What Causes a Steering Wheel to Shake? 5 Causes Those in Automotive School Should Know

A steering wheel is the mechanism which connects a driver to their vehicle and the road itself, granting them the power to control and handle the car and giving them a sense of how the vehicle feels. A shaking steering wheel can indicate a worn, unbalanced, or broken piece within the vehicle, and should be given immediate attention.

There are many possible causes for a shaking steering wheel, and establishing at what speeds or during which movements or functions the steering wheel shakes is the first step in getting to the root cause of the problem. If you’re training to become an auto mechanic, it’s important to be able to identify why a steering wheel is shaking in order to solve internal problems within a vehicle. 

Those in a Mechanic Program Should Know Why a Shaking Steering Wheel Indicates a Problem

The steering wheel is connected to a larger, more complicated steering system within a vehicle. This system determines the ability of the driver to handle their vehicle, controlling the direction of the tires and the angle at which the tires turn. Steering systems differ depending on how a vehicle is manufactured, but if you’re in automotive school, it’s important to be familiar with their basic function. 

A shaking steering wheel could indicate a greater problem within a vehicle

When a steering wheel rotates, steering systems convert this rotation into the movement of the vehicle’s wheels. A steering system is composed of several components, including a steering column, which is rotated by the wheel and transmits the driver’s steering to the steering box. This converts the rotational movement to linear movement, which is then transmitted to the wheels. 

Causes of a Shaking Steering Wheel at High Speeds

If a steering wheel functions normally when a vehicle is travelling at low speeds but begins to shake when a vehicle gets on the highway or picks up speed, there are a few possible causes that auto mechanics can look to.

  • Uneven Tires: One of the most common culprits is unbalanced tires since a vehicle’s steering system is directly connected to the tires. If a vehicle’s tires have uneven wear or are not inflated uniformly, this can cause a vehicle’s steering wheel to vibrate, as vibration travels up the steering column. Checking a vehicle’s tire pressure or rotating its tires are both possible solutions.
  • Alignment Issues: Alignment issues are another possible cause for a shaking steering wheel at higher speeds. Misalignment could be the reason that a vehicle’s tires are developing uneven patterns of wear, and it could also lead to premature suspension wear and strain on components of a vehicle’s steering system. While alignment issues might go undetected when a vehicle is going slowly, they often manifest in shaking at higher speeds. As a mechanic, it will be important to recognize the signs of alignment issues so that a vehicle’s alignment can be corrected without causing further damage to its internal parts.

What if a Steering Wheel Shakes When Slowing Down?

If a vehicle’s steering wheel shakes while slowing down, this could indicate a problem with a vehicle’s brakes called warped brake rotors. In a vehicle’s braking system, brake rotors, the circular components attached to a vehicle’s wheel which spin with the wheel, are slowed by brake pads, which apply pressure to the wheel to slow the vehicle. If brake rotors are damaged or warped, brake pads will not move evenly over their surface when applying pressure, causing the vehicle’s steering wheel to vibrate when a driver puts on the brakes.

Warped or worn brake rotors could be causing a vehicle’s steering wheel to vibrate

Braking systems are crucial for a driver’s safety, and if you’re a mechanic program graduate, it’s important to be aware of how to address a situation where a vehicle’s steering wheel shakes when the brakes are applied. The brake rotors may need to be replaced or resurfaced if they are warped, but if that doesn’t solve the problem, a vehicle’s braking system may need replacing. 

Shaking No Matter the Speed? Other Causes Automotive School Students Should Be Aware Of

Axles are the rods (or shafts) which pass through the centre of the rotating wheels, maintaining the wheels’ orientation relative to the rest of the vehicle and each other. Axle damage often occurs after a vehicle suffers an accident, and can cause a vehicle’s steering wheel to vibrate at any speed, and especially when turning.

Engine trouble could be another cause. When a steering wheel vibrates at any speed, this could indicate engine trouble. There could be an issue with an engine’s air induction, faulty spark plugs or a defective fuel delivery system, all of which can send vibrations which are felt in a steering wheel. If the entire vehicle is shaking, a vehicle’s engine mount could be damaged. Engine trouble usually isn’t the culprit behind a vibrating steering wheel, but if there are no other identifiable causes, a vehicle’s engine should be examined immediately.

Preventing a Shaking Steering Wheel in the Future

Once a steering wheel starts to shake, the vibration will only increase in intensity and frequency as time goes on, making it important to address the problem as soon as it occurs. As an auto mechanic, it’s important to caution drivers to take their vehicles in for regular preventative maintenance. Balancing and rotating a vehicle’s tires every 8000 km, as well as getting frequent tire pressure and alignment checks can help to mitigate possible damage that can lead to a vibrating steering wheel. 

Are you ready to help drivers get back on the road safely?

ATC Surrey’s auto mechanic college has the program for you.

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