Cars are supposed to drive even and smooth at all times, especially if you’re on a relatively good road. Chances are however, that you’ve experienced steering wheel vibrations at one point or another, and that’s perfectly normal.
A lot of components used on road vehicles need replacing, and it’s not uncommon for a certain part to break or fail after a lot of use. The steering wheel is your connection to the car and indirectly, the road, so it’s logical that the first indication of something being broken or out of balance will manifest itself through the steering wheel. Here are the top causes for a steering wheel shakes at low speed or high speed:
This one makes the most sense. The steering wheel is used to direct the wheels, so it’s only normal for tire problems to come through the wheel. The most obvious culprits here are out-of-balance tires. With this issue you won’t get any shakes at lower speeds, but they will start becoming more and more noticeable the faster you drive. Check the tires for flat spots as this issue usually results in uneven tire wear. If you’re running larger tires, make sure all four tires are properly inflated. A deflated tire can send shakes through the steering wheel too. Lastly, check the tire wear. If you notice that one side is more worn out, rotate the tires to even out the tire wear.
2. WHEEL AREAS
If it’s not the tires, your next go-to part should be the wheels. They are the centerpiece of all tires after all. Start by checking the wheel bearings. Although they should, in theory, last you an entire lifetime, that’s only in theory. In real life, they can wear out sometime, or even get damaged. Replacing them should solve the issue.
Problems with tie rod ends or ball joints are easy to diagnose. If the steering wheel shakes only when cornering and never while driving straight, it’s the tie rod ends. The ball joints produce opposite results when faulty. They will only produce shaking while driving straight, never while cornering.
When it comes to safety, the main priority are the brakes. A broken engine may not allow you to drive the car, but faulty brakes will fail to stop the car, which is way more dangerous. Violent shaking through the steering wheel when braking indicates that the rotors are probably warped or worn out. If skimming the rotor doesn’t work, replace them altogether.
The brake caliper can be responsible for some vibrations too, but it’s usually only present in older cars. In this scenario, the steering wheel will only start vibrating at 50 mph or so, followed by a burning smell. It’s best to stop the car and avoid driving it at this point until you get the issue fixed.
If your car has been involved in an accident recently and you just started noticing vibrations, start looking at axle issues as it’s very likely that it got bent or damaged. The shakes will increase as the speed rises, but they will be present even at lower speeds. A broken driveshaft may result in random jerkiness of the steering wheel. The steering wheel will jerk left or right on its own. This is an immediate red flag. Take the car to a mechanic (avoid driving it there) and get it fixed immediately.
Although this one may not make sense at first, stopping to think about it gives great insight. Engine problems manifested through shaking can be felt throughout the entire car, but it’s usually the steering wheel which will give you a heads-up before that happens. Problems with air induction, fuel delivery or spark-related issues can disrupt the car from running smoothly, resulting in a distinct vibration from the engine compartment. This symptom is not that common, but it can happen, so be wary.