Cars are designed to run steadily and smoothly at all times, especially if you’re on a pretty good road. However, you’ve probably felt a vibration while driving at one point or another, and that’s perfectly fine.
Many components used in road vehicles need to be replaced and it is not uncommon for a part to break or fail after heavy use.
The steering wheel is your connection to the car and indirectly to the road, so it makes sense that the steering wheel is the first indication that something is broken or out of balance.
See also: 4 reasons why your steering wheel is not straight
Common Causes of Steering Wheel Shaking
Below are the main causes of a steering wheel that moves at low or high speed:
#1 – Coins
This one makes more sense. The steering wheel is used to steer the wheels, so tire problems tend to go through the steering wheel. The most obvious culprits here are unbalanced tires.
With this problem, you won’t get jerks at low speeds, but they will start to get bigger and more noticeable the faster you go. Check the tires for flat spots (especially on vehicles that have not been driven recently), as this problem usually leads to uneven tire wear.
Make sure all four tires are properly inflated. A flat tire can also send jolts through the steering wheel. Lastly, check the tire wear.
If you notice that one side is more worn, rotate the tires to even out the tire wear. If the tire tread is bad enough or tire rotation is not an option, you will need new tires.
#2 – Wheel Belts
If not the tires, the next essential part should be the wheels. After all, they are the core of all tires. Start by checking the wheel bearings.
Although, in theory, they should last you a lifetime, that’s just in theory. In the real world, they can sometimes become worn out or even damaged. Replacing them should fix the zigzag or steering wheel problem.
Problems with connecting rod ends or ball joints are easy to diagnose. If the steering wheel only turns and does not turn straight, the tie rod is likely worn.
Ball joints produce the opposite results when damaged. They will only jump when traveling in a straight line, never on curves.
#3 – axis
If your car has recently been in an accident and you have just started to notice vibrations, start looking out for problems with the axles, as it is very likely that one of them is bent or damaged. Jerking will increase as speed increases but will be present even at lower speeds.
A broken driveshaft can cause the steering wheel to jerk. The steering wheel will move left or right by itself. This is an immediate red flag. Take the car to a mechanic (avoid driving it there) and have it repaired immediately.
See also: 5 signs of car chassis damage
#4 – Engine
While this one may not make sense at first, it provides great insight to stop and think. Engine problems that manifest as jerking can be felt throughout the car, but usually, the steering wheel will alert you before it happens.
Problems with air induction, fuel delivery, or spark-related problems can affect the smooth running of the car and cause a distinctive vibration in the engine cavity. This symptom is less common, but it can occur, so be careful.
A broken engine mount can cause steering wheel vibrations, especially when accelerating.
#5 – Brakes
When it comes to safety, the top priority is the brakes. A blown engine may not allow you to drive the car, but faulty brakes will not stop the car, which is much more dangerous.
Typically, if there is a problem with the brakes, you will only feel steering wheel vibration when braking (see below). However, a stuck brake caliper will cause the steering wheel to move significantly at high speeds.
Flying Shake when braking
Below are some causes of steering wheel wobble due to your brake system. This problem occurs when you apply the brakes.
#1 – Brake Rotors
Violent shaking of the steering wheel during braking indicates that the rotors are likely warped or worn. If the rotor repair does not work or there is not enough material left, a new brake rotor must be replaced.
If you press the brake pedal and notice the steering wheel starting to vibrate, it could be a sign that the brake rotor is failing.
Of course, there are many reasons why a steering wheel can shake (see above), especially if it only happens when you’re driving at a certain speed. But if it happens directly when you press the brake pedal, it is most likely due to a problem with the brake discs.
Every time you press your foot on the brake pedal, the vehicle slows down as the brake pads put pressure on the rotors as they rotate. But if the rotors are worn or improperly installed, the brake system’s calipers will vibrate.
When this happens, the vibration passes through the components connected to the calipers and then to the flywheel. The end result is a steering wheel that vibrates every time you press the brake pedal.
Those who drive with both feet are more likely to have rotor problems due to the potential for “braking” causing premature rotor wear.
#2 – Brake Pads
As we know, the front brake system is connected to the link arm; the link arm is connected to the end of the steering rack, which is connected to the steering column and finally to the steering wheel.
So if the rotor is still in good condition, the possible cause of steering wheel wobble when braking often comes from the brake pads themselves. They may have uneven brake pad wear or be misaligned in the caliper.
Related: Best Brake Brands for This Year
#3 – Brake calipers
A faulty or stuck brake caliper can also be responsible for some vibration, but is usually only present on older cars. In this case, the steering wheel will only start to vibrate at about 50 mph, followed by a burning smell.
It is best to stop the car and avoid it at this point until the problem is resolved.