One of the more unsettling car problems is a shaking steering wheel.
Justifiably so as the steering system is perhaps the most important for driving.
A shaking steering wheel usually starts with a barely noticeable vibration and can eventually become a full-fledged shaking that borderlines the uncontrollable.
This article will show you some of the reasons for this problem and perhaps help you solve it.
We’ll start with the more common and simple reasons and finish with the more rare and complicated ones.
1. INCORRECT TIRE PRESSURE, LOOSE LUG NUTS
The tire pressure is the first thing to check and also the easiest.
The procedure is very simple and quick, we’ve written a separate article specifically for this topic, click here if you want to read it.
Make sure that the pressure is the recommended one on all tires. Both underinflated and overinflated tires can cause a shaking steering wheel.
For more information about overinflated tires and the consequences, they can have, click here.
Also, check if the lug nuts are properly tightened. Especially if there was any recent work done around the tires (like fixing a puncture, replacing the tires, or else).
2. WORN OUT OR DAMAGED TIRES
Check the condition of your tires, mainly the tread depth and year of production.
If the tread depth is under 4 mm and the tires are older than six years, you should consider this as a possible cause of the problem.
Regarding damages, even if the tire is newer but you’ve, for instance, hit a serious pothole and then the steering wheel started shaking, check for damages.
Have in mind that the damage may be on the inner side of the tire (the one facing the wheel arch). The best way to inspect this is to either take off the wheel or make a visual inspection from under the car.
One more way is to rub the inner side of the tire with your hand.
3. TIRES OUT OF BALANCE
If the tire is in good condition, check if they’re properly balanced.
Balancing a tire means properly distributing the weight around the tire using small weights that are attached to the wheel rim.
Over time and mostly due to bad quality roads, the tires can get out of balance and you’ll get a shaking steering wheel. Other common reasons are hitting at high speeds a pothole, a curb, speed bump, or else.
The best way to check out if this is causing the problem is at a tire shop. Almost all tire shops have both the machines and expertise to check the tire balance.
4. TIRE ALIGNMENT PROBLEMS
Tire alignment, in short, means adjusting the angles of the tires to the car manufacturer’s specifications.
Without it, the car will not drive straight, the tire wear will be uneven and it may cause a shaking steering wheel.
For more information about wheel alignment, click here to read a great article provided by Wikipedia.
An alignment problem can be caused by bad roads but also because of a poorly maintained front suspension system.
Tire alignments are done in specialized shops that are usually combined with tire shops. So, this is the place to go and check out if the alignment is OK and if there are perhaps any other issues.
5. DAMAGED TIE RODS
Speaking of the undercarriage, damaged tie rods are also a common cause of a shaking steering wheel.
Tie rods are a crucial part of the front suspension and have a key role in smooth steering and keeping the wheels properly aligned.
Bad roads, sudden blows (like form potholes), and material fatigue are the most common cause of problems.
This problem is solved by simply replacing a new tie rod.
6. DAMAGED BALL JOINTS
Besides the tie rod, a ball joint is a vital part of the front suspension and steering system.
Its main task is to provide pivoting movement between the steering knuckles and control arms.
Ball joints have a critical role in a smooth ride, even tire wear, and precise steering.
A bad ball joint, just like a tie rod is caused by bad quality roads, physical damage from sudden blows, and material fatigue.
When this is the problem, the ball joint is completely replaced.
7. WORN OUT CV JOINT
The CV joint (CV stands for constant velocity) is one of the technical marvels of the car. It enables the driveshaft to transmit power to the wheel although it’s moving up and down, all the time.
Just like other parts of the suspension, a CV joint is susceptible to material fatigue and damage from poor quality roads although it’s generally a very durable part.
Also, a torn or worn-out CV boot will seriously reduce its normal life span.
When the CV joint is worn out or damaged, besides causing a shaking steering wheel, it may also cause steering wheel vibration when turning.
As the problem progresses it may be accompanied by a humming sound while driving.
The most recognizable symptom of a bad CV joint is the appearance of a clicking sound when the wheels are turned and moving.
Just like the other mentioned parts of the suspension, the CV joint is meant to be completely replaced.
8. BAD WHEEL BEARING
This reason is one of the rare ones as the wheel bearing is a very durable car part. It usually lasts for a couple of hundred thousand miles if there’s no physical damage and it’s made in quality.
The wheel bearing is located inside the wheel hub and enables the wheel to turn easily and effortlessly.
Like any other bearing, over time the inner parts (rollers, retainers, and else) give in due to material fatigue, lack of lubrication, or else.
The shaking steering wheel will usually appear in the final stages of a wheel bearing problem. Before this, you’ll usually hear a strong, distinctive, and easily noticeable humming sound coming from the front part of your car while driving.
Wheel bearings are meant to be completely replaced. Sometimes, if they’re in good shape but just dry, they can be greased and returned.
9. DAMAGED AXLES
Damaged axles are a really rare cause of problems.
This problem only occurs if there was some sort of serious physical damage like hitting a huge hole at high speeds.
Also, one more common reason for this problem is previous reckless and unprofessional repair.
Anyway, if the axle is off balance. It will cause serious shaking and vibrations while driving.
Also, it can damage the transmission sleeve.
The only and best solution is to replace the whole axle. If the damage isn’t too bad, the axle can sometimes be balanced at professional shops.
10. BRAKE ISSUES-WARPED BRAKE ROTORS AND STICKING CALIPERS
I must mention, that this mostly happens when braking. Other than that, the problem isn’t that noticeable.
Brake rotors also known as brake discs are under a huge amount of pressure. Besides the physical pressure, every braking seriously heats them up.
So, they naturally give in overtime due to material fatigue.
One more common reason si poor material quality.
If the rotors are warped, every time you press the brake pedal the brake pads will, instead of smoothly pressing the rotor and eventually stopping it, jump and jitter over it.
This causes huge vibrations that are transmitted through the steering system causing a shaking steering wheel.
Regarding sticking calipers, the problem is that the brake pads can’t return into place after braking. They continue to scrape the rotor which causes a screeching sound but also shaking.
Whatever the case, if the steering wheel shakes when you press the brake pedal check the brake system as soon as possible.
We’ve written a separate article on this topic, about brake problems. You can read it by clicking here.
This list is not conclusive regarding what causes a shaking steering wheel.
Problems might be caused by other parts of the suspension, drive train, steering, and else or even perhaps freak accidents like things getting stuck into the undercarriage.
What’s most important is to check out what’s wrong as soon as you notice even the slightest of problems.
If you’ve noticed, a shaking steering wheel problem is more or less connected to all the systems that are vital to driving safety. So, neglecting the problem may have serious consequences.
Most of these problems can be prevented if not completely avoided by doing regular and quality maintenance.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com