Experiencing any kind of unusual, unexpected vibration while driving can be distinctly unnerving, and it can be especially spooky when the inexplicable shaking is happening right under your own fingertips. Excessive vibration from your steering wheel might not be a catastrophic mechanical failure, but it can be a symptom of more serious faults with your car, and anyone who notices an increase in steering wheel vibration while driving should take their car in for professional mechanics to inspect.
Unfortunately, vibrating steering wheels can have a variety of root causes, and finding the specific problem that is causing your wheel to shake can be time-consuming. To narrow down the list of potential causes, you should check for the following common problems that can lead to steering wheel vibration:
Improper wheel balance
Though one car tyre may look indistinguishable from the next to the average onlooker, each tyre is subtly different, and minor imperfections created during the manufacturing process mean that each tyre has a different weight distribution around its circumference. Wheel weights are used to counteract these imperfections, but problems with these weights can easily cause a wheel to come unbalanced, a very common cause of steering wheel vibration.
The best way to solve this problem is to have your wheels professionally balanced by a mechanic, a process which will alleviate the vast majority of steering wheel vibration issues. This problem is particularly likely if your car runs on low-profile tyres.
Faulty wheel bearings
The bearings of a wheel are one of its most vital components. They reduce friction between the wheel and the axle it is attached to and allow the wheel to turn freely. If a wheel bearing becomes misaligned or worn out, the increased friction can send excessive vibrations through the affected axle and into the steering column. These vibrations are usually at their worst when you turn the wheel.
Repairing this problem is relatively simple, as wheel bearings tend to be inexpensive and can be replaced by most people who know how to fit a spare wheel. If replacing the bearing doesn't work, or you aren't confident in your ability to replace a bearing yourself, seek professional mechanical assistance.
If problems with steering wheel vibration occur only when you apply the brakes, the brakes themselves are probably the source of your woes. Usually, vibration experienced during braking is caused by faulty or worn-out brake pads, which are not able to provide consistent friction when applied and 'jump' around on the turning wheel, causing vibrations which travel through the wheels and into the steering column.
Worn brake pads are generally quite easy to replace; however, there is a chance that vibrations while braking can be caused by more severe braking problems, such as misaligned brake discs or faulty shock absorbers. If the problem persists after you have fitted new pads, seek mechanical assistance as soon as possible, as your brakes may be less efficient than before and driving at speed can become very dangerous.