One of the most frustrating things to deal with on a vehicle you own is a persistent vibration in the steering wheel of a vehicle you drive on a daily basis. This is especially true if you have to drive the vehicle for a long-distance or if you have a long commute since persistent vibration can lead to achy hands and fingers. Manufacturers do everything they can to isolate drivers from road surfaces that are often full of potholes, ruts, and ridges that transmit through the tires and into the structure of the vehicle. A vibrating steering wheel could be from a variety of different sources that range from the wheels themselves, to the suspension and even the motor of the vehicle.
If you’re dealing with steering wheel vibration, this article will help you break down the cause of the vibration by detailing the operation of the components involved
How A Vehicle Reduces Vibration
When we purchase a vehicle, we expect a certain level of refinement and precision. Whether it be a 25-year-old vehicle or a brand new vehicle – cars, trucks, and SUVs should do a fantastic job of reducing the amount of Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) coming into the passenger cabin and through the steering wheel of the vehicle. Everything from tires to the motor mounts of the vehicle plays a part in providing a smooth, quiet, and vibration-free driving experience.
When trying to track down issues with steering wheel vibration, you need to understand how these components work in order to track down the source and properly repair it.
These are the components that could be causing steering wheel vibration:
- Tires / Wheel Bearing
- CV Joint/ Axle
- Steering Column
- Motor Mounts
- Rough Running Engine
Tires and Wheel Bearings
One of the most overlooked sources of vibration in a steering wheel is the tires and the wheel assembly. If your tires are unevenly wearing due to poor alignment/balance, the rotation of the tires will complete at different times and lead to a feeling of vibration through the steering wheel of the car. As well, a flat spot from a brake lockup could also cause this feeling through the steering wheel.
Take a look at your tires on your vehicle closely and cross-reference this graphic:
If you find your vehicle’s tires in any of these states of wear; there’s a good chance that the vibration you’re feeling is due to tires that are unevenly wearing.
Another possible place that vibration can show up is in the wheel hub or wheel bearing. If the wheel bearings are failing, it will lead to a strange vibration in the steering wheel. At times, it will also make a whirring or grinding noise as well.
CV Joint / Axle
In short, the CV Joint is one of the most important parts of modern front-wheel drive vehicles. This simple part is how a vehicle puts power from the transmission into the wheels of the vehicle. This part is under frequent wear and tear and therefore will almost certainly fail at some point on front-wheel drive vehicles due to the introduction of dirt. Once dirt or dust gets into the CV joint itself, the joint gets damaged and fails. If this happens, you will hear a clicking sound while accelerating and feel a vibration through the steering wheel as well.
The suspension of a vehicle is a complicated piece of engineering that is meant to isolate the passenger compartment of the vehicle from the road. In short, the vehicle is suspended (hence the name) by a series of springs and shocks that are attached to the wheel assembly of a car. As the tires roll down the road, the shocks and springs compress and decompress to accommodate the uneven road surface and isolate the vehicle from these imperfections.
If your suspension components have worn out, you could feel the vibration through the steering wheel of your vehicle. These parts include:
Other possible symptoms of a failing suspension (besides steering wheel vibration) are creaking or popping underneath the vehicle or a “wallow” in the suspension that allows the vehicle to bob up and down while driving. A vehicle’s suspension should be supple but never allow the vehicle to bob and up and down without control.
When we drive a modern vehicle, we expect minimal effort while turning the wheel. Today, there are virtually no vehicles that don’t have power steering assist. Those that have had the honor of driving a vehicle without power steering know just how hard it is to turn a vehicle’s tires without assistance, especially at rest. The power steering system itself is actually a fairly complicated rig that encompasses a pump and a rack-pinion to assist in turning the wheels of the vehicle.
Taking a look at the steering column, we can see a number of locations that could cause vibration if a failure occurs. Everything from a failed rack or pinion to a complete loss of fluid due to pump failure can cause an undue vibration in the steering rack of your vehicle and be translated right to your hands.
The sole job of the motor mount is to reduce the vibration that comes from the engine and into the vehicle itself. Internal combustion engines are notoriously hard to manage when it comes time for vibration and the motor mount is a fluid-filled or rubber piece that basically acts like the suspension for the motor itself. If these parts get cracked or leak, then the vibration of the motor could be transmitted through the body of the car and that includes the steering rack.
Vibration from failed motor mounts can be especially troublesome when a vehicle is experiencing issues that prevent the engine from running in a smooth manner. If there are issues with the motor mounts on your particular vehicle, a rough running motor could exacerbate this condition and you will feel it throughout the car.
Rough Running Engine
If your engine is running rough, even a fully functioning set of motor mounts may not be able to completely irradicate vibrations and you may feel this in the steering wheel of the vehicle.
Here are some of the most common reasons why an engine may be running roughly:
- Engine misfire
When an engine misfires it is typically due to a poor spark plug or an issue with compression in the cylinder due to poor seals.
- Vacuum leak
There are dozens of vacuum lines that utilize the pressure of a running engine to operate things like brake boosters. If one of these is damaged the pressure will cause the engine to sputter.
- Dirty fuel injectors
Dirty injectors lead to misfiring engines due to improper fuel delivery
- Carburetor problems
Improper air/fuel mixtures can lead to misfiring engines and a high amount of carbon buildup
- EGR valve
A stuck or damaged EGR valve will cause the engine to “burp” and lose any/all efficiency
- Ignition coil
Dirty or worn coils can effet the firing of spark plugs and cause misfires
- Spark plug wires
Damaged or worn spark plug wires can cause major issues with sending the necessary charge to plugs for proper ignition
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