Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking – Causes & What to Do

Are you experiencing a shaking steering wheel when braking? Get tips on how to diagnose and fix the problem with this helpful guide.

Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking

If the steering wheel shakes when braking, you might think there’s something wrong with the steering system itself. However, a defective steering system is going to give you trouble consistently, not only while pressing on the brake pedal. That’s why it’s important to understand what causes this problem.

In this guide, we evaluate what issues are more prevalent during this time. After determining what’s wrong, we also show you the proper solution, so you can drive without the shakes.

Causes of Steering Wheel Shaking When Braking

If your steering wheel is shaking while braking it is most likely caused by warped, worn, or rusty front brake rotors. It could also be an issue with the calipers or brake pads. Other than the brakes, shaking can also come from the wheels or failure in the suspension system. 

1. Worn Front Brake Rotors

Because the steering wheel is shaking when the brake pedal is pressed, you can almost guarantee that the issue lies with this system. Two of the main parts that tend to fail are the brake pads and the rotors. As you continue braking, the material installed on the pads gently wears off. If the material fades, you can hear a squeaking sound and experience some shaking every time you brake. If you don’t get the pads changed quickly, the rotor could also become damaged.

The rotors work like a set of discs. Each rotor is attached to the wheel’s hub assembly, found between each set of brake pads. When you push the brake pedal down, the pads squeeze into the rotor to slow down the wheels. If the rotors become worn or warped, there will be additional vibrations as you step on the pedal. This problem can also cause a grinding noise

If your steering wheel is shaking, the issue is most likely with the front brake rotors or other front brake parts. If the whole car is shaking, but not in the steering wheel it is very likely that it’s the rear brake parts causing it.

RELATED: Car Shaking When Braking – Common Causes & What to Do

2. Stuck Brake Caliper

If the brake pads or rotors aren’t the problem, don’t just overlook the rest of the brake system. The calipers could also be leading to your shaking problem. In your brake system, the calipers are responsible for pushing the pads into the brake rotor. As you put pressure on the pedal, fluid is sent into the chambers of the caliper. This fluid creates the pressure needed to push on the pedal, with the amount of force based on how hard you push the pedal.

Calipers can get stuck because of a lack of lubrication or failure. If the caliper is stuck that it won’t activate, vibrations could occur. Additionally, the calipers can get stuck engaged which can create heat and warp the rotors. In this case, you should also notice vibrations while you are driving since the brake pads will drag along the rotor. It’s also possible that a burning smell will accompany the problems. 

RELATED: Why is My Car Shaking? (8 Common Causes & How to Fix it)

3. Poor Wheel Maintenance

In the rare case that the brakes aren’t causing the issue, you need to look at the wheels. There are several aspects of the wheels that could be giving you trouble, but most of the issues are going to cause vibrations at all times, not solely when you are braking.

To start, it could be that the wheels need to be aligned. With a wheel alignment, your car should drive in a straight line on a smooth road. If the car is shaking or pulling to either side, it could indicate that the alignment is off. 

Additionally, it could be time for a wheel balance. As the wheels become imbalanced, more shaking is known to occur. Wheel balancing could be necessary after running the tires without the right amount of air pressure. If you choose to keep driving like this, you are eventually going to wear out vital and expensive suspension components, so it’s best to deal with it immediately.

Finally, there’s always the chance that you have a rim that’s bent. Bent rims happen when you allow the wheels to make contact with something, such as a curb or pothole. Depending on how the rim is bent, you may notice an abnormal amount of shaking. This condition is often more noticeable at higher speeds than lower speeds and during braking, but you shouldn’t rule it out. 

4. Failing Suspension Components

Once you’ve worked through looking at the brakes and wheels, the only other logical option is that there’s a problem with the suspension. Any time that a suspension part fails, there’s a chance of shaking. Again, the majority of these shaking issues are going to be felt while driving and braking, but it’s possible you only notice it as you are slowing down.

Considering the suspension is designed to dampen the road imperfections and bumps, it only makes sense that shaking occurs as it wears out. The trouble is determining which part has failed since there are so many that make up this system. 

RELATED: Why Is My Steering Wheel Shaking? (Low & High Speeds)

How to Fix a Shaking Steering Wheel

Inspect/Repair Brakes

Considering the most probable cause of the shaking is your brakes, it’s wise to start with this system. If you haven’t serviced the brakes in a while, it’s time to start now. Begin with an inspection of the front brake pads and brake rotors. If you notice any unusual wear or the material is getting low, go ahead and replace them. You should always replace brake pads in pairs across the axle. The cost per axle might be somewhere between $100 and $350. 

You should also inspect the brake rotors. Over time, the rotors are known for warping and wearing down. Depending on how thick the material is, it’s possible to have the rotors resurfaced to buy some more time. Resurfacing usually costs around $30 for each rotor. If resurfacing isn’t an option, replacement is the only solution. This expense could run from $150 to $450 for each pair of rotors.

RELATED: Should I Resurface or Replace My Rotors? (When to Replace?)

After this regular maintenance is performed, it’s time to look at the brake calipers if you are still having trouble. It’s possible that the calipers just need some lubrication. This could help relieve the stuck situation. If not, the calipers need to be replaced, which might cost about $200 to $300 for each one, including parts and labor. 

RELATED: 7 Symptoms of Bad Brake Rotors (& Resurface Cost)

Maintain/Replace Wheels

Once you’ve worked through the brake system, it’s time to refocus on the wheels if shaking is still occurring. Begin by reading tire pressures to ensure that you are running at the manufacturer’s specifications. Aside from this vital step, you must also consider the importance of getting wheel alignments. Most manufacturers recommend getting it done every 6,000 miles. You shouldn’t spend a lot of money on the alignment, especially if you bundle it with other services. 

Regular wheel balance is also important. Again, this service is recommended for 6,000 miles. To get all four wheels on your car balanced, you could spend around $100. The worst option is that the wheel is bent. Normally, this is the most expensive issue since the entire rim needs to be replaced. Depending on the size and type of rim, you could easily spend $500 or more. 

Repair Worn Suspension

Your next step is to inspect the suspension system. There are many parts involved, so this inspection could take some time.

Pay close attention to the axles and CV joints. Based on what’s wrong, you could spend a good amount on the repair, but it’s necessary to ensure a safe drive. 

Talk to a Professional

If none of the previous steps led you to the problem or you don’t know how to fix what you’ve found, go ahead and visit your local mechanic. With more advanced tools and diagnostic equipment, the job will be much easier.

In most cases, any reliable mechanic will do. However, you might prefer choosing a brand-specific technician if you drive a luxury vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to drive with a shaking steering wheel?

Driving with a shaking steering wheel is never a good idea. This will wear out the front suspension and other things much faster than usual due to the vibrations. There is also a risk of total breakdown if you don’t know what is causing the shaking steering wheel.

Can a bad wheel bearing cause a shaking steering wheel when braking?

Yes, a bad wheel bearing could cause shaking when braking, but it’s not a very common cause. Warped or rusty brake rotors are a much more common reason why your car is shaking when braking.

Can a bad ball joint cause a shaking steering wheel when braking?

Yes, a bad ball joint can cause the front suspension to vibrate when braking. But a warped, worn or rusty brake rotor is much more likely to cause a shaking steering wheel when braking.

Why does my front end shake when I brake at high speeds?

If the front of your car shakes when you brake at high speeds, it is very likely caused by warped or worn front brake rotors. It can also be caused by other worn brake parts or suspension problems.

Magnus Sellén
Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of Mechanicbase. He has been working as a car mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced car diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.

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