Steering Wheel Vibration: My Car Shakes While I’m Driving
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.
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.
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.
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 $15–20 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?
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.
Sticking Brake Caliper Causing a Vibration and Rotor to Overheat
Car Vibration When Accelerating
Packed Snow and Ice Can Cause Vibration
When A Car Makes A Rumbling Noise and Shakes While Driving
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
- 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.
It's smart to keep a tire pressure gauge in your glove compartment.
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.
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.
A Car With Both Tire Vibration and Wheel Bearing Noise
Don't Mistake a Brake Pulsation for a Tire Vibration
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Don't be afraid to ask questions or leave comments. There is no such thing as 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
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?
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.Helpful 34
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?
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.
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?
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.Helpful 43
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?
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.Helpful 17
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?
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.
© 2011 Eddie Carrara