Experiencing some concerning vibrations, shimmies, or shaking when operating your trusty automobile? Don’t freak out just yet – this handy dandy guide will walk you through the most common culprits behind car shake, how to diagnose the specific problem on your vehicle, and the steps needed to banish that teeth-rattling shake for good.
So why is your car shaking? It could be something as simple as an out of balance tire to more complex issues like bad wheel bearings or engine mounts. But don’t sweat it – this article will cover all the bases. We’ll explore:
- The top reasons your car shakes when driving
- How to pinpoint the exact cause through diagnostic testing
- The steps to fix a shaking car for buttery smooth travels
Now before we dig into the nitty gritty, it’s important to understand that a vibrating automobile can range from a mere annoyance to a serious safety hazard if left unaddressed. Even a relatively minor car shimmy can get exponentially worse over time if neglected. So don’t delay in getting to the bottom of the issue!
Alright, let’s kick things off by going over the usual suspects behind a rattling ride:
Table of Contents
What Actually Causes a Car to Shake?
There’s a multitude of reasons your wheels might be quivering, especially if you feel it through the steering wheel or seat. Here are some of the most common culprits:
Worn Out Tires
One of the first things to examine is the condition of your tires. As tires wear down over the miles, they can develop uneven tread wear patterns. This destroys their uniform contact with the road, resulting in vibrations at higher speeds. If you see obvious patches of deeper tread next to bald spots around the tire, it’s definitely time for a fresh set. Uneven wear can also indicate an alignment problem causing the issue.
Out of Balance Wheels
Even if your tires seem fine, if the individual wheels are out of balance you can experience shaking sensations through the vehicle. When a steel wheel is manufactured, it should be perfectly balanced. But over time, that balance can be thrown off as weight shifts around the rim or corrosion builds up. Hitting major potholes can also knock a wheel out of balance. To fix, the wheel needs to be rebalanced using a special machine at your local tire shop.
Smacking a curb, pothole, or debris at speed can bend your wheel’s rim, especially on lower profile tires. Even minor bends of a couple millimeters can introduce vibrations and steering wheel wobble as you drive. Sometimes the bend isn’t visible to the naked eye either. If an out-of-balance reading doesn’t smooth things out, bent rims may be the smoking gun. The fix here usually involves replacing the damaged rims and getting an alignment.
Bad Tie Rods
The tie rods connect your vehicle’s steering rack to the front wheels, transmitting your turning inputs to make the tires actually pivot left or right. If the inner or outer tie rod ends become excessively worn, loose, or damaged, it will introduce play into the steering system known as wheel wobble. You’ll notice the vibration gets worse when turning the wheel at low speeds. New tie rods will be needed to tighten things back up.
Worn Wheel Bearings
Your vehicle’s wheel bearings allow the wheels to spin freely while remaining attached to the vehicle. They essentially permit rotation with minimal friction. Sealed wheel bearings are designed to last tens of thousands of miles. But once they wear out, you may feel shaking when turning or rocking in the wheel when grabbed and wiggled. That free play means new bearings are required to take up any slack.
Bad Ball Joints
Similar to tie rods, worn out ball joints can introduce steering wander and vibrations into your ride. Ball joints serve as pivot points for the steering knuckles and need to maintain their precise geometry. If they get too loose, the wheels can shake and dart around on bumps or when cornering. A full suspension inspection can identify any questionable joints. Fresh OE-spec parts will nip the problem in the bud.
Bad Engine Mounts
If the issue seems tied to engine speed and vibration, bad motor mounts could be allowing too much movement of the powertrain. Engine mounts act as cushions and isolators to keep the engine/transmission firmly planted while running. Over years of heating and cooling cycles, the rubber can crack and deteriorate. The resulting excessive motion makes the engine’s vibrations transfer into the chassis. New mounts restore stability.
Bad CV Joints
Constant velocity (CV) joints transfer rotational force from the transaxle to the front wheels on most front wheel drive vehicles. Sealed CV boots keep the joints greased. When the boots tear from wear or road debris, the joints quickly dry out and start to click or clunk when turning at low speeds. Continuing to drive like this ruins the joints, leading to vibrations when accelerating or hitting the brakes. Fresh CV axle shafts or boots must be installed.
Loose Lug Nuts
Before getting too deep into elaborate mechanical issues, make sure your lug nuts aren’t loose! Working them off over time leads to rim wobble that gets worse with speed. Retorque the lugs to spec with a torque wrench if you don’t have locking lug nuts. Then keep an eye out for ongoing loosening, which indicates damaged/stretched studs.
How to Diagnose the Cause of the Car Shake?
Alright, now that you’re an expert on the typical causes, it’s time to pinpoint what exactly is causing your car to act like a paint mixer! Here are some tips on diagnosing the issue:
- Take Notice of WHEN the Shaking Happens – Pay close attention to exactly when the vibration occurs. Does it happen at all speeds or just when hitting the brakes? How about when turning or accelerating? Does high speed make it worse? Take notes so you can explain the symptoms to your mechanic.
- Give Your Tires a Thorough Inspection – Since tires are a prime suspect, take 5-10 minutes to closely examine each one. Look for any abnormal or uneven wear, bald spots, or damage like bubbles and cuts. Give them a press to check for flat spots or separation issues.
- Do a Test Drive with a Second Set of Eyes – Have a buddy follow behind you while driving through a parking lot. That way they can tell you exactly which corner of the car seems to be vibrating. If it’s coming from multiple spots, you likely have a balance issue or bent rim.
- Inspect Wheels Closely – Now check the actual wheels for any damage. See if the rim looks like it has a slight bend or wobble when spun. Peel back the center caps and look for cracking around the lug holes. Check low spots for brake dust buildup that could throw off balance.
- Check Wheel Bearings – Grab each wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions and give it a firm wiggle and push/pull. Clunking, play, or rumbling sounds can indicate worn bearings. Turning the wheel by hand should feel smooth, not gritty.
- Evaluate Engine Movement – Open the hood with the engine warmed up and shift into drive/reverse/park while observing engine movement. If the motor rocks excessively, the mounts are probably shot. Bad mounts also make clunks when changing gear.
- Inspect Suspension Components – Have a helper rotate the steering wheel back and forth so you can examine tie rods, ball joints, bushings, sway bar links, etc. Look for torn boots, wetness, or excessive play indicative of wear.
- Scan for Trouble Codes – Connect a diagnostic scanner to check for any stored check engine codes. Vibration-related faults like cam/crank sensor codes can point to misfires. Lookup definitions for context.
- Seek Professional Help – If the cause still eludes you after careful inspection, take it to an experienced mechanic. They have specialized tools to diagnose issues like bent rims, alignment problems, bad axles, failing pumps/motors, etc.
Ok, you’ve clinically examined your ride and identified the leading suspect for the shakes. Time to prep for the repair procedures to eradicate them for good!
How to Fix a Shaking Car?
Alright, you’ve pinpointed the root cause – great job! Now it’s time to carry out the prescribed repairs to restore serene cruising. Here are some tips:
- New Tires / Alignment – If tires are the culprit, get new rubber installed ASAP. Quality all-season or grand touring tires provide the best ride comfort. Make sure to get a 4-wheel alignment done to prevent rapid wear. rotated every 6,000 miles.
- Wheel Rebalance – If your tires check out, get all four wheels rebalanced and reinstall them in the same spots. Most shops use a computer spin balancer to find the ideal weight placement. Always rebalance after changing a tire.
- Rim Replacement – For bent rims, replacement with new OE factory wheels is the best permanent fix. You can’t adequately repair a bent rim – attempting to straighten them almost always leads to cracking. Recycle the damaged hoops.
- Wheel Bearing Swap – Pressing in new sealed wheel bearings and races restores like-new performance. Have a shop use a hydraulic press for easy removal and installation to avoid damage.
- New Suspension Parts – Worn components like tie rods, ball joints, bushings, and sway bar links are readily available at auto parts stores. Compare to OE parts for optimal fit and durability.
- Engine Mount Upgrade – Squishy motor mounts can be replaced with affordable aftermarket polyurethane mounts for a firmer feel and longer life. Use hydraulic supports when raising engine.
- Axle Shaft Replacement – For clicking CV joints, the best permanent repair is to replace the entire axle shaft assembly. Quality aftermarket shafts often outlast OE versions in terms of longevity.
- Check Critical Torques – Ensure lug nuts, suspension fasteners, and driveline bolts are torqued to spec with a calibrated inch-pound torque wrench to avoid loose parts.
- Road Force Balance – If basic balancing fails to fix vibrations, a next-level road force balance matches tires based on where they naturally wobble. More precise and costly.
- Frequency Vibration Diagnosis – High tech tools like chassis ears let pro mechanics isolate the frequency of vibrations to pinpoint the part responsible, like a driveshaft, axle, or clutch.
With the proper repairs completed, your wheels will roll smoother than a curling stone on ice! But a quality repair shop can prescribe the right fixes if you hit a dead end.
FAQ – Common Shaking Car Questions Answered
Still have some lingering questions about curing your quaking cruiser? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Why does my car shake when I brake?
The typical culprit here is warped brake rotors. As the rotors heat and cool during braking, they can develop hot spots that warp the discs. Resurfacing or replacing rotors fixes the issue. Sticking slide pins can also cause a shimmy when braking.
Why does my car wobble at high speeds?
High speed wobble usually indicates a wheel that’s out of balance, bent rim, or suspension issue. If balancing doesn’t help, worn ball joints and bushings will loosen up more as speed rises. Bad wheel bearings also worsen with velocity.
How much does it cost to fix a shaking car?
Costs run the gamut from a $50 wheel rebalance to over $1000 for parts and labor for bad axle shafts or bushings. The actual repairs needed dictate the price tag. Your best move is properly diagnosing the cause first before just throwing parts at it.
Should I continue driving with the shaking?
It’s never advisable to continue driving long distances with a pronounced shaking condition. You risk damaging other components and exacerbating the issue. At the least, keep speeds low to limit vibration. Schedule an inspection ASAP.
What if I hit a pothole before the shaking started?
Smacking a large pothole or curb can definitely throw off wheel balance and alignment. So start by getting your wheels rebalanced and an alignment check. Bent steel rims are also a possibility depending on impact severity and wheel construction.
The Bottom Line on Shaking Cars
Well, that about wraps up this in-depth guide on why your car might be shaking! As you can see, there are quite a few potential causes ranging from minor to major. The key is properly diagnosing the specific problem based on your symptoms before just replacing parts and hoping for the best. In many cases, the fixes are relatively affordable wheel/tire or suspension repairs that a competent mechanic can handle in short order. But even if more extensive repairs are needed, it pays to get any drivability or safety issues addressed promptly. Driving a car that handles and rides smoothly is a big part of the fun and convenience of having your own set of wheels!
So there you have it – an A to Z overview on identifying and remedying a rattling ride. Our guide explored:
- The typical mechanical reasons a car shakes
- DIY methods to pinpoint the exact problem
- Recommended repair procedures to smooth out your travels
- Answers to common questions on shaking cars
Hopefully you feel empowered to banish that vibration for good. Just take it step-by-step in your diagnosis before throwing money at parts. With a clear picture of the cause, the path to resolution becomes much simpler. Here’s to happy cruising ahead in your quiet, smooth-driving vehicle once again!