There are many components that can cause vibrations in your car. In this article, we will look at some of the most common problems that will make your car shake or vibrate. 

Causes of vibration can be anything from steering system, driveline, engine or the suspension system.

The suspension system which can contribute to vibrations consists of a series of arms, rods, ball joints, bushings, wheel bearings, steering knuckle, and strut.

All of these components together amplify vibration when one or more components start to fail.

Car shakes at all speeds

bent rim causes car to shake

One of the most common problems that will cause your car to shake at all speeds is a bad wheel or tire. Once a rim bends you will feel it start to shake the steering wheel at all speeds. The same symptoms can also be caused by a tire that is out of round. 

If the engine itself is shaking and causing the car to shake as well, the problem typically is due to an engine misfire or clogged catalytic converter. 

Other possible causes include:

  • flex disc damage
  • our of balance driveshaft
  • lack of wheel alignment

Steering wheel vibrates when braking

Common Cause: Warped Front Brake Rotor

Average Repair Cost: $350-$500 

Symptoms:

  • Vibrations in the brake pedal
  • Steering wheel shaking when braking
  • Steering wheel vibrations when slowing down

car vibrations when slowing down stopping at highway speed warped rotor

The brake system is responsible for bringing the vehicle to a stop. There are a few components in the braking system that can contribute to the vibration.

The brake system consists of the brake pads, rotors, calipers, brake master cylinder and so on.

The common vibration problem when braking is due to warped rotors and uneven brake pads.

Usually, when brake pads start to wear down, it can grind the rotors and therefore warping it. Remove the tires and inspect the brake system.

Make sure the calipers are not seized, and the brake hardware which holds the brake pads is still in place.

Furthermore, all moving components on the brake system such as the sliding pin should be lubed.

Vibration in Drive or Reverse 

Common Cause: Bad Motor Mount

Symptoms:

  • Vibration in the car steering wheel
  • Vibrations in the car seat when stopped
  • Car vibrating in gear
  • Door or side mirror vibrates
  • Vibrations when stopped at a light or STOP sign

vibrations on steering wheel cabin seat when in gear drive or reverse

The motor mount is responsible for absorbing vibration from the engine and at the same time support the engine.

Over time, the rubber on the motor mounts starts to deteriorate. This decreases the motor mounts' ability to absorb the vibration. In the park position, is where the vibration can be felt.

For example, at the stoplight, you can feel the vibration when stepping on the brake pedal.

To check for bad motor mounts; simply place the vehicle in park with the engine running. With the foot on the brake pedal; move the shift lever from park to reverse and park to drive.

If you hear a clunking noise that means one or more of the motor mounts is bad. Remember, there are a lot of components that can contribute to vibration, make sure to inspect the steering, suspension and brake system.

Learn more about troubleshooting motor mount problems.

Car shakes at high speeds 

car shakes at high speed

Symptoms

  • Vibrations at highway speeds
  • Car vibrations at high way speed
  • Car body has vibrations
  • Driveline vibrations
  • Car seats vibrate while driving

car vibrations at high way speed

The most common vibration at high speed is due to an unbalanced or slightly bend wheel. This problem can also be caused by a bad tire.

If you have a seriously bent wheel or damaged tire, your car will vibrate badly at all speeds and the steering wheel will shake if the bent tire is in the front.

The second common problem is due to a worn strut and shock absorber.

The shock absorber and strut absorb the vibration caused by the wheel making contact with the road. The third common problem is due to worn steering components.

For example, a worn rack and pinion can cause vibration at all speeds and is more noticeable at high speed.

Car shaking & check engine light flashing

car sharking check engine light service engine soon on

Cause: Engine misfire

Common Problem: Bad Spark Plug or Ignition Coil

If your car is shaking and the check engine light is flashing, it means that one or more cylinders are not working.

This problem can be caused by various parts, the most common being a bad spark plug or an ignition coil.

car vibrating service engine soon flashing due to engine misfire code

Don't drive your car extensively if the engine is shaking and the service engine light is flashing. If you absolutely have to drive under these conditions, monitor the engine temperature.

Also, avoid going uphill and accelerating quickly.

Drive the car home or to a mechanic for further diagnostics. You or your mechanic needs to plug an OBD-II scanner into the OBD-2 port under the dash and read the code. 

You will most likely get codes such as P0300, P0301, P0302, P0303, P0304 which are engine misfire codes.

Whatever code you get, write them all down and research online what they mean for your particular make and model.

If the problem is the spark plug, ignition coil or even the mass airflow sensor, replace the defective part.

All these parts are simple to replace even for beginners who don't mind getting grease on their hands. 

Regardless of who is going to fix your car, avoid driving your car if it is shaking and has the check engine light flashing. You will cause serious engine damage and possibly damage your catalytic converter. Don't let a small inexpensive repair turn into an expensive car repair.  

Diagnostic Flow Chart

The following flowchart courtesy of Tire Rack can help you narrow down vehicle vibrations.

Follow the chart from top to bottom to pinpoint the source of the vibrations in your car.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vibrations from bad tire vs. bad rotors?

Steering wheel vibrations can be caused either by a bent wheel, worn tire or bad rotors. There is an easy way to distinguish between the two. If the vibrations happen all the time as you drive, the cause is the wheel, band rim or worn tire. If the vibrations happen only when you brake the cause is a worn rotor. If the cause is a warped rotor it doesn't mean that your brakes will fall out. To fix this problem you will need to remove the rotor and turn them or simply replace the rotors.If the disk doesn't have enough metal left to be within spec after it is machined, the rotor will need to be replaced.

Steering wheel vibrates at low speeds vs. high speeds

If your steering wheel shakes or vibrates at low speeds the most likely cause is a tire or bent wheel. If the steering wheel vibrates at high speeds such as 60mph the cause is often a wheel balance or alignment issue. Another way to tell that the vibrations are due to a wheel balance issue is that those vibrations may go away if you drive under 55mph or once you go over a certain speed. Have your tires balanced and perform an alignment check as well.

What are some other possible causes of vibrations?

Vibrations can also be caused by driveline issues such as a damaged flex disc or u-joint. Vibrations can be caused by an engine that runs rough but these vibrations are most often noticed when in drive or at a stop light. Bad CV joints can also cause vibrations. Worn differential can also cause vibrations. ABS pump may also cause vibrations sometimes felt as pulsating of the brake pedal. These types of vibrations are often more difficult to track down.