Why Does My Steering Wheel Shake When I Brake? Fixed!

As a repair shop owner, one of the most common complaints I see people walk into my shop with is, ‘Why does my steering wheel shake when I brake?’ At first, it’s understandably alarming, but there are usually straightforward solutions to this issue. 

The steering wheel shaking when braking most often occurs due to problems like warped brake rotors, worn suspension parts like control arm bushings, or sticking brake calipers. But sometimes, it can also occur from unbalanced wheels.

Further down this article, I’ll go into detail on each of these potential causes and how to fix them. So, keep reading to figure it all out.

Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking – Five Causes and Fixes

Over all the years I’ve been fixing cars, I’ve noticed a few different things that can make the steering wheel shake when you hit the brakes. Let me tell you about a few issues that seem to be pretty common. I’ll run through five of them and what tends to fix each one.

Warped or Rusty Brake Rotors

Warped or Rusty Brake Rotors

Most of the time, when your steering wheel shakes when you hit the brakes, it’s because of warped or rusty front brake rotors. 

This usually happens when you’re driving at higher speeds. A warped rotor can cause vibrations you feel through the steering wheel, especially if the caliper is stuck or frozen. That makes the braking uneven and damages the rotor over time.

The rotor might be worn down too much or have actually gotten warped out of shape. There could also just be rust built up on the surface, causing the vibration when you hit the brake pedal.

And, of course, the brake pads themselves could be the issue, too. Typically, when brakes start going bad, you’ll first notice a squealing noise when braking. If you let it keep going, the noise might get louder and more like a grinding sound, along with some shaking.

The Fix

If you notice any obvious grooves in the rotors, it’s time for new ones. Sometimes, if there’s still enough material left, the rotors can be machined-smooth again. A few auto parts stores offer to resurface your brake rotors for pretty cheap, way less than what a shop would charge. 

But if there’s not enough rotor material to resurface, then you’ll need to replace them. And when replacing, be sure to replace in pairs, both the left and right. For the front rotors, you’re usually looking at $50 to $80. But it’ll cost way more if you have to pay a mechanic to install them for you. 

Also, if a stuck caliper is what damages the rotors, then that caliper will need to be fixed or replaced, too.

Bad Control Arm Bushings

The control arm bushings are an important part of your vehicle’s suspension. They’re what connect the control arms to the frame of the car. Basically, they help keep everything stable as you drive.

When one of these bushings starts going bad, it can really affect how your car handles. 

You may notice it gets shakier or less steady at higher speeds. This can also cause uneven tire wear and a vibrating steering wheel, especially when you hit the brakes. Without good bushings, the suspension also gets loose and sloppy.

The Fix

Jack up the front of the car and grab the tires at the top and bottom. Try wiggling it in and out – if there’s a lot of loose movement, those control arm bushings are probably shot.

Take a closer look at the rubber on the bushings, too. It should all look intact, with no tears or cracks in the material. Also, if there’s a lot of room for play or slop, then it’s time to replace them.

But even if the bushings check out okay, don’t forget to inspect the rest of the suspension setup, too. You may be dealing with a worn tie rod or ball joint instead.

Sticking Brake Caliper

Sticking Brake Caliper

Sometimes, a brake caliper can get stuck or sticky, which ends up causing issues with the rotors. If a caliper seizes up, you may notice the car pulling to one side when braking. This is because it doesn’t retract fully when you release the brakes. 

It can also make noise since the brakes are kind of grinding along instead of sliding smoothly. And there’s usually some vibration happening too. The shaking is just going to get worse if you have a seized caliper that’s warping the rotor from all the friction. 

At that point, you really need to stop driving the car. After all, there’ll be a lot of heat build-up, the brakes won’t function right, and you won’t have full control over the vehicle.

The Fix

It’s best to replace the stuck caliper entirely rather than try to unstick it. I recommend going with a remanufactured caliper—one that was taken apart, fixed up, and tested like new.

Chances are you’ll need new brake pads and rotor for that wheel too since the stuck caliper probably messed them up some. So, definitely swap those out while you’re in there.

Also, check the brake hose and replace it if needed. A sticking caliper can damage the hose over time. And don’t forget to bleed the brake fluid from the system afterward to remove any air bubbles.

Unbalanced Wheels

Another issue that can cause steering wheel shaking is unbalanced wheels. If the weight isn’t distributed evenly on the wheels, the tires won’t grab the road properly as they spin. They could hop slightly instead of rolling smoothly, leading to vibrations you’ll feel through the steering wheel.

You might notice it more at higher speeds or when braking. And because unbalanced wheels can definitely make your car harder to handle, it’s best to get it checked right away. The last thing you want is to suddenly lose control.

The Fix

You’re supposed to get your wheels balanced and aligned on a regular basis. On average, balancing every couple of years keeps them spinning right, while alignment once a year keeps them pointed straight. If it’s been awhile since you had either done, it’s a good idea to schedule it.

When balancing wheels, mechanics will stick little weights in various spots around the rim to make sure the tire and wheel are perfectly even weight-wise. As per some online discussions, you should expect to pay $10-$20 a tire typically, or around $40-80 for all four wheels.

Other Worn Suspension Parts

Your car’s suspension has a bunch of different components that all work together to smooth out the ride. If any of those parts are wearing down or damaged, it could definitely cause some shaking you feel through the steering wheel.

Think about things like ball joints, wheel bearings, or tie rods – any of those going bad could be the culprit, too. Either way, you don’t want to keep driving with suspension issues. Not only will you go through tires faster, but you risk causing more problems the longer you wait.

The Fix

It’s super important to inspect all the suspension parts and locate anything that’s wearing down or has issues. 

First, take a look at the wheel bearings and ball joints. If those are degraded, they’ll need to be replaced to keep your car’s steering and stability in good shape. Check the tie rods, too, for any looseness or wear.

A mechanic’s inspection is definitely a good idea since they have more experience spotting problems, even subtle ones. They can thoroughly check the whole suspension setup to be sure.

So, if you want to save some of it, here’s a DIY solution you may want to try:


Have you got more questions regarding the steering wheel shaking while braking? Here, I’ve answered a few commonly asked questions that might help.

Is it safe to drive with a steering wheel that shakes when braking?

It’s not a good idea. You’ll want to safely get off the road as soon as possible and figure out the cause. There could be an issue with your brakes, wheels, or suspension – something that could make your car harder to control. Until you can get it parked, take it easy and slow down.

Can a bad sway bar cause a steering wheel to shake when braking?

A bad sway bar usually doesn’t cause shaking just from braking. But sometimes, if the bar is really worn down, it can make the car lurch or shake a little when you brake. If you notice vibrating when you press the pedal, it might be worth checking the sway bar beside the brakes.

Can Steering wheel shaking result from Bad Wheel Alignment?

It’s unlikely. An alignment being off doesn’t usually make the steering shake. It can lead to things like uneven tire tread wear or feeling like the car wants to veer one way or another. But you shouldn’t feel vibrations from a bad alignment. 

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