Why Does My Car Shake When I Brake? (12 Reasons)

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One of the most common issues car owners face is a shaking car. Because the tremor becomes more apparent when applying brakes, drivers often conclude that the fix necessitates a brake replacement. However, this is not always the case. There are several reasons behind a car shaking when driving – we will go over each one in this guide.

To answer the question, “Why is my car shaking?” is simply a part or mechanism that has gone haywire in your vehicle’s brake system. Vehicle shaking can also come from misaligned wheels and tires or rundown suspension components.

Here are 12 common reasons why a car shakes when braking:

  1. Imperfect brake rotors
  2. Sticky brake calipers
  3. Dry guide pins
  4. Dirty or damaged brake pads
  5. Out-of-balance tires
  6. Wheel-and-tire runout
  7. Rusted or deformed brake drums
  8. Worn suspension parts
  9. Engine misfiring
  10. Low-quality aftermarket tires
  11. Riding conditions
  12.  Overloading and hard acceleration

As already established, vehicle shivers can be traced back to anomalies in any of its braking system components. Driving speed, air-fuel mechanisms, steering wheel condition, and accompanying symptoms also point to the problem source. Whichever the case, let this article provide you information that will help you understand and address the issue early on.

Why Does My Car Shake When I Brake?

Driver Hands on Wheel

1. Imperfect Brake Rotors

Have you ever wondered, “Why does my car shake when I brake at high speed?” Well, your brake rotor is to blame. Honestly, it is the first thing you should check (alongside your car’s ball joint) as soon as you experience that unwelcome full-body massage when hitting the brakes. It is common knowledge that rotors play a big part in helping brake pads slow the vehicle down. Eventually, they will get out of shape, resulting in steering wheel or brake pedal vibrations, or both.

Several factors can cause your brake rotors to warp, such as overtightened wheel lugs, excessive heat from the brake pads, and disuse. Excessive heat (caused by friction of the brake pads on the rotors) not only happens to large vehicles like 10-wheelers or trucks but also daily commuters – and should be an expected outcome of normal braking. Not using your vehicle for extended periods also does your brake rotors the same degree of damage, as the area of the rotor under the brake pad tends to deteriorate or collect brake pad material.

Turning/resurfacing the rotors is one way to even out the warped surface. But due to brand considerations, cost, and required thickness, replacing the roughed-up rotor with a new one proves to be a much better long-term solution. Heftier price tag aside, it is unlikely for a brand-new rotor to be warped again anytime soon or be rendered unusable. As for the wheel lugs, never use an air-operated/pneumatic impact wrench. Consulting your owner’s manual and using a torque wrench are the only reliable means to tighten your wheel lugs to specification.

2. Sticky Brake Calipers

Depending on make and model, vehicles with at least 50,000-80,000 miles under their belt are expectedly prone to have stuck brake calipers (view on Amazon). The reason is that as cars age, the creation of hydraulic pressure that activates the calipers become flawed, causing failure of the brake pads to press against the rotors. In turn, this adversely affects the vehicle’s stopping power and leads to shudders.

Brake caliper issues are not only specific to a car shaking when idle. They actually become more noticeable at speeds from 45 to 50 mph and worsens the faster the vehicle runs. The problem is sometimes accompanied by a burnt smell whenever the car comes to a halt. Feeling the vibration specifically in the steering wheel or seeing wear in only one of the four brake pads are surefire indications of sticky brake calipers.

3. Dry Guide Pins

Another essential component of your vehicle’s braking system is the guide pin. As the name suggests, its role is to guide the brake pad to press the rotor at the right angle. But before it can do so, this pin needs to be dirt-free and lubricated. Otherwise, a bone-dry or corroded guide pin would cause the calipers to stick, resulting in vibrations in the steering wheel. Because issues with guide pins give off the same symptoms as brake rotors and worn suspension parts, an inspection of the caliper and its housing (and handling high-temperature grease) is best left up to professionals.

4. Dirty or Damaged Brake Pads

Vehicle Brake Disc and Pads

Worn brake pads answer the question, “Why does my car squeak when I brake?” Contrary to most of what I have so far explained, brake pads getting worn or damaged is quite common and rarely a premature condition. If you experience your car shaking while on idle and all the other components have checked out, then the tremor would signify the brake pads’ wear indication.

Replacing pads with a fresh set should instantly eliminate the vibration from your wheeler. Avoid procrastinating on this. Otherwise, you will have to deal with the irritating, high-pitch squeal that goes with your vehicle’s Harlem Shake rendition. It may also be worth checking whether you have worn wheel bearings (view on Amazon) if the squealing noise does not stop.

5. Out-of-Balance Tires

Another response to the question “Why is my car shaking when I stop?” is imbalanced tires, which are more associated with shivers within the 50–70-mph range. With out-of-balance tires, a wheel weight gets knocked off, causing one section of the vehicle to be heavier than the others and tires to revolve at different rotation rates. Imbalanced tires are often the result of hitting potholes and curbs and are usually determined by a sidewall bubble or dent in the rim. Unlike sticky brake calipers, trembling caused by out-of-balance tires can be felt in the steering wheel and through the seat and floor.

Because rotational intervals and shaking intensify at certain speeds and specific areas of your car, it is somewhat easier to pinpoint the location of out-of-balance tires. As a reference, vibration felt in the steering wheel would point to front tires, while tremors through the seat or floor would mean rear ones.

Balancing tires should resolve the problem. However, it should never be done at home like a DIY project. Tire balancing requires a computerized wheel balancer capable of accurately determining the appropriate weights needed to correct the imbalance. Ideally, the process should be done by a professional mechanic and also be inclusive of setting the camber, toe, and caster.

6. Wheel-and-Tire Runout

If any component of your vehicle’s wheel-and-tire assembly is not perfectly round, you can call it a wheel-and-tire runout. Unlike other causes listed in this guide, this imbalance problem negatively impacts your car’s steadiness both ways – giving you wobbling at slow speeds and rattling at high speeds. A tire runout gauge (view on Amazon), off-car balancer, or dial indicator would be great for checking radial and lateral runout, as well as determining tires with shifted or broken belts. For correct measurement, start from the center of the tire tread when determining the radial runout and from the center of the tire sidewall for the lateral runout.

7. Rusted or Deformed Brake Drums

If your car has drum brakes on the rear axle, exercise extra caution when driving. Although not the most prevalent, out-of-round or rusted rear drums (or those that are out of spec) can also lead to a car shaking when braking since they fail to make contact with the brake shoes. A drum brake can be machined or turned to restore its round shape. But just like brake rotors, you can never shave off too much of its material when smoothing it out. Hence, a replacement that guarantees the thickness of the drum stays within manufacturer guidelines is more preferred.

8. Worn Suspension Parts

Damaged suspension parts – such as loose tie rod ends and steering linkage (view on Amazon), dented knuckle, or bent axle shaft – are usually the primary reasons for brake pulsations felt in the steering wheel. Typically, tremors happen within the range of 50 to 75 mph. But if the brake judder starts at a certain speed outside of this range and worsens by the minute (regardless if it occurs when you step on the brakes or not), then worn differential and suspension mounts are likely the culprits.

Inner tie rods that have gone awry are easy to spot, as they are accompanied by sound and other hard-to-miss symptoms. Noises include clunking or clicking when turning the wheel or riding over a bumpy surface. On the other hand, tell-tale signs include steering slack (the steering wheel goes from left to right even when the wheels are straight), uneven or excessive tire wear, and reduced turning radius on either left or right. These indicators usually become noticeable even before the car vibrations happen.

The approach to addressing this issue is pretty much the same with brake rotors and any other car component where you can feel the vibration in the front-wheel-drive and steering wheel. The main difference is that suspension parts are not inexpensive. And depending on the severity or how many components simultaneously need replacement, it would sometimes make more sense to buy a new vehicle than to have the entire suspension mechanism replaced.

9. Engine Misfiring

Misfiring occurs when your car has a faulty spark plug, disconnected vacuum hose, or a plugged air filter, causing an imbalance in the motor. This imbalance then manifests in the car shaking while idling or when you are at a stoplight. The symptom may start as a slight bounce or recurring dip in the RPM needle and eventually escalates into a more evident shaking sensation while driving.

A best practice in avoiding misfiring is regular inspection of your car’s spark plug and air filter. Ensure that the plug is not fouled and there is no buildup or discoloration on its tip. Similarly, the air filter should be free of any obstruction, as this can cause the engine’s internal pressure to drop, leaving the cylinders to compensate for the shortcoming and resulting in power loss, restricted airflow, fuel starvation, and violent shaking.

10. Low-Quality Aftermarket Tires

Used Vehicle Tires Worn

Good tires can be pretty expensive, which makes buying knock-offs appealing. But no matter how tempting it is, do not give in! You may be able to save a few dollars off cheap alternatives. But if you want to avoid having brake shudders, purchasing high-quality tires that underwent careful inspection like Michelin Defender All-Season Tires (view on Amazon) will be the route to go.

It would be best if a professional mechanic would mount your new tires for you, to ensure that wheel lug torquing is done accordingly. Make sure to take your car out for a spin – to test if your new knobbies are not out-of-round. For those who intend to buy a secondhand vehicle, make sure to include tread depth in your inspection. Doing this allows you to anticipate how soon you would need to buy a new set of tires or require stock wheels to be balanced. It also prevents damage to the other vehicle components and helps you decide if the car’s price is right.

11. Riding Conditions

Uneven/technical riding conditions increase the probability of curbing or running over something hard on the road – both of which lead to steering wheel vibrations due to a damaged rim or tire. Driving in mountainous areas where brakes are applied non-stop during descents overheats front brake rotors, causing them to be misshapen. Doing a lot of off-roading, treading on treacherous backcountry roads, or taking on switchbacks that require a lot of braking would more than likely result in prematurely worn brake pads or out-of-balance wheels.

While rough riding does lead to acquiring vibrations, do not let this fool you into thinking that your daily driver is exempt from this problem. Long hours of city driving with a lot of stops in between put a lot of pressure on your brake pads and rotors, too, causing warps and pad wear from heat buildup and repeated stops. You would need to care for your sedan the same way you would your ATV. Either that or look for an alternative route to work with fewer stoplights.

12. Overloading and Hard Acceleration

It can be difficult not to overly customize our vehicles with aftermarket accessories. Flashy add-ons, excessive revving, aggressive driving, and speeding on the highway. All these are for fun and bragging rights until we are at the receiving end of a damaged inner CV joint (or, worst-case scenario, a powertrain problem). Either way, we soon experience vibration when stepping on the brakes. The best way to prevent the shudders is really a no-brainer – it simply takes self-restraint when stepping on the gas or personalizing our wheelers.

Conclusion – Why Is My Car Shaking When I Brake?

In summary, here are the answers to the question, “Why does my car shake when I brake?”:

  1. Imperfect brake rotors
  2. Sticky brake calipers
  3. Dry guide pins
  4. Dirty or damaged brake pads
  5. Out-of-balance tires
  6. Wheel-and-tire runout
  7. Rusted or deformed brake drums
  8. Worn suspension parts
  9. Engine misfiring
  10. Low-quality aftermarket tires
  11. Riding conditions
  12. Overloading and hard acceleration

Heeding recommendations from the list above and exercising care when using your vehicle is not enough to eliminate your car’s shakes and shivers. Case in point, a brake pad would still cause your car to rattle and screech once it has reached its limit. The same goes for brake rotors that have become warped after years of service.

Nonetheless, existing remedial actions meant for brake shudders – when followed – reduce not only safety risks but also spell a night-and-day difference in the longevity of your vehicle’s brake and suspension systems. Ultimately, proper upkeep of your car and adherence to its scheduled maintenance help keep the recurrence of the steering wheel and brake-pedal vibrations to a minimum.

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