Own a car long enough and there’s a good chance you’ll develop auto problems of some nature. And one of the most common and most bothersome problems is vibration. What’s more, it often creeps up on you gradually and subtly – until one day you find yourself wondering how you ever put up with such an annoyance.
Perhaps then you asked yourself, what does it mean if my car is vibrating? While there’s no substitute for the assessment of someone with an extensive automotive background, you can develop a good feel yourself for diagnosing car problems that are relatively common, such as vibrations.
The fix could be something relatively cheap and simple, like a tire rotation or balance. Or it could signal something more serious, like steering or suspension issues.
Diagnosing car trouble in its early stages may seem like a hassle at first, but you have to remember that it can often save you from bigger car trouble (and bigger repair bills) down the road.
If your vehicle shakes, shimmies or vibrates out of the ordinary, or if you’re just interested in preventing those conditions in the first place, keep reading. This article will take a look at the top 5 reasons behind a vibrating car.
Sometimes a shake or shudder will emanate from the engine compartment, because the engine isn’t getting enough air, fuel or spark that it needs to run smoothly.
Symptoms that might indicate such an engine-related case of the shakes include the following:
- Shudder or jerking occurs during acceleration
- Staccato shaking, as if over a highway “rumble strip,” within a specific speed range
- Car starts and drives fine for a while, but later begins to shake
These symptoms could be signaling that it’s time for a new set of spark plugs. If the plugs are fine, it could be that the spark plug wires need to be checked (are they connected in the proper order?) or replacing.
Lastly, a dirty air filter or clogged fuel filter can starve the engine of needed oxygen or fuel, respectively. So be sure to replace them at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals.
Our vehicles are full of reciprocating, rotating parts that have to fall within certain measurements, or tolerances, in order to perform properly.
If an axle gets bent — which is actually quite easy to do in a collision or other mishap — it will create a jostle of a ride afterward. With this problem, the vibrating often picks up in intensity the faster you drive.
A related problem would be that the driveshaft also needs inspection. This rapidly spinning part transfers engine power to the rear axles and wheels in rear-wheel drive vehicles. If it’s bent, shaking may result.
Worn-out constant velocity (CV) joints fall under the same category. If the “boots” — those rubber, accordion-like coverings around the ends of the drive axles — are intact, clamps are secure, and no lubricant is seeping out, chances are they’re not the problem. But if the boots are torn, that means dirt and dust and road filth is getting in and damaging the joints. For front-wheel drive cars, toasted CV joints mean you’ll be buying new drive axles, too.
“Axles of unevenness” could be giving your vehicle the shakes, but what if those bad vibrations come on only when you apply the brakes?
Do those bad vibrations appear or intensify when you apply the brakes? If so, there’s a strong possibility that your car is tooling about with a warped brake rotor, or rotors.
The rotor is the shiny, silver disc-shaped component on vehicles with a disc brake system. The rotor can get bent out of shape due to heavy wear and tear — basically, overheating from more stopping than that particular rotor can handle. Instead of being uniformly flat all the way across, a deformed rotor is raised or lowered on part of its surface. The calipers and brake pads, which squeeze the brake rotors to make the car stop, can’t get an even grip on a warped rotor, hence, vibration.
If you’re not handy with a wrench, it’s a good idea to see a brake specialist who can tell you the condition of your vehicle’s rotors or brake drums (on cars with rear drum brakes).
Often, you’ll feel your car vibrating directly through your steering wheel. And one seemingly logical thing to guess is that an alignment issue might be the culprit. But car experts often advise otherwise.
One or more wheels may suffer from excessive “play,” or wobbliness, at the hub itself. The diagnosis and cure for this is pretty involved, as it could point to any of a number of issues. First, let’s just assume that each wheel is fastened securely to its hub with properly torqued lug nuts.
With that out of the way, the solution to a shaky wheel might entail replacing the wheel bearings. On most modern vehicles, wheel bearings are meant to last the life of the car or truck. But as you may already know, if you subject your vehicle to worse-than-typical wear-and-tear (off-roading, extremely hard driving, high mileage), it’s not unheard-of for bearings to wear out.
Another thing to look for is “runout.” This is the term that describes how much a wheel deviates from a perfectly circular rotation when it is spun. Wheel technicians use precision instruments to determine if runout on any particular wheel exceeds half an inch. Much of the time, but not all the time, the solution is a new wheel.
Other sources of wiggling, wobbly wheels include the tie-rod ends or ball joints. If they’re worn out, they’ll allow too much play in the wheel. At driving speeds, this translates to annoying vibration.
Wheels prove to be a common culprit when tracking down reasons for why a car is vibrating. But we can narrow it down even more.
We listed tyres last, and made them reason #1, since they are so frequently the source of your car’s moving vibrations.
The full list of ways in which tyre issues can contribute to your vehicular shake, rattle and roll is a long one. But here are just some of the major ones:
- Car vibrates at certain speeds — requires tyre balance or wheel alignment
- Tyres have separated tread — requires tyre replacement
- Uneven tyre wear — requires tyre rotation
- Tyres are “out of round” and roll unevenly – requires tyre replacement
Sometimes it isn’t the tyres , but rather the wheels they’re wrapped around that cause your car or truck to vibrate when driven. Watch out for potholes and sloppy road repairs which can both be equally hazardous to your wheels.
Also, keep in mind that these five reasons your car is vibrating aren’t the only possible culprits. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to see an automotive service professional.