Does your car's steering wheel vibrate or are you experiencing other issues with it?
Below we explain some of the reasons for a shaking steering wheel and other steering problems, and what you can do about them.
Why is my steering wheel shaking?
Shaky or wobbly steering is usually caused by an issue with the front tyres. Either from a misshaped, unevenly worn or damaged tyre, or the tyres being out of balance. If the shaking only occurs under braking, then the issue may be with the brake discs, which could’ve become warped. Other things that can cause wheel wobble are worn or damaged steering or suspension joints or buckled wheels.
Newer vehicles may have active lane keeping assistance systems, which warns the driver of lane departure by shaking the steering wheel. This is usually accompanied by an audible beep and/or warning light. This is not a fault, and if you think this may be the cause you should check the vehicle’s handbook.
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How do you diagnose a shaky steering wheel?
To properly diagnose the cause of a shaky steering wheel, you’ll need to get your car checked over by a mechanic. They’ll look for the issues mentioned above.
There are some things you can look out for as a driver that might narrow down the causes of shaking, like whether the shaking only happens when you use the brakes (it’s likely that you have a brake issue) or when you’re driving at higher speeds (wheel imbalances are the likely cause).
Why does my steering wheel shake when braking?
If you notice your steering wheel tends to vibrate as you’re slowing or stopping the car, it could mean there’s an issue with your brakes.
Your brake discs may have started to wear out and lose their shape, which means the brake pads are pressing against an uneven surface, causing the shaking. If this is the case, you might also notice a vibration from the brake pedal.
It's very important for your brakes to work correctly, so if you notice a shaking steering wheel while braking, you should get this looked at as soon as possible.
Can bad brakes cause the steering wheel to shake?
Yes, bad brakes can cause the steering wheel to shake. If your brakes become warped due to excessive heat or overly hard braking, this can cause shaking symptoms in your car and steering wheel. This is something to be wary of if you often drive in stop-and-start traffic where the brakes will be used significantly more often.
If your steering wheel starts shaking suddenly, you should stop as soon as it’s safe to do so and call for assistance, as this could be a sign that a wheel or steering component has become loose or is about to fail.
Steering wheel vibrates at higher speeds
Out-of-balance tyres are one of the most common causes of a shaking steering wheel.
If this is the cause, although you might notice a bit of a wobble at lower speeds, you’re more likely to experience vibrations when driving at higher speeds.
If you suspect out-of-balance tyres are causing the problem, here are some of the things you could do:
- Check the tyres are all properly inflated. A flat tyre can create an imbalance which might lead to a shaky steering wheel.
- Consider the tread of the tyres – if one is worn or you can see any flat spots on the front tyres, this could be the cause of the shaking. You may be able to get them rotated or you might need to pay for new tyres.
- Look for bulges in the tyres, which can occur when the sidewall is damaged. If there are are any, particularly in the front wheels, this could be causing a vibrating steering wheel and you should get the tyre replaced immediately by a tyre specialist, as bulges can lead to a tyre blowout.
If the tyres look okay, there might be an issue with one or more of the components that connect the road wheels to your steering wheel. Steering wheel vibrations at high speeds may also be due to damage to the wheel bearings, tie road ends or ball joints.
Why does your steering wheel shake at 70 mph?
The most likely cause of your steering wheel shaking at 70 mph is an imbalance in the tyres – meaning that one or more of your tyres are heavier or lighter than the others. It could be that one of your tyres has less pressure and needs inflating.
A mechanic can check your car and diagnose any issues with the tyres, though unfortunately, the shaking could also be due to wheel misalignment (which is a more serious issue that needs to be resolved ASAP).
Why does my steering wheel shake when driving at low speeds?
If you’re noticing significant vibrations when driving at lower speeds, then it could be related to brake, wheel, suspension or tyre issues (although imbalanced tyres are more likely to cause problems at higher speeds).
You should ask a mechanic to take a look at it to diagnose and resolve the issue.
How to fix a shaking steering wheel
In many cases, you will need a mechanic to fix the problem that is causing a shaking steering wheel. To help them diagnose the fault, you should:
- Make a note of when you experience the vibrations (for example, when braking or driving at high speeds).
- If you suspect out-of-balance tyres could be the cause, make sure these are fully inflated and see if the shaking continues after that.
- If it does, take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible and provide them with information as to when the vibrations occur.
Is it safe to drive with a shaking steering wheel?
A shaking steering wheel could be a sign of a problem with your brakes, tyres or another important part of your car. It might also distract you from the road.
And while a vibrating steering wheel itself won’t cause a failed MOT, the underlying cause (such as brake issues) might.
It’s therefore important to get the problem diagnosed and fixed as soon as possible so you can continue to drive your vehicle safely.
Can wheel misalignment cause the steering wheel to shake?
Wheel misalignment can cause the vehicle to drift, but is unlikely to cause shaking in the steering wheel.
If you’re noticing your car drifting to the left or right or uneven tyre wear, there might be a problem with the alignment of the steering or wheels.
This can often be caused by driving over potholes and bumpy roads. Wheel alignment is important as it helps your tyres last longer and makes driving smoother.
What will happen if your car’s wheels are unbalanced?
If your car’s wheels are unbalanced and your steering wheel is shaking, then you’re much more likely to cause premature wear and tear on your tyres. If left for long periods of time, this can lead to problems with stability and handling – which could cause major damage.
It could also end up being very unsafe to drive at higher speeds or in difficult weather conditions in a car that has reduced handling capabilities.
Steering wheel problems when turning
Is your steering wheel hard to turn? There could be a few different reasons behind this.
A lot of cars are now built with an Electric Power Steering (EPS) systems, but some vehicles have hydraulic systems.
An EPS system has:
- An electric motor to help you with steering the vehicle.
- Sensors that detect the steering column’s torque and position.
- A mechanical connection to the steering wheel that serves as a back-up in case one of the electronic components fails.
An EPS can be affected by a car’s battery or charging system. If there's an alternator fault or the 12 volt battery has failed, this may lead to the EPS system shutting down. A steering wheel can become hard to turn if the EPS system has failed and one of the steering components is faulty.
The parts that can cause a hard-to-turn steering wheel can vary between cars with EPS and hydraulic systems, but here are some of the most common reasons for a steering wheel that’s hard to turn:
1. Problems with the steering rack
Damage or wear to your steering rack can make it difficult to turn.
2. Damaged serpentine belt
You may start to notice difficulty with turning the steering wheel if the serpentine belt has worn out and become slack. This will need to be repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
3. Low power steering fluid
This is a common reason for heavy steering. This can be caused if there’s a leak, causing the fluid levels to drop.
You can add more fluid to help with the problem, but a leak will need to be fixed if that’s what causing it.
A power steering fluid leak will also cause an MOT failure.
4. Faulty power steering pump
If there is a problem with the pump, it may not be producing enough pressure to assist with the steering, which will be more noticeable at low speeds.
5. Low tyre pressure
Low or uneven tyre pressure can create difficulties with steering. If pressure is too low on one side, this may make the steering pull to one side.
Read our top tips on car maintenance and basic car checks you can do to keep your vehicle in good condition.
Can bad wheel bearings cause the steering wheel to shake?
No, worn wheel bearings are likely to be noisy and will only cause the wheels to shake if failure is imminent. They cannot be serviced or repaired and must be replaced.
Can low tyre pressure cause the steering wheel to shake?
Low tyre pressure can cause your steering wheel to shake. This is because differences in pressure between the wheels leads to an imbalance where you’ll be able to feel feedback in the steering wheel. To fix the problem, make sure that your tyres are in good health and are all equally inflated to the same level.
Find out more about maintaining your car.
How to fix a shaking steering wheel
To fix a shaking steering wheel, you’ll first need to find out what’s causing the issue. The easiest place to start is by checking the condition and pressure of each of your tyres. It could be that one of your tyres is displaying obvious damage, in which case a simple tyre replacement could fix your problem. Though this is a best case scenario – as several more complicated issues could be causing shaking symptoms in your car.
How much does it cost to fix a shaky steering wheel?
Unfortunately, there’s no concrete figure for a one and done shaky steering wheel repair – this is because it highly depends on the root cause of the problem. You could just end up having a wheel balanced, which is fairly straightforward and cheap, or you could need an entirely new steering rack, which can cost over £1,000.
Car shakes when driving
Though issues with the steering and wheels are the most likely cause of your car shaking when driving, there are some other major causes to look out for. These include:
- Engine problems
This could be due to worn engine mounts or defective spark plugs.
- Low transmission fluid
As transmission fluid lubricates important metal parts within the gearbox, it’s possible that low levels can lead to grinding and shaking in your vehicle when you try to accelerate.
If your suspension is damaged, out of alignment, or has loose components, this can lead to shaking in your vehicle.
Published: 29 September 2021 | Updated: 22 November 2023 | Author: The AA