If you own a car, it can be very beneficial to learn proper ways to care for it. This could include anything from doing the oil change, topping off fluids, or just keeping it clean. It never hurts to stay on top of your car's maintenance, and it could save you a few bucks doing it yourself rather than taking it to a service center.
However, sometimes other repairs are required outside of regular maintenance, and it's crucial to be able to hear, diagnose, and identify problem parts when they begin to fail. As the main driver of the vehicle, you should be able to recognize when it begins to act strange. For example, let's go over one of the more common symptoms that people experience: The car shaking or vibrating in the steering wheel while braking.
Why Does My Car Shake?
Well, there are actually a number of different reasons why this could be happening. This is why it's important to note the specific symptoms of the issue. The difference between feeling a vibration in the brake pedal or the steering wheel could lead to two totally different problem parts.
Of course, if you have a warranty, you can just bring the vehicle back to the dealership for them to diagnose, but for those who have something a little older, the list below may be able help you out. You'll find a breakdown of a few common reasons for a car shaking while braking, and, hopefully, you can match up some of the symptoms with your own vehicle to identify the cause.
Warped Brake Rotors
Warped brake rotors are a common cause behind your car shaking while braking. They're fairly easy to identify, because you'll experience a noticeable pulsation in the brake pedal, and you'll find that the steering wheel shakes at the same time. With disc brakes, rotors need to be a flat surface in order for the braking system to function properly, and older rotors will have a tendency to become uneven over time. This same concept can apply if you have drum brakes. If the drum is out of round, it will result in similar symptoms to a warped rotor. If you fall into this category, here's how you can fix it.
If your brake rotors have enough life left, you can bring them to an auto parts store to have them resurfaced. However, if they're too thin already, they will need to be replaced with some new rotors. It's recommended that the brake pads are changed as well to function properly with the new rotor. Brake drums and brake shoes will need to be replaced in the same fashion. The warping is a common occurrence, but catching it early is key to avoiding any danger on the roadways.
Worn Brake Pads
Brake pads are regular wear-and-tear items. As they get used, their thickness deteriorates until they ultimately need to be replaced. When there's approximately 25 percent life left in the brake pads, you'll start to feel the wear indicator. Not only does this cause a slight vibration while braking, but it also emits a high-pitched squeal. If you've been on the road long enough, you know that squeaky brake noise. This is a sign that the brake pads need to be replaced with some fresh ones. Failing to replace them could cause much more severe damage long term.
The auto repair is relatively simple to DIY, or your can schedule service and have an auto shop handle it. Simply remove the brake caliper, remove the worn-out ones, and replace it with the new brake pads. Again, it's recommended that you at least resurface the rotors when changing pads so everything will be flush.
Air in Brake Lines
On occasion, you may find that you have air trapped in the brake lines. This may be due to a leaking brake line, or an empty brake fluid reservoir. The problem will show itself when you notice the brake pedal feeling spongy. Sometimes, you may hit the brakes, and they function like normal, and then the next time you hit the brakes, the pedal will go nearly to the floor before it begins to catch. This is the key symptom to tell if there's air trapped in the brake system. Having air in the lines will cause uneven brake pressure, also resulting in a vibration while braking.
In order to fix this, you'll need to bleed to the brakes, forcing the air out, and ensuring that the lines are filled only with brake fluid. If you have an area that is leaking brake fluid, this part will need to be fixed as well, or it will continue to suck air into the system even after bleeding.
Failing Wheel Bearing
We've gone over the main braking issues that can cause the shake, but there are a few other potential problem parts. One of these is the wheel bearing. The brake rotor is connected directly to the wheel bearing assembly, so symptoms can be similar to a warped rotor. As the bearing wears out, it allows more play in the components, causing a vibration while applying the brakes.
Now, these are the earlier symptoms, but if you let this go too long, you'll hear a piercing metal-on-metal squeal, and if you're at this point, you risk the wheel breaking off from the vehicle completely. It's best to avoid driving anywhere, and get a professional mechanic to do the repair. Replacing a wheel bearing is definitely not fun, so if you're not proficient mechanically, save yourself the hassle and have someone else do it.
Wheel Alignment Out of Spec
Another potential cause of the vibration can be the wheels being out of alignment. Usually if this is the case, you'll notice a vibration through the steering wheel while at highway speeds. Essentially, the front wheels are not pointed straight, and this causes the tires to slightly skip along the pavement while driving. Another symptom will be that the car wants to veer either left or right when your hands are off the wheel. High speeds will make the issue more apparent, and the vibration can become even more severe when braking, as more pressure is being pushed down on the front end. Not only is it dangerous, but it can cause your tires to wear out abnormally fast and unevenly.
Something as simple as hitting a bad pothole can cause your alignment to be knocked out of spec. If you notice this issue, be sure to take it to an alignment shop, and they'll get you straight again. If you fail to fix the issue in a reasonable amount of time, you'll be forced to buy some new tires, and you risk additional wear to other parts.
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This post was originally published on March 16, 2021.