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Why Does My Car's Steering Wheel Shimmy?

Dan Ferrell writes about DIY car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in Automation and Control Technology and Technical Writing.

Steering wheel shimmy can be caused by one or more problems, including:

  • Worn tires
  • Damaged wheel assembly
  • Improper alignment

You can diagnose some of these issues through a careful inspection of the wheel and tire assembly. It may be a problem you can solve yourself, such as by inflating a tire to the proper pressure or changing a component.

Have your car's repair manual on hand. If you don't already have it, you can get an inexpensive copy through Amazon.

Haynes manuals include:

  • Step-by-step procedures
  • Photographs
  • Parts location and replacement
  • Electrical diagrams
  • Diagnostics
  • Car maintenance schedule

Even if you want to use your manual only to do car maintenance, you will prevent unnecessary repairs in the future and save a lot of money

The following sections describe the most common issues causing your car's steering wheel to vibrate and other performance issues. They go from simple problems you can fix yourself, up to some difficult issues that may require the help of an auto shop.

If necessary, begin your diagnosis in the order outlined below.

In This Article

  1. Low Tire Pressure
  2. Uneven Air Pressure Among Tires
  3. Wheel and Tire Out of Balance
  4. Worn Tires
  5. Brake Assembly Issues
  6. Loose Wheel Lugs
  7. Bent Wheel
  8. Worn or Loose Front-Wheel Bearings
  9. Excessive Tire or Wheel Runout
  10. Preventing Steering Wheel Vibration
  11. Resources

1. Low Tire Pressure

First, check the pressure of the front and rear tires. You can find the correct tire pressure for your vehicle on the side of the driver's door or pillar, in the glove box, or in your car's owner's manual.

Usually, low tire pressure will cause the vehicle to lean to one side.

Use a good quality tire pressure gauge to check the tires.

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Uneven tire pressure can cause performance issues.

Uneven tire pressure can cause performance issues.

2. Uneven Air Pressure Among Tires

Uneven tire pressure, like low tire pressure, causes problems. When tires do not have the proper pressure they make it harder for you to handle the road with ease. You may experience other performance problems, and your trip is not as safe.

Check the proper pressure for your car tires and, if necessary, match it to specifications.

Tire balance problems will cause a shimmy steering problem.

Tire balance problems will cause a shimmy steering problem.

3. Wheel and Tire Out of Balance

An out-of-balance wheel or tire is one of the most common causes of steering wheel vibration.

Tire or wheel imbalance happens when one side of the tire is heavier than another.

You'll find two types of imbalance: static and dynamic.

  • Static imbalance causes the tire to bounce or vibrate up and down.
  • Dynamic imbalance causes the tire to vibrate laterally.

Imbalance can be corrected by balancing the wheel assembly. Tire balancing will increase tire life, passenger comfort, and safety.

4. Worn Tires

A tire's wear pattern can reveal the source of a shimmying problem: for example, misalignment, over-inflation, and under-inflation.

Once you correct the problem, and to avoid tire excessive wear, follow the tire rotation schedule recommended by the manufacturer. Rotation is usually done once a year or every 12,000 miles (19,000 km).

If necessary, consult your repair manual and the Diagnosing Car Tire Wear Patterns article listed in the Resources section at the bottom of this post.

5. Brake Assembly Issues

If you have noticed that your steering wheel shakes only when braking, watch the following video. It walks you through a way to check and fix your brakes to get rid of steering wheel shaking.

Torque wheel lugs to specifications.

Torque wheel lugs to specifications.

6. Loose Wheel Lugs

It's important that wheel nuts not be too tight or too loose. Car manufacturers specify the tightening torque or pressure that must be used when a tire is installed on the vehicle.

Torque is important, especially in some lightweight vehicles. Over-tightening the lug nuts distorts the hub, creates runout, and causes rim vibration.

Check the torque specification for your tires in your car's repair manual. Use a torque wrench and tighten the nuts gradually in a crisscross pattern.

Check for wheel-assembly damage.

Check for wheel-assembly damage.

7. Bent Wheel

In order for the wheel and tire to work properly, they both have to be perfectly balanced. If one or both have physical damage, you'll feel it in the steering wheel.

Carefully check the tires and wheels.

If necessary, replace the tire, the wheel, or both.

A loose wheel bearing will cause the steering wheel to vibrate.

A loose wheel bearing will cause the steering wheel to vibrate.

8. Worn or Loose Front-Wheel Bearings

Among other things, bearings help reduce wheel friction as the car rolls. A worn or loose bearing can not only become noisy, but can make a wheel assembly unstable.

Tire bearings are normally filled with grease. If this grease dries out, the bearing fails. Some bearings can be refilled; others are sealed and need to be replaced when worn.

You can do a bearing inspection at home. You will find help in the Resources section at the end of this post. Also refer to your vehicle's repair manual.

The service methods for bearings on front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles differ. If necessary, take your vehicle to the auto shop for service.

Using Tire Sealant Liquid

Sometimes, using tire sealant liquid can cause a tire to lose balance and the steering wheel to vibrate. If necessary, take the car to a tire shop for a proper repair.

Your local tire shop can check wheel runout.

Your local tire shop can check wheel runout.

9. Excessive Tire or Wheel Runout

"Runout" happens when a damaged or defective tire is no longer perfectly round. The inner plies could be separating, or the rim could be defective.

Usually, runout is caused by impact damage.

If necessary, take your vehicle to an auto shop for a wheel and tire inspection.

10. Preventing Steering Wheel Vibration

The main causes of wheel assembly failure are age, overloading, lack of maintenance, accidents, and impacts against hard surfaces, including potholes.

Defects in a wheel assembly, such as dents, bends, heavily rusted areas, air leaks, or excessive runout, are reason enough to replace the wheel, tire, or both.

If not fixed early, damage can extend to the wheel bearings and other suspension components.

If you have any questions regarding problems with your wheel assembly, prevent further damage and expensive repairs by consulting your repair manual or an auto shop.

Resources

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.

© 2022 Dan Ferrell

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