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In an age where cruise control is available on most cars, the steering wheel has become the main way a driver can control their vehicle on the road. Some manufacturers even offer braking assistance that can detect when a collision is about to happen and apply the brakes automatically. Steering, though, still happens manually for the vast majority of cars on the road.
This is unlike most other functions a driver performs, as the only assistance the vehicle offers is power steering. This means that when there is a problem with a component of the steering system, the driver will often feel it in their hands in the form of vibration, shaking, or general "looseness."
The front wheels of a car perform more than one function. They do the majority of the braking, they put some or all of the power from the engine to the road, and, of course, they do the very important job of steering the car. This means that the steering system has to work around a lot of other components under the hood.
There are a few key components that can be found within almost every steering system:
Steering Wheel: The wheel gives the driver control over where they want to go. This also is where you will feel most of your problems. Sometimes the dash will shake along with the wheel.
Steering Column: The column is what brings the rotation down to the front wheels. It turns the wheels in the direction you want to go.
Steering Gearbox: This is used in older vehicles. The gear transfers the turning from the steering wheel down through the linkage to the wheels.
Steering Rack and Pinion: The rack and pinion system is on the majority of newer cars. While this performs the same function as a steering gearbox, it is easier to steer the wheels with this system.
Wheels: Wheels are what actually steer the car left and right. Wheels and tires take a beating especially when the roads are not well maintained. Potholes, divots and other surface problems can wreak havoc on your wheels. Sadly, they are often overlooked and abused without a second thought aside from the occasional air-pressure check. This is unfortunate, as the wheels are the most likely culprit in the event of an unusual vibration in the steering wheel.
The wheels are out of balance or loose. Both loose lugs nut or unbalanced wheels can cause the steering wheel to vibrate, usually becoming noticeable at a certain speed. The shaky steering will typically not be noticeable 5 mph below that speed or 5 mph above that speed.
Wheel bearings can cause vibrations when they fail, but you will normally hear a noise if this occurs.
Tires are excessively worn or unevenly worn due to suspension problems.
Brake rotors are warped or glazed over. This only applies if the vibration occurs when braking.
A top-rated mobile mechanic will come to your home or office to determine the source and cause of the steering system issue, and will then provide a detailed inspection report that includes the scope and cost of the necessary repairs.
The mechanic will begin by inspecting the wheels and tires, and will then move on to check the steering from inside the car. If nothing seems problematic at that point, they will check under the hood and under the vehicle to see if any steering or suspension components are bent or broken.
It goes without saying that the steering system is a crucial part of your car's safe operation. Book a mechanic to perform a thorough inspection as soon as possible.