First, tires are perhaps the number one source of steering wheel vibration. That is true according to the Service manager at Kayser Chrysler Center, a full service Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM car dealership in Sauk City, WI. Tires wear asymmetrically and when they rotate fast, they can wobble and shake in very unsubtle ways. A good mechanic can balance your tires to eliminate vibration and this often eliminates the issue. In many cases, however, it’s probably just time for new tires. You may also have bad CV—or “constant velocity”– joints.
CV joints wear out over time. One of the big reasons these wear is that CV joints are covered by “boots” — rubber, accordion-like coverings around the axles’ ends – that seal out junk like sand and road salt. The problem is that the boots tear open when they get old and the CV joint, now operating with lots of grit inside, will soon fail. When this happens, you can hear a “crunching” noise when turning corners and feel it in the steering wheel.
Front wheel bearings can wear over time and get loose. When that happens you can feel it in the steering wheel and it can make a nasty grinding sound while driving, typically when turning corners. Tie-rod ends and ball joints can be at fault as well. These are the mechanical components in the front-end that move around when steering and because they’re moving parts, they wear out. At driving speeds, that translates to vibrations that are often felt in the steering wheel. It just feels like your steering wheel is sloppy and loose! Fortunately, these worn out components are easy to spot by a good mechanic and aren’t hard to repair.
Do the bad vibrations appear or intensify when you step on your brakes? If so, there’s a strong possibility that your vehicle has a warped brake rotor, or rotors. Rotors are the disc-shaped components that you may see through your wheel rims. They could get bent out of shape due to heavy wear and tear — essentially, overheating from excessive use. Instead of being flat all the way across, a deformed rotor is “lumpy” and the brake pads and calipers can’t get an even grip and hence vibrate.
Note that these reasons are not the only possible culprits that can make a steering wheel vibrate. When in doubt, it is always a wonderful idea to see an automotive service professional if you have it going on. These people diagnose this kind of thing all day and can usually spot the source of a steering wheel vibration. At some point in almost every car’s life, you’ll feel a vibration in your steering wheel. Much of the time it starts out subtle and then gets more pronounced until becomes a genuine “shake.” When it gets to this point, it’s becoming unsafe and you should head to the garage to diagnose and fix the issue, and you will find out just what the problem’s root cause is!