What’s that strange vibration going on with your vehicle? Why is my car shaking? It happens to many car owners, especially after they have been driving the car for a great deal of time. Everything seems to be fine, but then a little shaking begins – then a little more – and soon you have a vibration that you can feel through the seat and the steering wheel. What is going on?
Fortunately, vibrations are so common that they are easy to diagnose. It is often a very simple situation with an easy solution; but it pays to have it checked out in the rare chance that it is a serious problem with your suspension, steering or axles.
Possible Causes for a Car Shaking and Vibrating
Your axle is bent
If you get into a minor fender-bender or other mishap, such as running over a curb, you might feel as though it wasn’t enough to do any damage. That might not be true, however. Even a minor accident can bend an axle, and the slightest bend in this very important part can lead to serious shaking, especially at higher speeds. At the end of the axles is a part called the “constant velocity joint,” or CV joint. If those joints are worn out, that can also mean that your car is shaking.
You have a warped brake rotor
If the shaking happens only when you put on the brakes, and stops as soon as the car does, you probably have a warped brake rotor. The rotor is the part of your vehicle that sits right inside the wheel. The brakes press hard against this rotor in order to slow and stop the car. Over time, the rotors begin to wear out from all that friction. When the rotor no longer has an even surface, you get vibrations whenever you hit the brakes.
Your wheel is wobbly
Is your tire attached firmly to the vehicle? A loose tire can lead to serious vibration, and it can also lead to an accident if not taken care of immediately. If your tire is well-attached, you might be looking at problems with the wheel bearings. Though these are designed to last for the life of the vehicle, many people drive their vehicles enough to wear these parts out.
Your tire needs balancing
If your tires aren’t balanced properly, they won’t run even and straight on the road. The result – you guessed it – is a bad shimmy. That vibration can get even worse with time, and can start to affect your other tires, too. Other problems might include alignment issues or problems with the tread coming away from the tire.
You’ve hit something hazardous
There is a reason why drivers curse potholes and low curbs – these are invitations to run right over them and cause serious problems to the wheels themselves. If you have hit a pothole or other obstruction recently and now your car has a wicked shake, chances are there is a problem with the wheel itself. That needs the attention of a trained tire technician.
Your brake caliper is stuck
This is an odd thing to happen to a vehicle, but it certainly has caused its share of shaking. When the caliper sticks, your car will start to vibrate when it reaches a certain speed, usually 40 or 50 miles per hour. Once that happens, it gets even worse the faster you go. When you stop, you might smell a burning odor that reminds you of tires on fire.
Your radiator fan is broken
When a fan breaks, it becomes very uneven. It still tries to turn, but it wobbles. If your radiator fan is broken, this can be enough to make your car shake from side to side, especially when you are going at faster speeds.
Your engine mount is loose
The engine of a vehicle is attached to the body of the car with engine mounts. Most vehicles have at least four of these, possibly more. If even one mount is loose or unattached, it means that your engine has more room to move, and it will – you can suffer significant vibrations with a loose mount.
More Explanation on Car Shaking in Different Circumstances
Does the car shake while idling?
If your car is shaking while it’s on but not actually moving, then it’s likely not the tires. This usually means there is something broken in the engine, such as the radiator fan or engine mounts. Fuel system issues can also cause the car to shake even while standing still.
Does the vibration get worse at high speeds?
Vibrations that begin when you reach a certain speed are likely due to a problem with the tires or the associated systems. The universal joint or the transmission fluid system are two other things that might have gone wrong if your car is shaking hard at higher speeds.
Is the shaking concentrated on the steering wheel?
If you are feeling the vibrations through the steering wheel as you drive, chances are you have an issue with the tie rods, shock absorbers, struts, bearings, or ball joints. Any of these issues must be fixed by a qualified mechanic, and might cost a pretty penny, depending upon how extensive the problem is.
Is there a loud noise when the car shakes?
If this is the case, the drive train or transmission might be going bad. This is a serious situation that calls for a visit to the mechanic as soon as possible – your car might not be safe on the road until the problem is fixed.
What to Do If Your Car Is Shaking
Start by taking a good look under the hood
Sometimes the problem is very clear, such as a broken radiator fan or a busted engine mount. Examine everything – waiting until the car is cool, of course – and then move on to the tires.
Search your tires for any problems
This might include bulging areas, where the tire has begun to degrade, or areas where the tread is very thin or has been worn completely away. Also look at the side of the tire for anything that looks like a cut or seam – this could be the tread separating from the tire base. Look into the rim for any debris that might be caught there, even mud or sand, as these can cause the tires to be out of balance.
These problems can be solved with a quick trip to the local garage, where they can do routine maintenance, rotate your tires, change out those that might be bad, and look under the hood with an experienced eye.