Of all the components in your car that you need working reliably, the steering and brakes are without a doubt among the two most important ones. So, imagine then when both are exhibiting issues at the same time. Have you been in an incident where the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill? In that case, we can only imagine the sheer terror of trying to slow down and stop your car to a halt at speed. So then, why is my steering wheel shaking, shivering, and shuddering under braking?
Well, it turns out that this violent shaking could be caused by one of many different points of failure. You’ll be able to notice the vibrations more readily when you’re zooming at 60 or 70mph. Sometimes, we can attribute this to be caused by faulty brakes. Meanwhile, others point the finger at poor wheel alignment or steering problems. Or, it could be all of these failings at once. In any case, we’re going to take a look now at what’s behind it all if the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill.
What Are The Most Common Causes Behind The Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking Downhill?
So, let’s dive straight into the most common causes of why your car is suffering a problem where the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. Once again, much of the diagnosis would show us that the brakes themselves are faulty. Just so we can avoid any confusion, here are some of the most vital units within the braking system that we need to learn to differentiate:
Brake Rotors – They’re sometimes also called the brake ‘discs’. These are the large circular plates against which the brake pads will be squeezed. By doing so, the pads will create friction against the brake rotor discs. This should then start to scrub away the momentum and speed of your car as it gradually slows down.
Brake Pads – These are friction pads, where they are pressed down against the brake rotor discs. When they make contact, the car’s kinetic energy and momentum are converted into heat and friction. Therefore, the car will slowly start to lose speed. It’s crucial to note as well, that the rotor discs should be an even surface.
Brake Callipers – The calipers are the large metal blocks that hold the brake pads in place. On top of that, they’re also the ones tasked with clamping the brake pads down onto the rotors. When you press the brake pedal, hydraulic pressure will be exerted through the brake fluids. This travels across the brake lines, which eventually make their way to the calipers. It’s this pressure that forces your inputs onto the brakes.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are the most plausible reasons why the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill…
1. The Brake Rotors Are Unevenly Worn
As we made mentions earlier, the brake rotors need to be an even and smooth surface. This way, the brake pads can apply an even amount of braking force across the entire surface area of the brake rotors. However, the rotors are susceptible to damage over time. Overheating caused by friction, for example, of the braking system can result in the rotors warping or twisting.
Usually, the intense and continued exposure to friction and heat exposes the outside of the rotor discs more than the inside. Thus, the entire surface of the disc becomes uneven, with some areas becoming thicker or thinner than others. This fundamentally changes how the brakes work. When you press the brake pedals now, the braking force will vary depending on how much contact they can make.
For instance, a portion of the brake pads might not be able to contact a section of the rotors that are warped inwards. You’d notice this if the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill, or when you’re slowing down from highway speeds. Moreover, the brake pedals might vibrate or pulse, too. Or, you can sometimes smell a heaty or “hot” scent once you’ve come to a halt – a sign of overheating.
2. Your Brake Pads Are In Poor Condition
While we’re looking at the brake rotors, we may as well look into the pads. The brake pads are worn down heavily when under braking. Although they could last for as long as 80,000 miles, we recommend getting a check-up of your pads every 40,000 miles. If you regularly drive in the town or city where you’d brake more often, then 20,000 or 30,000 miles is a good interval for a service.
This relatively low mileage is justified for brake pads. They’re getting scrubbed against the rotors every time you press the brake pedal. This makes them equally vulnerable to extensive exposure to friction and heat. Plus, they’re left out in the elements, constantly soiled by debris, dirt, water, mud, oil, and anything that nature throws at them. As brake pads wear, they too can warp or become damaged.
As you press the brake pedal, you might hear some squeaking or squealing sounds. Perhaps, you’d notice that the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. As well as odd vibrations, these are tell-tale signs that your brake pads need changing. The contaminants in and around your pads might’ve either gotten in the way. Or, they’ve worn the brake pads entirely that necessitates a new set.
3. The Brake Callipers Might Be Sticking
As we’ve learned earlier, the brake calipers are what put pressure to clamp the pads down onto the brake discs. Although they’re made to work reliably in pressing and depressing the brake pads, they too can be subject to wear. The most common cause of failure is the brake calipers’ sticking’. This happens when the brake calipers are stuck in place. It can go in either one of two ways.
The calipers could be stuck when they’re fully depressed, thus leading the pads to make contact with the brake rotors. Or, it can be stuck in its upwards position, where the calipers can’t clamp the pads down onto the discs. Either way, it can result in poor braking performance, as well as the case of the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. Sometimes, it may even result in uneven braking.
If your brake calipers are sticking, we usually blame rust for that. Combine the heat from the brakes, and trapped moisture around the calipers, we have a recipe for oxidation. Over time, this can oxidize, which can impede the calipers’ pistons to force input onto the calipers. It could sometimes seize up entirely, or be blocked by heavy coatings of rust on the exterior of the brake calipers.
4. Your Tyres Might Not Be Properly Aligned
When you get your car serviced, tire rebalancing should always be in order. As you drive along, the tread wear on your tires would not always be even for all four tires. The front, as they have to handle much of the braking and all of the steering, wears more than the rear. Depending on how you drive it, the left-hand side tires might be more worn than the right. You can actually test this.
Head over to a quiet stretch of highway, and get your car up to 60mph. Now, let go of the wheel for a moment. Does your car veer slightly to the left or right? In that case, your tire may have alignment issues. At its most serious circumstance, you’d be able to tell this if the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. On top of that, unresolved misalignment of the tires may cause more problems.
Misalignment can result in your tire treads wearing out prematurely. This in itself is dangerous, as you could lose valuable traction. Not to mention, it can put a lot of undue stress on the rest of the steering, suspension, and braking components. As a result, the bills for repairing your steering wheel shudder may skyrocket further, if your tires aren’t aligned the right way promptly.
5. The Suspension Components Might Be Worn Or Faulty
Now, we can move on to the suspension as a possible culprit if your steering shakes when braking downhill. It’s a familiar theme where a lot of the potential points of failure are around your tires. This time, it’s worth bearing in mind that your car’s suspension has countless different parts. Connected to each other, they too undergo a lot of strain in day-to-day driving and can wear out after a while.
These include the wheel bearings, tie rods, and ball joints – all of which require a full replacement or a service after some time. If not cared for, these defective units will start to affect the steering and the braking, too. You can feel more vibrations, shuddering, and the case of your steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. You might also be able to hear odd noises when turning or steering.
However, it’s worth noting that suspension-related faults will only exhibit symptoms when turning. So, if your car’s steering wheel shakes when braking downhill in a straight line, it’s most likely the brakes that need a check-up. That’s rather than blaming them on the suspension or steering. That said, it’s worth taking a look at if you’re sending your car over to a local technician for a diagnosis.
6. Your Brake Lines Might Have Air Trapped In Them
One of the most vital components within your car’s entire braking system is the braking lines. It’s with lines where braking fluids will circulate through. Once hydraulically pressurized, the fluids will carry and translate your inputs on the brake pedal to the brakes. Therefore, it’s vital that this pressure can be maintained at its most optimal state. However, the brake lines – and fluids – can be compromised.
Among them would be air bubbles trapped inside the system. Should there be air bubbles within the flow of the brake fluids, the braking pressure will become uneven. Imagine if the braking force is harder on one side of the car’s brakes than the other. This imbalance will lead to a degradation in overall braking performance, as well as the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill.
Usually, air bubbles appear due to the presence of moisture in the brake lines. As the brakes heat up a lot when they’re used, this moisture could boil into a gas. This leads to pockets of air being created inside the brake fluid flow. On top of that, there are other potential contaminants to be concerned about with your brake fluids, hence why a flush and change every now and then is a good idea.
How Can You Fix These Problems That Result In The Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking Downhill?
Right, we’ve so far understood some of the more common causes behind the issue of if your steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. Now, we can move on to how you can fix them. On top of that, we’ll also look at what needs to be done, and how much is all this going to cost. As we’ve warned you numerous times when looking at the causes, this is one fault that you should immediately get fixed. As soon as you notice any odd vibrations or violent shaking at all, it’s worth getting it looked into.
If your brakes, suspension, wheels, or steering are defective – hence leading up to the steering wheel shaking when under braking downhill or at speed – it can put your life at risk. Even a seemingly trivial vibration or odd sound could lead to major component failure over time. At the very least, it can put a lot of unwanted and unnecessary strain on the rest of your car, which could lead to premature wear. For example, let’s say your car’s wheels aren’t aligned rebalanced properly.
That alone will stress out the suspension, steering, and brakes, all of which could wear out far quicker than they should’ve. When they do fail, you may be driving at highway speeds; ensuring that any minor part failure could lead to a catastrophic accident. So, here are some of the ways that you can fix the issue where the steering wheel shakes when braking downhill…
1. Brake Rotor Discs – Resurface ($30-$100 Per Rotors), Or Replace ($200-$500 Per Axle)
As we’ve noted, the rotors are the most common cause of this shaky steering wheel concern. If the rotor discs are worn unevenly, they could still be resurfaced. Resurfacing is a process of machining the surface of the rotors down, practically grinding away a thin layer. This would help to even out the once worn-out surface of the discs. A resurfacing job generally costs around $30 to $100 per rotor.
However, and if the rotors themselves are horribly warped or damaged, a replacement might be in order. The cost of a new set of brake discs will vary wildly depending on the make and model of your car. The rotors, if bought off the store shelves, can cost anywhere from $30 to $2,000. Although, the latter is reserved for high-end brake rotors such as racy carbon-ceramic discs.
Performance-oriented rotors are around $150 or more. For the average automobile that we’re most used to, expect the cost of new brake discs to be around $30 to $150 each. It’s worth mentioning that whether you’re thinking of resurfacing or replacing your brake rotors, they need to be done as a pair. In other words, an entire axle’s worth of brakes needs to be replaced or resurfaced – front or rear.
1.5 Always Replace The Pair
For example, let’s say your front-left rotors are acting up, and need a replacement. In this situation, you’ll need to replace or resurface the rotors on the front-right, as well. Plus, you’re recommended to replace the brake pads when you’re out to swap out the rotors. That’s since the old and worn brake pads might not make proper contact with the brand-new and smooth brake rotors.
Otherwise, the brake pads will need some time to wear down evenly on both sides of the axle. This can lead you to experience a somewhat jittery ride, especially under braking. Now, let’s add to the bill another $150 to $200 of labor fees for a two-rotor (one axle) replacement. The total will sit at around $200 to $500 for just replacing the rotors on one axle, accounting for both labor and parts.
If you’re thinking of replacing the brake pads too, then you could save on having to spend on labor charges twice. This is another incentive to have both the discs and pads replaced at once, as a way to save on the workshop bills. So, should you be planning a full rotor and pad replacement for one axle – or two wheels – it’ll cost you somewhere between $250 to $600. Again, that’s for the parts and labor.
2. Brake Pads – Replace ($100-$300 Per Axle)
If the brake rotors are just fine, you can make do with swapping out the old and worn-out brake pads. Alas, there’s no way to recondition or resurface brake pads here like the discs, so a full replacement is in order. Once again, we don’t condone replacing just one brake pad. To ensure sufficient and even braking force, an entire axle’s worth of pads – that’s two wheels, front or rear – needs to be replaced.
Let’s say you’re only replacing the brake pads on the front-left of your car. In this scenario, when you brake, you might notice that the car would veer left. This happens as the front-right can’t grab the brakes as well as your front-left can. The pads themselves cost anywhere from $35 to $150 for a set on one axle. Add in labor charges, and you’re looking at a total bill of around $100 to $300 per axle.
3. Tyre/Wheels – Alignment ($100-$150 For Four Wheels)
If you feel that your car’s tracking isn’t well balanced, then you can fix this by getting your car’s tires or wheels aligned. You can get it inspected, and the technician will best tell you what you need. In particular, you’ll have to discern whether your car needs a full four-wheel alignment or a relatively simple and cost-effective two-wheel alignment. For the most part, it depends on what you drive.
If you have a 4×4 SUV or an all-wheel-drive car, then the best course of action is to rebalance all four wheels. The cost will stick close to around $100 to $150 on average. Most cars, on the other hand, are only front- or rear-wheel drive. In this case, a two-wheel alignment may be sufficient. However, you should have your suspension, steering, and axle inspected beforehand to determine if this is so.
A two-wheel alignment will set you back at a 50% discount – since you’re only doing two wheels – of $50 to $75. If you’re already in the process of getting an alignment, it’s also worth getting your tires rotated. Rotating your tires can help to balance out the treadwear. Since your front tires need to handle most of the braking and all of the steering, it’ll wear out faster than the rear tires.
To prevent needing to replace your whole set of tires at once, you can rotate them to even out the wear and lifespan of your set of tires. A tire rotation is relatively cheap, netting you around $25 to $50. Nevertheless, and if you purchase tires from certain retailers such as Discount Tire or Costco, you can get tire rotations for free throughout the entire lifespan of that particular set of tires.
4. Suspension – Repair Or Replace ($200 to $5,000)
If you think that your car’s suspension is at fault, it never hurts to get it inspected by a professional. In that case, you can dock around $50 to $100 for labor costs per hour. It shouldn’t take any longer than one hour for a technician to go through and diagnose your suspension. If faults are found, then there will be a myriad of units to repair or replace, given how complex the suspension is.
The most typical parts of the suspension that could wear out are the shocks and struts. A full set of four – that’s one for each wheel – is around $200 to $1,500. Although, you could save a lot by going for refurbished or DIY-style shocks and struts kits, setting you back $250 to $350 for a whole set. Yet, the cost for a whole set of shocks and struts can only get higher from here.
Heavy-duty or high-performance vehicles have more complex suspensions. A set of shocks or struts for these would leave you lighter anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. The control arms and ball joints – for a whole set of four – costs between $350, or upwards of $2,000 for a replacement. Thankfully, you can once again find DIY kits for less than $400.
Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking Downhill – Conclusion
In all, this concludes our look at all the common faults and their respective solutions for what to do if your steering wheel shakes when braking downhill. To summarise, this is obviously a very serious issue. We thus recommend that as soon as you sense odd shaking or vibrations through the steering wheel under braking, it’s best to head over to a workshop to have it checked out. Do it quickly enough, and maybe the repair bills won’t have to be too bitter of a pill to swallow.
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