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Why is my steering wheel shaking?

Diagnosing a shaking steering wheel

If you have noticed your steering wheel vibrating or shaking whilst you’re driving it may be due to worn, faulty, or out-of-balance steering or suspension components.

Read on for reasons your steering wheel might be shaking, other steering problems, and what to do about them.

Unbalanced tyres

If you have started to notice a vibration in your steering wheel, the first place to check is your wheels to check for signs that your tyres have become unbalanced.

Things to look for are:

  • Missing wheel weights - Wheel weights come in a variety of sizes and styles and are usually made from lead, zinc or steel. These weights are attached to the rim of the wheel, some wheel weights can be placed hidden on the interior of the rim whereas others may be more visible. If you are unsure on whether a wheel weight may have come off, we would advise booking in to get a technician to look at this for you.
  • Uneven tread across your tyres – You can check for uneven tread in a variety of ways. Firstly, visually looking over the tyres; check for more wear on certain parts of the tyre, such as the sides or centre being more worn. Another way to check is by rubbing your hand across the tread, you will be able to feel where the tyre is more worn.
  • Bent rims – Take a closer look at the wheel and rim and see if you can stop any visual damage.

If any of your wheels appear to be imbalanced, take it to a technician who will be able to re-balance the wheels for you and also fix any of the above issues that may have been causing you problems.

close up of car tyre

Wheel Misalignment

A common cause for your steering wheel to vibrate can be the incorrect positioning of the wheels.

A quick way of diagnosing misalignment is to check the tyre’s tread. If your vehicle is out of alignment it can often make your tyres wear unevenly. For example, if the tread of your driver’s wheel is more worn than the tread on your passenger wheel this is a sign that your vehicle alignment needs to be looked at.

If there are any suspension issues, such as damage, whether through general wear or an accident the wheel alignment will most likely be affected.

Damaged or worn wheel bearings

If your steering wheel only shakes when turning the vehicle, you should check the wheel bearings. Wheel bearings are designed to secure the wheel hub to the vehicle’s suspension, and allow the wheels to turn properly.

A wheel bearing is a set of steel balls held together by a metal ring. This is located within the wheel hub (found on each wheel between the axle and brake discs) that connects the wheel to the axle. You may not be able to visually tell if the bearing is damaged or worn, however, you will see many signs to indicate that it needs replacing or looking at such as strange noises (knocking, humming etc), your vehicle starts pulling to one side or the obvious one a shaking steering wheel.

Worn steering or suspension parts

It only takes a small amount of play or looseness in any one of the steering and suspension components to make the whole system noticeably slack. Not only will this affect the vehicle’s control and stability, but it can also cause steering wheel vibration.

The first thing to check is visible parts such as the upper or lower ball joints, tie rod ends, and bushings. If you see any signs of damage or looseness, it may be faulty and should be replaced by a technician.

SEAT Ateca exterior close up of  front alloy

Why does my steering wheel shake when braking?

If your steering wheel only shakes when stopping or braking the problem is likely with the braking system. A shaking steering wheel can also happen if the brakes drag due to a mechanical or hydraulic fault, or if the parking brake is engaged by accident.

There are a few issues relating to brakes that could be causing the shaking:

  • Brake disc run out - A poorly installed brake disc pulling out of alignment with the hub or calliper can cause vibration in the steering wheel.
  • Disc thickness variation (DTV)- When a brake disc is not properly installed it can cause uneven wear, this can cause spots to be thinner or thicker on the disc. If the disc surface is uneven, it can also cause a pulse sensation in the brake pedal. Likewise, vibration in the steering wheel can also be felt.
  • Severe disc overheating and distortion- Repetitive, hard braking can mean that brake discs sometimes do not have time to cool down, which consequently causes them to overheat.

When a disc overheats it can warp, which then causes a vibration in the steering wheel and brake pedal when braking. If your steering wheel is shaking when braking, we would suggest getting it checked out by your local service centre.

car brake light

Forgetting to use turn signals when changing lanes

Another reason your steering could be shaking is to do with the technology fitted in your car.

If your vehicle is equipped with an Advanced Driver Assistance System such as Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, or a similar system it can cause the steering wheel to vibrate to alert you if you’re drifting into another lane, etc. 

Why does my steering wheel shake when driving at high speeds?

One of the most common causes of a steering wheel shaking whilst driving at high speeds is unbalanced tyres. Our “Unbalanced tyres” section above should help with what to do next.

Why does my steering wheel shake when driving at low speeds?

If your steering wheel is shaking or vibrating when driving at low speeds, there could be a problem with your brake, wheel, suspension or tyres.

We would advise getting your vehicle checked out by your local service centre.

Is it safe to drive with a shaking steering wheel?

If your vehicle’s steering wheel is shaking it can indicate an issue with your brakes, tyres or another key part of your vehicle. You will still be able to drive your vehicle if this is happening, however, the vibration of the steering wheel will probably be distracting and continuing to drive your vehicle if something is wrong could cause further damage.

As soon as you notice your steering wheel shaking we’d suggest booking your vehicle in to be checked over.

How to fix a shaking steering wheel

If your steering wheel is shaking we’d suggest booking your vehicle in to be checked by a trained technician, they will be able to conduct a diagnosis on your vehicle to find and fix the problem for you.

By making a few visual checks as mentioned above, you may be able to assist in telling the technician what you believe the problem may be

person holding steering wheel with two hands