Mechanics

Steering Wheel Shakes Accelerating or Braking

How to Repair a Steering Wheel Shake

When driving your car the steering wheel should provide a steady and smooth operating motion when maneuvering it through city street and country roads. The steering wheel is at the end of the steering column which attaches to the dashboard and chassis of the car. Inside the steering column a metal shaft called a main shaft is responsible for transferring the force the driver is providing when moving the steering wheel to the steering rack and pinion or steering box which ever your car is equipped with. Suspension plays a important role in that it is responsible for controlling the front and rear wheel movement, both horizontally and verticality throughout the suspension and steering travel. 

When these components become warn they can allow the steering to wonder creating a vibration at particular times throughout the operation of the car. Front wheel drive cars have their own set of problems because the engine power is transferred to the front wheel instead of the rear wheels. When power is delivered to the front wheels it presents a problem as it relates to wear. Because the front end is where the steering controls are located there are many moving parts such as spindle, tie rod ends, ball joints and control arms when power is applied it will contribute to excessive wear characteristics.

Troubleshooting

Step 1 - Check Front Drive Axles: CV joints can wear allowing the axle to bind causing a front end vibration. Do to the forces involved it is difficult to simulate the condition once the axles are out of the vehicle. If you suspect this condition replace the drive axles with new and re-test.

Step 2 - Brake Rotor Warped: Front brake rotors can warp when in heavy use. This is caused by extreme heat created by friction and pressure applied to the front brake pads and rotors. A heavy braking condition can be caused by driving down a long grade or extreme driving conditions such as racing. When a brake rotor becomes warped it will cause the steering wheel to shake when the brakes are applied. To inspect for this problem rotate the brake rotor by hand. The brake rotor should move freely, but with some resistance and turn for 360 degrees without hard spots. If the brake rotors are warped it is recommended to replace them. It is possible, but not recommended to re-machine to the rotor (the rotor will be straight but it will have less mass to dissipate heat therefore re-warping is eminent).

Front Brake Rotor, Brake Pad and Brake Caliper
Front Brake Rotor, Brake Pad and Brake Caliper


How to Replace Front Brake Rotors Video

Step 3 - Check for Upper and Lower Ball Joint Wear: If the suspension ball joints are worn it will cause the spindle to wonder causing the steering wheel to shake. Ball joints are a normal service item and need to be inspected regularly. Inspect lower ball joints and tie rod ends for excessive wear.

Rack Bellow, Inner Tie Rod, Outer Tie Rod End
Rack Bellow, Inner Tie Rod, Outer Tie Rod End

Step 4 - Checking Idler Arm and Tie Rod Ends: The idler arm, pitman arm and tie rod ends are normal service items and need to be inspected at normal service intervals. To inspect the idler arm, pitman arm and tie rod ends, have someone help you by turning the steering wheel slightly (jog) back and forth. If excess movement is observed from any of the steering components replacement is required.

Step 5 - Check Engine Mounts: The engine is suspended in the vehicle chassis by engine mounts. These mounts are made of rubber and metal, when the mounts fail it will allow the engine to rest against the suspension or frame causing a vibration under acceleration.

If further assistance is needed, our certified car repair technicians are ready to answer your car questions. Also, gain manufacturer specific instructions and information by clicking - Auto Repair Manual

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AUTHOR


Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of 2CarPros.com
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published (Updated 2013-11-26)