Steering Wheel Shudder When Braking
A shaky steering wheel can be incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to get from one place to another in your car. While it may seem like a simple annoyance, a shaking steering wheel can indicate a variety of serious issues that need to be handled promptly. While the most common culprits of a shaky steering wheel are your tires, a couple other issues could be contributing to or be solely responsible for that obnoxious steering wheel shake.
If you hit the brakes and feel your steering wheel wobble or shudder, it’s time to give your brakes a thorough inspection. It’s likely a classic case of warped rotors. Braking removes material not just from the pads, but from the discs as well. As rotors get thinner, they are more susceptible to warping because of the heat generated during braking. Although sometimes you can’t see any irregularity, that’s what is causing shudder when a calliper clamps down.
You can solve the problem in one or two ways. Remove the brake rotors and have them turned at a brake shop. This is a machining process where the surfaces are smoothed using a special lathe. First, though, the shop will measure the thickness of the rotor. If it’s too thin, legally they aren’t allowed to turn the rotors.
The other (and probably more time-effective) option is to buy new rotors and replace your old ones. It’s a good idea to swap out the pads at the same time. At 90 000 km, if you haven’t done a front brake job on your car, you’re not far off from having to do one anyway.
Reasons for Steering Shudder When Braking
- Brake Problems
If you notice that your steering wheel is shaking when you are slowing down, there is a very good possibility that your problem is with your brakes. Worn brake pads, loose connections, worn shocks, or bad brake discs can all result in a shaky steering wheel, and many of these issues are accompanied by other symptoms as well.
Most other shaking problems occur when you are accelerating, turning, or maintaining a particular speed. Brake problems are unique in that they make themselves known only when you are applying pressure to your brakes, so these issues should be slightly easier to pinpoint than others. Once you’ve determined that your brakes are to blame for your shaking steering wheel, inspect the various elements of your brake system to find the exact cause of the shaking. You may need to replace a part, clean it, or tighten some loose parts.
- Unbalanced Wheels
If you’ve never replaced your own tires or watched them be replaced, you may not even know that your tires need to be balanced. This is not as simple as making sure they are all the same size and of the same general quality. When a new tire is placed on a rim, it must be balanced to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed around the entire wheel. The heavy areas of your rims must be matched to the light areas of your tire, and vice versa. Once that is done as thoroughly as possible, counter weights can be added to further balance the wheels.
If your wheels are even slightly unbalanced, they will cause excessive shaking of your steering wheel, and possibly of your entire car. Many newer cars with lightweight suspension systems see unbalanced wheel issues, and if you have low profile tires on your car, you’re also more likely to deal with this issue. If ignored, unbalanced wheels can lead to more issues with tread, shocks, struts, and other steering and suspension components. To alleviate this problem, have all of your wheels balanced and be sure to check each tire to make sure it is still evenly treaded with no damaged areas.
Another common wheel issue, misalignment is a very common reason for a shaking steering wheel. Probably the most suspected culprit, misalignment deals with your car’s suspension and a lack of proper positioning of your wheels. Misalignment generally happens after you’ve been driving your car for a period of time, but it can happen sooner depending on how you drive. Try to avoid potholes and driving over curbs, and go over speed bumps and railroad tracks slowly to maintain your car’s alignment for as long as possible.
One of the easiest ways to see if misalignment is the reason for your shaking steering wheel is to check the tread on the tires. A misaligned car will often have tires with very uneven tread, such as the inside being completely worn down and the outside having almost full tread. Additionally, if your steering wheel is straight and centered and your car is pulling one way or the other, it’s likely that your car is misaligned. An alignment will simply square up your wheels and axles so they are pointing in the exact same direction, and it will get your steering wheel centered again.
- Bad Bearings
Your wheel hub bearings are vital to the proper working condition of your car, and if they are not lubricated, are damaged, or are broken, the result can be a shaky steering wheel and a variety of other issues. Your bearings allow your wheels to turn properly without friction, and they also provide support for the weight of your car. The bearings connect to the axle or hub assembly, so when they don’t work properly, they directly affect the drive shaft, leading to a shaking steering wheel.
Generally, if you have bad bearings, your steering wheel will only shake when you are turning. When you’re traveling in a straight line, your damaged bearings shouldn’t cause shaking, even though they are likely still being damaged. In addition to steering wheel shakes, bad bearings will usually cause some sort of strange noise coming from your wheel. Bearings can be removed and checked for damage, and sometimes a simple cleaning and lubrication can fix the problem. If a bearing is badly worn or broken, it should be replaced.
- Suspension Issues
The suspension system of vehicles includes a complex structure of shocks, pistons, springs, and rods that connect the wheels to the rest of your car. Suspension contributes to how your vehicle handles and brakes, in addition to minimizing bumps, noises, and vibrations within the cab. A variety of suspension issues can arise over time, and while these issues may be difficult to pinpoint, they are generally easy to fix once discovered. Some of the most common suspension issues that may lead to a shaking steering wheel are worn or corroded parts, loose connections, driveshaft imbalance, and old shocks.
If you notice steering wheel shaking and think it’s related to a suspension issue, pay attention to when the shaking occurs. It may increase when you speed up, when you maintain a particular speed, or at completely random times. Knowing when the shaking occurs will help you diagnose the problem more effectively. Doing a thorough investigation of your entire suspension system will help you find the cause of the problem if it does indeed lie in your suspension. Based on additional symptoms, such as rattling or grinding, you should be able to locate the source of the suspension issue and repair it quickly to ensure your car is running as safely and effectively as possible.