Why does my steering wheel shake while braking?

There are many front-end problems that could cause your steering wheel to shake while braking and traveling at certain speeds, but they will typically fall within a few categories:

Warped Brake Rotors

Brake caliper and rotor photo for auto repair shop in Dallas TX

When you apply the brakes, the brake pads squeeze the spinning rotors to stop the vehicle.  If the rotors are warped, have uneven wear, or have been improperly installed, the brake calipers will vibrate while the brakes are applied.  This vibration is transferred to the steering column through the front-end components that the brake calipers are bolted to.  This is what causes your steering wheel shake when you apply the brakes!

If the rotors are only slightly warped or unevenly worn, it may be possible to have them machined and straightened out.  If the rotors are beyond repair, they may have to be replaced.  If the rotors are new or have just been machined, it is possible that they were not properly mounted to the axle.

Tire Balance

If the steering wheel only wobbles at certain speeds, this is often a wheel balance issue.  Take your vehicle to the local tire shop to check your wheel balancing.  Sometimes the small balancing weights can fall off, causing the wheel to be out of balance.  It is a good idea to check this first, as it is often a free service offered by your local tire shop when you buy a set of tires from them.

Worn Suspension Parts

Loose tie-rod ends, worn control arm bushings, or bad ball joints could cause the steering wheel to shake while braking and/or driving at speed.  Other clues these parts may be worn include:

  • Clunking or banging sound while going over bumps
  • bumping, clunking, or creaking sound while turning the steering wheel

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I've been managing transmission and auto repair shops for over 25 years. Prior to that, I worked as a mechanic in Dallas TX. I have always had an interest in fixing cars, and still love it to this day.