Blog Car Care Advice 6 Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking
Car Care Advice

6 Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking

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There’s something highly pleasurable about driving a car that glides smoothly across the road. That being said, feeling your steering wheel shake when you brake is unsettling.

Your steering wheel could shake for many reasons when braking. It could stem from a worn brake pad, warped brake rotor, dry caliper guide pins, or something more significant, like a suspension issue.

Whichever the culprit may be, you won’t want to leave the issue unresolved, or you might face expensive repairs down the road!

In this article, we’ll explore why a steering wheel shakes when braking, so you’ll have an idea of where the problem originates. We’ll also cover some important FAQs about steering wheel shakes, including how much it’ll cost to fix.

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Let’s break it down.

6 Reasons Your Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking

Steering wheel shakes while braking is a problem that no driver wants to experience. Luckily, recognizing the issue early means you can fix it before it becomes serious. 

Let’s go through a few common issues that lead to a steering wheel shake and determine a few fixes: 

1. Warped Rotors 

Brake rotors are the smooth, flat metal discs (a.k.a. brake discs) between the brake pads on each car wheel. When you use the brake pedal, the brake pads push against a brake rotor to bring the car to a stop. 

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

When the brake pads push against a brake disc, the resulting friction generates heat that helps slow down the moving vehicle. The heat makes the smooth surfaces of a rotor malleable. Over time, this will lead to a bent or warped brake rotor. 

Brake pads pushing down on a warped rotor cause a brake shudder sensation in the steering wheel. 

B. How to Fix Warped Brake Rotors: 

A warped rotor is easily replaceable. However, if you detect a warped brake rotor soon enough, a mechanic may be able to resurface them instead of buying new rotors. 

Unfortunately, repairs are unlikely if you notice intensely warped brake rotors. 

2. Dry Caliper Guide Pins 

The brake caliper is the part that houses other disc brake components, like the brake pads and pistons. The caliper helps the brake pads push against the rotor to create friction — slowing down your car. 

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

When your caliper operates with defective hardware, like dry guide pins, your drive won’t be smooth. Dry guide pins prevent smooth caliper motion, resulting in a sticky brake caliper that can cause kinks and vibration when braking. 

A sticky brake caliper is also restricted from properly pushing the brake pads down — instead, dragging the pads along the rotor. This, too, can cause a shaking sensation in your steering wheel. 

B. How to Fix Dry Caliper Guide Pins: 

Any brake caliper repair job should start by cleaning of the component and pins. Removing excess dirt and grime from the guide pins may allow the caliper to slide smoothly when pressing down the brake pads. 

After removing the guide pins and scrubbing them clean, a mechanic will coat them with a layer of high-temperature grease or fluid to prevent future dryness. They’ll then re-insert the pins into the caliper housing, and you should be good to go! 

3. Worn Brake Pads 

A brake pad is a flat steel surface with a material layer on one side built to create friction. The friction material for brake pads varies from one disc brake system to another, often depending on how the vehicle is used (eg. racing vs. a regular passenger car). 

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

When you step on the brake pedal, the brake caliper, with the help of brake fluid, pushes the brake pads down on the rotor to create friction and slow the car down. 

Over time brake pads will become worn out, and the layer of friction material won’t effectively clamp down on the brake rotors. This can cause your steering wheel to pulsate when braking. 

Pads covered in oil, brake fluid, mud, and dirt can also cause this problem and lead to steering wheel shakes and brake shudder. 

B. How to Fix Worn Brake Pads: 

When it comes to a worn brake pad, the only possible repair is a new brake pad replacement. 

A mechanic will remove the wheel and slider bolt to get to the brake pads. Then, they’ll pivot the caliper and slide the brake pads out from the housing. Finally, the retaining clips will be replaced, and the new brake pads will be inserted. 

The mechanic will finish by repositioning your caliper, reinstalling the wheel and slider bolt, and refreshing the brake fluid. 

4. Unevenly Tightened Rotors 

Your brake pads push down on the brake rotors to convert motion into heat. This process’s friction slows down wheel rotation and eventually halts the car’s movement.

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

When the brake rotors aren’t tight enough, and the brake pads press down against them, this causes a lateral runout which pulsates the rotors from side to side — causing your steering wheel to shake when braking. 

B. How to Fix Unevenly Tightened Rotors: 

A mechanic can fix this issue by grabbing a torque wrench and tightening the lug nuts on the rotors in a star-shaped pattern. Every car has specific torque requirements contained in the owner’s manual. 

5. Wheel Misalignment 

Wheel alignment refers to the adjustments and angles of wheels that allow a vehicle to run smoothly and straight. 

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

Shakes may be sent through the entire vehicle while driving when your wheels are misaligned. 

Misaligned wheels are an issue that can also lead to unbalanced tires and faster tire wear, which can cause a steering wheel vibration. This shaking issue isn’t necessarily related to braking instances but is a common reason for steering wheel shakes.

B. How to Fix Misaligned Wheels:

Realigning car wheels is not a DIY job. You’ll need to visit a mechanic to check tire pressure, any damaged wheel bearing, perform a tire rotation, and readjust misaligned wheel angles. 

6. Suspension Issues 

A vehicle’s suspension system contains components like springs, tires, shock absorbers, a wheel bearing set, a tire rod, and other linkages that connect to the wheels. These parts work together to improve suspension, supporting road handling and drive quality while reducing any car shake. 

A. How it Causes Wheel Shakes: 

Like with the braking system, problems with the suspension system and its components can cause a heavy steering wheel shake. For example, worn ball joints or an old tie rod are common issues for older vehicles and can cause vibration in the steering wheel. 

Once again, suspension issues don’t only cause shaking when braking but deserve serious consideration if you notice heavy pulsating in your steering wheel or general car shake. 

B. How to Fix Suspension Issues: 

Fixing a suspension system is a complex repair job requiring a mechanic’s expertise. 
A mechanic must remove and repair (or replace) components like shock absorbers and ball joints. 

You can start by tightening up any loose nuts and bolts that notice on the wheels and engine and leave the complex repairs to the professionals. 

So, you now know the major causes of a steering wheel vibration when braking and how to fix them. Let’s review some FAQs to help you learn more about these issues. 

3 FAQs about Shaky Steering Wheels 

Here are the answers to some common questions on steering wheel shaking: 

1. Can I Still Drive With a Shaking Steering Wheel?

Yes, driving with a shaking steering wheel should be safe for a short time. 

However, the issues behind the shaking, especially those related to the brake disc, brake pads  and suspension, should be a cause for concern. Driving with faulty brake components is extremely dangerous and should be addressed sooner rather than later.  

2. What Causes a Steering Wheel to Shake at High Speed?

We’ve covered the causes of steering wheel vibration when braking.

But what causes the steering wheel to shake when driving fast?
Unbalanced tires primarily cause a shaking steering wheel at high speeds. Flat tires and worn-out treads could cause tire imbalances, leading to heavy shakes when moving quickly. 

3. How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Shaky Steering Wheel?

Here are the repair or replacement prices (including labor) for the problems that cause a steering wheel to shake while braking: 

Wrapping Up

If you notice your steering wheel shake when you brake, your brake pads, calipers, or suspension system may need fixing. Braking system and suspension repairs can be costly, especially if you allow the issue to go unresolved. 

Instead, you should get hold of a mechanic ASAP to sort the problem out. 
Call AutoNation Mobile Service!  

AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile mechanic service that offers professional technicians available seven days a week who come to you! We also provide a 12-month | 12,000-mile warranty and upfront pricing for all repairs.

Easily book a braking service online to stop steering wheel vibration today!