Why is My Steering Wheel Shaking? 

If you’ve been driving a vehicle with a shake or vibration in the steering wheel, you can identify with how annoying it truly is. But a shake in the steering can also be a dangerous condition that can reduce your vehicle control, increase fatigue, and even lengthen your stopping distances. It should be looked at and fixed as soon as possible to avoid any serious consequences.

There are plenty of reasons that a steering wheel can shake, and there are also different degrees of severity. It could be a simple repair that costs nothing or a major issue that could be hundreds of dollars or more to fix. Let’s explore reasons why your steering wheel could shake and the ways to correct it.

Causes of steering vibration 

If you’re feeling a vibration in the steering wheel, it’s a bad idea to ignore it. These are five of the most common reasons you might be feeling that shake, the differences in how and when they’re felt, and what you might need to do to fix it. 

Loose lug nuts 

The lug nuts that hold your wheels onto the hubs are intended to be tightened sufficiently so that they won’t come loose, but not so tight that they’re going to seize in place. If they aren’t properly torqued when they’re installed – or if some unseemly character gets spooked off when trying to steal your wheels – you might unknowingly be driving with loose lug nuts.  

If you have loose lug nuts, you might first hear an odd clunk or feel a light vibration at highway speeds. If they’re finger-tight or looser, then you’ll likely have a wobbly feeling in the steering wheel at even low speeds.  

If you catch the condition soon enough, you can get away with inspecting the wheel studs and re-torquing the wheels. However, driving for prolonged periods with loose lug nuts can stretch, weaken, or break wheel studs and oblong the holes on your wheel. In that case, new studs and perhaps a new wheel may be necessary. 

Tires are out of balance 

Tires are manufactured to look completely round, but there are tiny variances in the weight around the circumference. That’s why newly-installed wheels are always balanced. However, if the weights come off a wheel – even a fraction of an ounce – it can cause serious vibration in the vehicle body or steering wheel.  

You’ll primarily notice the steering wheel shaking between 55 and 65 miles per hour, and it can be completely fine at speeds higher and lower. Still, you’ll want to get it fixed in a timely fashion since out-of-balance tires can wear quicker, it adds extra strain to the steering and suspension, and the vibration is unpleasant. 

Wheel balancing is a common process and doesn’t take more than an hour for a technician to complete. You’ll typically pay less than $50 unless you have oversized or specialty wheels. Tires can also have separated belts which can cause a similar feel, but the tire can’t be repaired or balanced and will need to be replaced instead. 

Loose steering or suspension components 

Image of a strut assembly over a white background
Shock and Strut

Your vehicle’s steering and suspension parts are designed to make it easier and more comfortable to operate your vehicle by making the systems less rigid. But if there’s wear or damage to one of the parts, there’s too much play and it can transfer a vibration into your steering wheel.  

Common steering and suspension parts that can cause the steering wheel to shake include:  

If you have excessive play in any of these parts, they will need to be replaced. Prices range a great deal from around $20 to $1,000 or more. Typically, after a repair like this, you’ll also need to have a wheel alignment performed too. 

Worn wheel bearings or hubs 

Exposed wheel bearing hub
detail of car suspension & bearing of wheel hub in auto service maintenance. Car lift up by hydraulic, waiting for tire replacement in garage. punched wheel concept

The bearings that allow your wheels to rotate smoothly while being fastened tight to your car will eventually experience wear. For most cars now, they’re part of a sealed, unserviceable wheel hub assembly, although there are still instances of a replaceable or repackable wheel bearing. If the bearing has wear in it that allows side-to-side movement, you can picture what your wheel does at a very high frequency as you’re driving. That’s where the steering shake comes from.  

With a loose wheel bearing, vibrations can come and go from one moment to the next. Sometimes it can be felt at city speeds while other times it’s only noticeable at highway speeds.  

If you have a vehicle with a solid axle like a full-size truck or SUV, the wheel bearing might be replaceable, and you can usually buy a pair for under $50 and do both sides at the same time. For sealed hub assemblies, each one is typically between $75 and $250, although some have sensors embedded and can cost significantly more.  

Brake issues 

new disc brake parts laying on a table in the shop
Brake pads and rotors

Several braking conditions can cause a vibration in the steering wheel:  

  • If your brake rotors – particularly the front rotors – are warped, it can cause a wicked shake in the steering wheel when you apply the pedal. Sometimes, the rotor can be machined flat again but replacements are often inexpensive enough to simply change it.  
  • Overheated rotors can have hotspots that the brake pads don’t grip well anymore. As the wheels rotate, the cycle of grip and no grip at a high rate creates a shake that transfers into the steering. 
  • Dragging brake pads can also cause chatter in the steering. It could be a seizing brake caliper causing the condition. 

The brakes should be thoroughly inspected to determine the cause of the vibration and any affected parts replaced. It’s best to do both sides of any axle to ensure braking performance is balanced. 

AutoZone can help you get your car back to good working order again. Shop for all your parts needs in one place and ask our associates for Trustworthy Advice on any concerns you have. If you decide that it’s too big a job to tackle on your own, let AutoZone help you find qualified professional mechanics through our Shop Referral Program.  

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Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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