get worn out, especially on vehicles that see high lateral loads frequently such as track cars.
4) Worn Steering Components
When troubleshooting a steering wheel shake, it’s important to inspect the ball joints and tie rod ends too. Usually, shakiness that only occurs while making a turn will be because of bad tie rod ends. If the shaking occurs only when driving straight, then it may be the ball joints that are at fault.
5) Brake Issues
If you have bad brakes which result in aggressive steering wheel shaking when you step on the brake pedal, this means you likely have warped or worn out rotors. You should also check the brake caliper too because that can cause steering wheel shakiness, especially in older model cars.
6) Axle or Driveshaft Damage
Cars tend to have axle problems if they’ve recently been in an accident and their steering wheel started vibrating soon after. Anytime you have an axle that is damaged or bent, it will result in steering wheel shaking as you travel at low speeds and the shaking getting somewhat violent as you increase speed.
If your axle is damaged, then you may also experience the steering wheel randomly jerking to the left or right by itself.
Driveshafts need to be balanced much like the wheel and tire assembly. If you’ve recently replaced a U-joint or your driveshaft, check your work to make sure you haven’t introduced any balance issues.
7) Engine Mount Problems
The final possible cause a problem that actually comes from the engine, most commonly a bad motor mount. As the problem gets worse, the entire vehicle will start to shake. If it gets to that point, then an engine mount may be at fault.
A lot of people who experience a little steering wheel shakiness don’t think much about it. Even if the shaking starts to pick up, they may hold off going to the mechanic because they don’t want to spend the money to get the problem fixed.
When rotating components are unbalanced, there is a strong possibility that this additional vibration could cause additional damage. These extra vibrations may also cause bolts to back out and loosen. This creates a very dangerous situation when this happens to critical components like suspension and brakes.
The longer you wait to fix the problem, the more damage it will cause to your tires, brakes, wheel components, axle, and/or your engine. Then you will have to spend a lot more money to get all these things fixed or replaced. Get the problem checked out as soon as you notice your steering wheel shaking.