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Troubleshooting a Steering Wheel That Vibrates While Braking

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Sudden surprises are never welcome on the road, and a steering wheel that begins to vibrate every time you brake can be especially frightening. This vibration can range from a rapid buzz to an alarming rattle, stopping and starting again each time you apply pressure on your brakes. Thankfully, this disturbing symptom can usually be resolved with a simple diagnosis and repair. A vibrating steering column points to your car's rotors as the most likely culprits, though you will need to troubleshoot further to narrow down the cause from these four possible solutions. 

Loose Rotors

Most mechanics know the correct way to tighten rotors while inspecting or replacing them, but if you have recently had work done on your brakes, they may be worth checking. Rotors should be installed with a torque wrench to ensure a precise fit; rotors that are too tight will wear out your brakes faster, but loose rotors can send shock waves right up through your steering column. In other cases, a new type of rotor model may be smaller than the original specified for your car, increasing fuel economy but leading to vibrations as a side effect. 

Debris and Liquids in the Brakes

Brakes that have not been replaced or cleaned for long periods of time begin to accumulate debris from both the road and garage. If, for example, oil has somehow been spilled and seeped into your brakes, the decreased friction can cause your brakes to lose their grip on the rotors with each tire revolution, causing the rapid vibrations in your steering wheel. Replacing your brake pads and cleaning off the rotors may be all it takes to solve the problem permanently. 

Crooked Vehicle Alignment 

No vehicle runs perfectly, and over time the pressures of the road can cause your wheels to gradually drift out of alignment. A misaligned car will not hold a straight line, particularly at high speeds, and may also suffer suspension and tire damage as a result. Because your car is trying to go in several different directions at once, it is not uncommon for your steering wheel or even your whole car to vibrate as it bounces back and forth between the competing wheels. Getting your car aligned quickly can fix this issue without fuss, but ignoring it may lead to more expensive repair work later on.  

Warped Rotors 

If your steering wheel is still vibrating after checking all other possibilities, you are probably dealing with warped rotors. Rotors are metal discs that must absorb all of the heat and energy generated by your brakes as they stop a moving vehicle. Too much heat or simple wear and tear will eventually bend and erode this metal, and those minuscule imperfections can be enough to make your rotors rattle under pressure. An experienced mechanic like Auto Team Car Care Center LLC will be able to diagnose warped rotors and recommend either repairing them through machining or replacing them entirely.