If your steering wheel shakes when braking, you probably have an issue with your brakes. But before you go out and by new pads and rotors, it’s important to know what the other possibilities are so you don’t end up wasting money.
Possible Causes of a Shaking Steering Wheel
Warped brake rotors
Unbalanced or flat tires
Worn suspension or steering components
The most common cause of your steering wheel shaking while your braking is warped brake rotors. Your brake rotor turns with your tire and passes through your brake caliper where your brake pads are. As you press the brakes the brake pads will squeeze the brake rotor. If the rotor isn’t perfectly flat it will push your brake caliper back and forth as it slides through. The back and forth motion of your brake caliper gets translated through your steering linkage up to your steering wheel causing the shaking you’re feeling. If you’ve got warped rotors your wheel will shake but your car will track straight down the road as you brake. If your rotors are badly warped you usually can feel the front end of your car shaking most noticeable by your dashboard rattling.
Unbalanced or flat tires can also cause your steering wheel to shake. As you hit the brakes more weight transfers to your front tires so if there is something wrong there it will become more obvious. To make sure you don’t have a flat tire, you can check your tire pressures and if your wheels aren’t balanced you will notice smaller vibrations at certain speeds even when you’re not using the brakes.
The last thing that can cause the steering wheel shakes when braking is worn suspension or steering components. This is often known as death wobble and can be very scary. If you’ve got this problem then you probably can feel the whole front end of your car wandering while your steering wheel is shaking because your front tires are actually wobbling. This type of steering wheel shaking can be caused by bad tie rod ends, bad ball joints or control arm bushings, worn-out shocks, or a worn-out steering stabilizer. For more information on suspension problems, check out our article on steering wheel noise.