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Steering Wheel Vibration: My Car Shakes While I’m Driving

Eddie spent 35 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE certified master technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.

Shaky Steering Wheel?

Your car shakes while driving down the highway, the steering wheel vibration is driving you crazy, and without you even realizing it, it's causing you to feel tired. It can be quite exhausting holding onto a steering wheel that’s shaking.

Do You Need an Alignment? Probably Not!

I hear this from customers all the time; they pull into the garage and say, "I need to have an alignment on my car because my steering wheel shakes when I drive on the highway."

The truth is an alignment has nothing to do with your car shaking or your steering wheel vibrating. If you tell your mechanic you need an alignment and they don't ask why, find a new mechanic. A good mechanic will always ask why you need work done on your car so they can get enough information to decide how to fix the problem on the first visit.

Alignment, Balance: Two Different Things

Mechanics use these words to refer to different operations, though sometimes you get them both done at once.

Alignment

Alignments only realign the tires so they are all pointing in the proper direction while driving down the road. If a car’s tires need alignment, it may pull one way or the other instead of straight when you let go of the steering wheel, or the tires may wear unevenly (deeper on the inside than the outside or vice versa).

Alignment is something you might do routinely every year or so. It won't stop a steering wheel vibration, but it's good preventative maintenance, especially if you often drive on potholed, cracked, or dirt roads.

Balance

If a car's tires need balancing, on the other hand, it may shake at freeway speed, or the tires may wear in a cupped or scalloped pattern. Balancing a tire means making sure the weight of the tire-and-wheel unit is balanced all around the axle, with every section having equal weight.

The first step in balancing a tire is to match the heaviest part of the rim (usually the valve stem) to the lightest part of the rim (a yellow dot painted by the manufacturer on the tire's sidewall). Then the mechanic places the tire and rim on a balance machine, which positions plastic or metal weights as needed on the outer part of the rim to fine-tune the balance.

Balancing is something you might do routinely whenever you rotate the tires, every six months or 6,000–7,500 miles. Sometimes tire stores will offer you lifetime tire balancing and rotation. I highly recommend this service. Checking the tires routinely to see if they are wearing oddly will make them last longer and cost you less in the long run.

A pothole may affect your tire's balance or its alignment

A pothole may affect your tire's balance or its alignment

Tires Out of Balance

The most common reason your tires shake or your steering wheel vibrates is simple: Your tires are out of balance. Tires take a beating when they hit potholes, bridge expansion joints, and curbs. Hitting any one of these objects could knock off a wheel weight, dent a rim, or cause a bubble in the sidewall of the tire, causing it to be out of balance. If you lose a wheel weight, it's an easy fix; you just need to have your tire balanced at the local garage.

Balancing should cost around $15 to $20 a tire. Of course, denting a rim or damaging a tire could end up costing you more, because you might have to replace the tire instead of just balancing it.

Pothole Damage: Can These Tires Be Saved?

Bubble in sidewall of tire after hitting a large pothole.

Bubble in sidewall of tire after hitting a large pothole.

If you hit a pothole at high speed you could dent the rim and damage the tire.

If you hit a pothole at high speed you could dent the rim and damage the tire.

Foreign Objects, Snow, and Ice Can Make a Steering Wheel Shake

Another common cause of steering wheel vibration or car shake is having something lodged in a tire, like a large bolt, or any metal object you may have picked up from the road's surface (I have seen even wrenches and screwdrivers impaling a tire).

If you live in an area that has snow, plowing through a snowbank could cause snow and ice to become trapped in the rim or wheel and cause a serious steering wheel vibration. Luckily, this is easy to fix: Just rinse out the snow and ice with a garden hose or pressure washer.

If you drive through a snow bank and have a horrible vibration soon after, check your wheels for packed snow and ice.

If you drive through a snow bank and have a horrible vibration soon after, check your wheels for packed snow and ice.

Low Tire Pressure Can Cause Your Car to Shake

In addition to being a common cause of steering wheel vibration or car shake, low tire pressure can cause the following problems:

  • poor fuel mileage
  • abnormal tire wear
  • vibrations
  • blowouts
  • tire-edge wear
  • chopping or scalloping

And the list goes on. A quick check of your tire pressures can save you money in the long run, in many ways.

In cold weather, tire pressures drop. When the temperatures outside drop below 30˚F, I recommend raising the tire pressure about 3 psi above where you would normally keep it.

Bald Tires Cause Very Bad Vibrations

If your tires are so worn that the ridges on the tread are smoothed out or steel fibers are showing through the rubber anywhere, change your tires immediately. Bald tires will definitely cause your steering wheel to vibrate and your car to shake. Furthermore, if you continue driving on bald tires, they are likely to blow out, and having a tire blow out at highway speeds is extremely dangerous, especially if it's a front tire.

Don't be afraid to look at your tires to see if bald tires are causing your problems. You need to physically look at each tire. Turning the steering wheel to one side will give you a better view of the tread surface on your front tires. You will need to get on your hands and knees to check your rear tires closely.

A front tire with bald spots

A front tire with bald spots

A bald tire that blew out

A bald tire that blew out

Other Vibrations That Could Be Confused With Tire Vibration

Vibrations in your car don't always come from tire problems. In the first video, there is not only bad shaking from an unbalanced tire but also a wheel-bearing noise that is louder when the steering wheel is turned to one side. In the second, the car shakes hard when the brakes are applied; the problem is with the brake rotors.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Don't be afraid to ask questions or leave comments. There is no such thing as a stupid question, so just ask, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

More on Car Noises From Eddie Carrara

  • What is a Wheel Bearing? Your mechanic says you need a wheel bearing, what's a wheel bearing? Pictures, video, and discussion of what a wheel bearing is, what its job is, where it's located, and the noises it can make.
  • How to Change a Front Wheel Bearing. Learn how to change a front wheel bearing with a step-by-step guide with photos and a video. What a damaged wheel bearing sounds like and how to determine which wheel bearing is causing the noise.
  • Four Common Car Noises. There are four common car noises that drive a vehicle owner crazy. I will explain to you what they are and what you need to do to fix them. Plus a little secret that you should know when buying a new car.
  • Brake Noises. Grinding, thumping, squeaking, and scraping.
  • Four Common Brake Squeaks

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: My steering wheel shakes when I brake doing 70 down to about 50. It is a 2016 Ford EcoSport. I have had discs checked, the balance corrected, and the tires are fine. I'm just wondering if you know what else it could be?

Answer: The most common reason for steering wheel shake when braking at highway speeds is a warped rotor. To repair the vibration you would need to either cut the rotors or replace them.

Question: The whole front end of my car shakes when I get up to 60. It gets worse the faster I drive. The shaking is very inconsistent, though. Sometimes it hits 65 before it shakes, but other times its barely 60. I just had my tires balanced, and the shaking isn't consistent. It'll shake for a second or two, then stop, then shake, then stop and so on. What could this be?

Answer: If your vehicle is a front wheel drive car, it's possible one of the inner CV joints has a problem, especially if the vibration is while accelerating. If the shaking wasn't there before the balance, I recommend bringing back to the mechanic so they can recheck their workmanship.

Question: I have a 2009 Kia Rio, and I had two new front tires put on. Now it is shaking whenever I hit around 70mph. What can it be?

Answer: Either the tires have a defect, or the mechanic didn't balance the tires properly. I recommend bringing it back and take the mechanic for a ride to show them the vibration and let them know it didn't do this before the tires were replaced, and that you would like it fixed.

Question: My Ford Fusion makes a popping sound when turning both ways. I checked the CV boots, and there are no tears and no grease! What else could this be?

Answer: It could be just worn CV joints. If you hear the popping when turning and accelerating, it's most likely a CV joint. If it's popping when not moving and just turning the wheel, then it may be a worn suspension part like a ball joint, tie rod, or upper spring mount.

Question: I've got new tires, new tie rods, and new axles, and my car is balanced and aligned. However, my car is still shaking; the wheel shakes when going 80kmh and up. I've been going crazy for the past year trying to figure out the problem. Could it be the wheel bearing even if there are no noise problems?

Answer: If the car was shaking before you replaced all these parts, then it may be something you didn't replace like a bent rim, a leaking or blown out shock or strut, steering rack, etc. New tires can also be a factor. Some tires straight from the factory could be defective; I run into this a lot with new tires so don't overlook the obvious.

Question: My Infiniti QX70 (27000 miles, 2017 model) has new tires, Voyager Ground Speed. At speed over 60 mph, I can feel the fine vibration of the steering wheel, which makes my hands tingle. Is this caused by the rough treads of Voyager ground speed tires? The alignment and balance are fine.

Answer: If the tires have an aggressive tread and the balance is good, I would have to say that what you're feeling is normal for this type of tire.

Question: I have a 2003 Nissan Maxima GLE with 138500 miles; I'm the original owner. Tires 12000 miles on them. Dobbs who does my oil change and tire rotation with balance. Told them about the steering wheel shaking when approaching 65 mph on the highway. Issue not resolved after balancing. Brought vehicle back to do it again, was told they did it right this time and said if the issue persists, that I should consider motor mount replacement. Does that sound right to you?

Answer: No, motor mounts usually vibrate during acceleration or at idle. I recommend taking a look at the struts, inspect them for leaks and do a bounce test, if all is ok, inspect the from the end for any loose or worn ball joints or steering linkage.

Question: I purchased a 2012 Jetta, but I'm having trouble with the vehicle shaking and vibrating starting at 60 mph. After 80 mph it lessens slightly. I had brand new tires aligned and balanced, but that didn't work. I changed the left CV joint and wheel bearings on both sides, and nothing. I'm running out of options, can you help?

Answer: I truly believe the problem is in the tires. I recommend bringing it back to the shop that installed the tires and go for a road test with them so you can point out the issue. If they rotate the tires front-to-rear and rear-to-front, the vibrations should change if the tires are the issue. If it doesn't change, the problem is somewhere else. Balance issues are very time consuming and nine times out of ten, if the vibration wasn't there before the tire swap, it's most likely the tires.

Question: My Honda CRV 2006 shakes while driving. If I leave my hands off the steering wheel, the car drives to the left instead of straight. Can you tell me the reason and how to fix it?

Answer: It sounds like you have a tire or alignment issue. I recommend having your tire checked out and also have an alignment check done.

Question: I took my 2018 Hyundai Accent in on Saturday. They did complete front struts, wheel alignment, alignment shims, fixed a bent rim, and rotated my tires. It all seemed good until I got on the freeway, and once I got up to 60 mph, my steering wheel started to shake pretty bad. Do you think they did something wrong? Should take my car back to them?

Answer: They obviously didn't take the vehicle on a road test after the repairs otherwise they would have caught their mistake. I highly recommend you bring it back so they can check the balance on the tires and their workmanship. I highly recommend road testing with the mechanic after the repair to verify the vibration is gone at highway speeds.

Question: I have a Passat B6 2.0tdi from 2006. I have this problem with my VW Passat vibration/shaking during acceleration and it is only upon acceleration the harder I accelerate the worse it gets. It stops when I switch to neutral or let off the gas pedal and when I'm at 130km/h I can feel it slightly, do you have an idea what it could be?

Answer: It sounds like you may have a damaged or worn inner CV joint. I recommend having all the CV joints inspected for leaks and damage.

Question: I have a '98 Volvo s70 with 105,000 miles on it. Whenever I go over 45 mph., it shakes. Whenever I drive over a little patch of snow, the car sways like a rear-wheel drive vehicle would regardless if traction control is on or not. I have never had a four-wheel-drive car do this. Are these problems related?

Answer: It sounds to me like your tires are bald or have very little tread. I recommend having your tires checked first. If the tires are in good condition, you should have them balanced.

Question: I have replaced both tie rod ends, both struts, and wheel hub assemblies, but when I’m driving about 65 or 70 mph it feels like the car is all over the road and hard to control. I checked my work all is tight and rite what could still be wrong?

Answer: If your alignment is out of spec, it can cause this issue. If you haven't had an alignment after replacing all those parts, your alignment is probably way out of spec. Have the alignment done and see how it drives.

Question: My 2015 Hyundai Elantra has a very bad shake/vibration. We just changed the brakes because they were bad, but now the whole front end shakes, and the steering wheel vibrates at every speed. The shaking is so bad you have to hold onto the steering wheel tightly. It feels and looks like I have a front tire loose, but we checked, and they aren't loose. However, when I'm driving, the car shakes like I'm driving on a flat tire. Please help! What could it be?

Answer: You need to bring the vehicle back to the mechanic ASAP! I wouldn't drive it back if the vibration is extreme; I recommend you tow it back at their expense. The mechanic could have left something loose, or may not have installed the brakes properly, so it could be extremely dangerous to drive.

Question: I just purchased a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and it shakes violently when I get to 35mph - 50mph. I have to slow way down before it stops. Can you please help me?

Answer: I recommend having all the tires balanced first, the mechanic can check the condition of the tire when they are off the car. The balance will cost about $60, so it's a cheap inspection and most likely the fix.

Question: My steering wheel only vibrates after 120km, but the rest of the time it seems fine. Could it be a balancing issue? My tires were supposed to have been balanced when they were mounted on the rims. I don't notice any problem at all when my winter tires are on.

Answer: Yes, It's possible your mechanic just didn't balance them properly or you have an issue with one of your tires.

Question: A couple years ago I almost got into a head-on collision I had to pull onto the side of the road to avoid getting hit. When I went to get out of the ditch I had to jerk my car over really hard. Ever since then every time I drive my steering wheel shakes back and forth really fast. When I go on the highway get up to about 60 miles per hour my car starts to shake kind of really bad from the back. What could be the problem?

Answer: I recommend having your wheel/rims checked for any damage, it's very possible you bent a rim when driving into the ditch. If the rims are ok, have the wheels balanced.

Question: I have a 2002 Ford Taurus. I just recently changed the lower ball joint and CV axle on the driver side front because it broke. Now I have a bad vibration under my floorboard. What could this be?

Answer: If the vibration is when accelerating, most likely you have a defective inner CV joint on the new/remanufactured axle.

Question: I just bought a car in 2008, and it's a 2008 Volkswagen Passat. When I'm driving down the highway and have to give it gas, it feels like my car wheel wants to break off or something. Whenever I'm not on the gas it's fine, but the moment I give it gas, my vehicle starts to shake really bad. It has new tires and has been balanced and has had an alignment done. Any thoughts on my problem?

Answer: The first thing to check is the wheel lug nut torque just to be on the safe side. The most common cause of vibration on acceleration is the inner CV joints. When the CV joints have play or looseness, it can vibrate on acceleration. If the CV joints are ok, have the front suspension checked for any loose or worn ball joints or tie rod ends. If the front suspension is tight, it's possible your tires are the cause, especially if they are cheap tires. I recommend bringing it back to the place you bought it and have a mechanic go for a ride with you so you can point out the problem, if they are reputable they will most likely fix it for you. Hope this helps.

Question: I have a 2002 Chevy Silverado. There is front end vibration at all speeds. It idles from fifteen to thirty miles an hour, and feels like I have an egg for a tire. There is a horrible vibration while driving Highway speeds; sixty to seventy-five miles an hour. I checked the tires and rotated them, but there's no difference. I also replaced both front wheel bearing hubs. I went down and replaced the front differential fluid and a bunch of metal on the magnet. Then, I noticed the CV axles leaking. The truck needs tie rods, ball joints and alignment, but could that be the cause of the vibration?

Answer: It would be a good place to start if the vehicle needs them and the parts are worn. This vibration will be process of elimination.

Question: I just bought a 1999 Saab 93 and the steering wheel shakes whenever you hit the gas but stops shaking when you release the gas and just coast, I don't know what could be wrong?

Answer: A worn or damaged inner CV joint is usually the cause of a vibration on acceleration. It's also possible you could have worn front suspension parts like a tie rod end or ball joint, but I recommend having the inner CV joints checked first.

Question: I have a 95 Chevy 1500. It begins to wobble between 40 to 50 mph. How do you determine if it's a driveshaft issue?

Answer: A wobble is not usually a driveshaft issue. Driveshafts will often have a vibration on acceleration. You could slip under the truck and inspect the u-joints. Try moving the driveshaft with your hands, and be sure to chalk your wheels before you get under the truck. Either tires or warped rims usually cause wobble. I recommend having the wheels and tires inspected first; it will probably cost you $50 to have them balanced and examined.

Question: I have a 2002 Acura, it shakes badly up to about 60mph, then smoothes out. Do I just need balancing, new tires or rotors? I put two almost-new tires on the front, not the back.

Answer: I recommend starting with a balance and see if that helps. When the mechanic has the wheels off they can inspect the tires closely.

Question: I have Ford Explorer 2011. The tires are in good condition, and I changed front and rear shocks and front bearing and rotor and brake pads. The suspension is also good, but I still have bad rear shaking on 70 to 80 and 85 mph it makes the seat vibrate too. Do you know what the problem is?

Answer: A shake is usually caused by tires being out of balance. I recommend checking the tire balance first.

Question: I changed my torque strut rod because it was cracked and worn. My steering pops so I purchased a replacement one from Amazon, but it is slightly longer by 1/4 in. Can that still make my car shake since its still pushing the motor and stressing the other mounts?

Answer: Not usually, I recommend having the tires balanced and see if there is any change.

Question: I took my 2006 ford ranger RWD for alignment a few weeks ago. They mentioned play in the wheels, and I should have the wheel bearings replaced. After I told them I had replaced the front bearings a few weeks back, they said I should just loosen the adjusting nut. I hand tightened the nut next day and rotated my nondirectional tires in a nondirectional pattern, but they had only been rotated directionally before. My steering wheel started vibrating today. I don't hear the wheel bearing noise, thoughts?

Answer: Your tires that you moved to the front may be out of balance, causing the vibration; the mechanic should have never done the alignment until you tightened the wheel bearings because there is play in the wheels that will offset the alignment.

Question: What would cause my 2005 Chevy Uplander to shake and the steering wheel to vibrate?

Answer: I always recommend an inspection of all suspension parts and tires first. If everything is tight and the tires look good, try having the tires balanced and see if that makes a difference.

Question: I have a big weight on my right front wheel, and a small weight on my left front. Can this affect a smooth ride?

Answer: If your ride vibrates, the most common cause is a wheel being out of balance, but having two different size weights on different wheels is not the problem. Each wheel balances with varying weights. Tires cannot be manufactured perfectly, and have a heavy side. The wheel weights offset the heavy part of the tire, so the worse the heavy spot is in the tire, the more weight will be needed to correct the defect.

Question: I recently purchased 20” wheels for my 340i bmw 2017 with new tires( not expensive, some Taiwan brand) and used rims(strada), Right after the installation I did a first ride, my steering wheel started shaking at 30-35 mph, I did have them balanced, all four tires in three different shops, I had them check the rims, no dents or dings, somebody said it’s bad tires, I put Michelin tires on and I got the same problem, I checked the centering ring too, help me with this problem please?

Answer: I know you're not going to like my answer but you need to put the factory wheels and tires back on the vehicle or buy a new set of OEM rims to fit the Michelin tires. Your problems started when you replaced the factory wheels and tires with cheap aftermarket wheels, that's the common denominator, so I recommend sending the 20'' wheels back for a full refund and buy a good set of wheels, your problems will be solved.

Question: I recently bought a Peugeot 107 2010 auto, and after four months my clutch went out ( got that fixed no problem.) Now, it’s vibrating when I drive over 20 mph, but stops when I slow down. It also feels like my driver's side wheel is about to come off at any moment. Any ideas?

Answer: I recommend checking your lug nut torque first just to be safe. Then, I suggest having the front end and tires tested. Do you think it's possible that the mechanic left something loose? I recommend bringing it back to that mechanic so they can check their work.

Question: I have a 2013/2014 Subaru Forester XT (turbo). I started noticing a severe vibration and noise when I attempt to lane change at speeds between 70-80 mph. The sound and vibration feels like when you drive fast over those rumble zones on the shoulder of a highway, or those speed control zones. It stops once I slow to below 80 mph or am driving straight. Is it a transmission thing?

Answer: I recommend having the wheel bearings checked first. It's funny you only hear it between 70-80 mph, usually wheel bearings are more noticeable starting around 25 mph. Let me know what you find, thanks.

Question: My 2002 Chevy Silverado pickup truck starts to shake when I hit the gas, and I'm accelerating over 30 mph. Do you think all I need is my tires balanced?

Answer: It's possible, and a balance may be a good place to start. You may have a bad U-Joint or a problem with the driveshaft, it all depends on the type of vibration.

Question: I just recently purchased a 2004 Ford Taurus from an individual. I test drove it in town but not on the highway. When I got on the interstate, and I got up to 55 mph, the entire car shook, and I thought I was going to wreck. Can you please tell me what causes this and if it is fixable for a reasonable price?

Answer: I recommend having the tire condition checked first, if the tires look OK, have them balanced, it should only cost about $60.

© 2011 Eddie Carrara