Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel Shakes

Vibration in the steering wheel at high speed is quite frequent, and it also occurs in almost new cars. What are the causes, and how can this problem be solved?

A considerable part of the important information about the operation of car components is received by the driver through tactile senses. Vibration in the steering wheel is one of such signals, connected with the systems which ensure safety, that’s why it shouldn’t be ignored.

Vibration in the steering wheel is a very general definition. There are several types of abnormal sensations in the steering wheel, which indicate different problems.

Types of Vibration in the Steering Wheel

  • Small vibration in the steering wheel when the car is standing with the engine running.
  • Small vibration, shaking of the steering wheel at a relatively high speed, about 70–90 km/h.
  • Shaking of the steering wheel at low speed, the jolts are felt distinctly and separately.
  • Vibration in the steering wheel during braking.
  • Soft jolts in the steering wheel and car body, sometimes accompanied by a hum with increase of speed.
  • Knocking in the steering wheel when turning, accompanied by a crunching sound from one of the front wheels.


Vibration in the Steering Wheel of, a Car Pulled up

If vibration in the steering wheel of an idling car is uniform and synchronous with the engine revolutions, then the cause may be the increased idle speed and contact of parts of the exhaust system.

If the vibration is periodical and uneven, it means that the engine shakes because of faulty ignition or (less frequently) the feed system. Start by checking the spark plugs and the cleanliness of the jet nozzles.

If jolts and shakes in the steering wheel are felt during increasing or resetting the engine speed, then probably engine mounts are damaged and should be replaced.


Vibration in the Steering Wheel at Speed

Most of the cases of vibration in the steering wheel are connected with wheels malfunctions. The most likely causes for the steering wheel to shake at speed are wheel imbalance and tyre damage.

Each wheel of a modern car shall be balanced, that is, each part of it must weigh equally with respect to the centre of the wheel – its axis. Even a difference of 5 grams between the opposite sides of the tyre causes vibrations that are transmitted to the car body and the steering wheel (in case of front wheels). There is static and dynamic imbalance, but for the driver the difference is insignificant, since both types are unacceptable. It is impossible to make the wheel rim and tyre perfectly even at the plant, therefore balancing with special weights is foreseen. But it can be disrupted due to loss of weights or tyre wear. Such imbalance becomes apparent as vibration in the upper and middle ranges of speed, usually the wheel shakes at the speed of 70–90 km/h.

But if the wheel imbalance is caused by dried up dirt or frozen ice, then the wheel will start to shake earlier, at 40-50 km/h, as such natural “weights” are usually heavier than regular ones. It happens not very frequently, but wet snow and dirt can cling to the wheels when the temperature is above zero and stay at the discs from the inside of the wheel after the weather becomes freezing.

Cause of vibration in the steering wheel typical for our road conditions is damage to the wheels. Hitting the potholes can cause tyre carcass damages, geometry disruption and changes in elastic properties of the tyres. Such a malfunction, a “bulge”, can be felt in the steering wheel as tangible jolts at low speed, or even strong shaking of the steering wheel at a higher speed. If the rear wheel is damaged, vibrations are felt through the car body and are less noticeable. A rim bent because of the big potholes behaves the same way. In this case the tyre should be replaced, and the disc can usually be restored by rolling on a special machine.

In addition, the issue can be connected with not proper fixing of the wheel. For example, the mechanic could forget to tighten the bolts after repair. In this case, large vibrations in the steering wheel, even wobbling, are accompanied by a soft progressive knocking sound, synchronous with the rotation of the wheels.

Very unpleasant shaking in the steering wheel sometimes occurs because of severe wear of the suspension joints. It can concern different components in different car models: bushings, ball joints, tie rod ends, but the effect is about the same. Most often, it is quite noticeable shaking in the steering wheel in some narrow speed range, usually up to 70 km/h. The suspension must be repaired without delay, since such alternating loads are destructive to many parts of the chassis.

Jolts in the steering wheel when turning at low speed, especially if they are accompanied by clicking or scratching noise, mean that you need to prepare for replacing CV joints – hinged joints of front-wheel drive. But it concerns, respectively, only cars with the front axle drive.


Vibration in the Steering Wheel under Braking

Many car models have such a malfunction as shaking in the steering wheel during braking. It's all about the front wheel brakes, where one of the brake discs or both of them may be bent. Such a violation of the geometry occurs for various reasons (wear, temperature changes), but the “treatment” is always the same: replacing the brake discs.

Another reason why the steering wheel is vibrating under braking is when brake pads wedge on their guides, which may be a result of their wear or corrosion. The pads shall be replaced, making sure that their guides are also cleaned by the auto mechanic. As a matter of fact, in case of the intensive pulling of the car towards one side during braking, the cause may be just a flat tyre. Although in most cases a flat front wheel feels as jolts in the steering wheel even not under braking.

In conclusion, we should note that no matter how old the car is, vibration in the steering wheel is not normal. It is even dangerous! That’s why the causes should be found and eliminated as soon as possible.

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