It’s an extremely unsettling feeling: one moment, you’re driving smoothly down the road, but in the next, your vehicle begins to shudder and shake from side to side. But wobbling and strange vibrations can be more than just unpleasant; they can also be unsafe. Not only can they distract you and affect your vehicle’s handling—they may also signify pressing problems with specific components in your car or truck, which could put you, your passengers, and other motorists at risk if you don’t diagnose and solve them.
Fortunately, that’s where we come in. Below, we’ll look at some of the most common causes of wobbling in cars and trucks, and show you how to figure out which one might be behind your wobbly vehicle. You’ll also find some advice on how to start solving whatever’s making your vehicle wobble—some of these are simple issues with DIY fixes, whereas others require replacement parts or the services of trained professionals.
Via Your Mechanic
Cause: Warped Brake Rotors
Ignore your brake pads for long enough, and they’ll wear through—forcing your calipers to make direct contact with your rotors whenever you apply the brakes in your vehicle. Without the pads to provide a cushion, the force created by this process can warp your brake rotors over time, reducing their effectiveness and making the braking process much less smooth. If you notice wobbling when you apply the brakes, this could be the reason.
Solution: Replace the Rotors
You can prevent a lot of wear and tear on your brake rotors by replacing your pads effectively—but if it’s already too late for that, the rotors themselves will need to go. Every 55,000 miles (or approximately 88,000 kilometers), it’s a good idea to have both your pads and rotors replaced (assuming you haven’t needed to before then).
Cause: Misaligned Wheels
Vehicle wheels need to remain aligned to ensure that your tires don’t wear down unevenly. Wheel alignment generally goes out over time, but hitting potholes or bumping the curb can throw your wheels out of alignment more quickly. When the alignment is off, the wheels on one side of your car will turn slightly faster than the wheels on the other side, which can create vibrations as the vehicle attempts to stay in line with the way you’re steering it.
Solution: Have Your Wheels Realigned or Tires Balanced by Your Mechanic
Your mechanic will be able to realign your wheels with a special machine at their shop or dealership. This process involves adjusting the angles at which the wheels rest so that they turn at the same rate when moving in a given direction. Balancing the wheels involves adding small weights to the side that’s spinning faster in order to bring down the rate at which they’re turning and make it consistent with the other side. Wheel alignment or tire balancing should take place approximately once a year, at the discretion of your mechanic.
Cause: Bad Spark Plugs
Sometimes, vibrations stem from engine issues—and the fault often lies with one or more bad spark plugs. Plugs that fail can make the engine in your vehicle misfire, which can result in an abrupt jerking sensation while driving.
This kind of wobble will likely feel more intermittent and aggressive than the kind caused by misaligned wheels, and it won’t be as consistent or predictable as the kind caused by warped brake rotors (since they’ll normally only cause wobbling as the brakes are depressed).
Solution: Find and Replace the Bad Plugs
Having your mechanic check your spark plugs as part of your regular vehicle maintenance will help prevent them from burning out prematurely (under normal circumstances, you can expect spark plugs to last a long time—up to 100,000 miles or approximately 160,900 kilometers.
If you’re feeling really confident, you can even use a wrench with a spark plug adapter to pull the plugs from your engine by yourself and give them a visual inspection to check for signs of damage (bad spark plugs may look blackened or rusty as the result of carbon deposits forming on them).
Via Complete Car
Cause: Dirty Air Filter
Sometimes, the scary wobbling sensation you’re feeling behind the wheel can be chalked up to something as simple as a dirty air filter. A filter that isn’t working properly can impact the fuel-to-air ratio in your engine’s combustion chamber, leading to misfiring that feels similar to the symptoms of bad spark plugs.
Solution: Clean or Replace the Filter
This one’s a no-brainer. Your air filter should be located near the front of your car, and can generally be removed without special skills or equipment. Use an air hose or a compressor to blow the dirt and debris off your filter before replacing it—or just get a new one and pop it in instead if the old one is really filthy.
Cause: Suspension Damage
Your suspension is designed to keep you comfortable when you go over bumps in the road, but it can wear out over time. Sometimes it's a case of the shock absorbers or control arms being damaged by repeated use; sometimes it's just a case of rust or corrosion from prolonged exposure to the elements. But in any case, damaged suspension can lead to a wobbling feeling while you drive, since it will no longer be compensating properly for the things you drive over.
Solution: Have Your Mechanic Fix the Suspension
Suspension repairs can be tricky, so we don’t recommend trying them yourself—although you might be able to replace the shock absorbers without too much effort. Here’s a video showing what that process is like on a Ford F350:
Via Car Parts
Cause: Worn Out Wheel Bearings
Your wheel bearings are small, but they’re meant to absorb a lot of force as your vehicle drives. Wheel bearings keep the wheels of your car turning smoothly, so when they begin to wear out (often as the result of corrosion due to contaminated grease in the hubs where they’re housed), more friction gets placed on the wheels they’re installed on and those wheels stop turning as easily. This leads to—you guessed it—uneven wear on your tires and strain on your transmission, which can throw the way your vehicle handles out of whack and lead to wobbling.
Wobbling due to failed wheel bearings will often be more noticeable when cornering—particularly when turning in the direction of the wheel where the bearings need to be replaced.
Solution: Replace Your Wheel Bearings
Fortunately, replacing wheel bearings is an easy enough process that you can probably tackle it by yourself. The trick is to buy high-quality aftermarket bearings that will last a long time and perform effectively. Find aftermarket wheel bearings made for your vehicle here, and keep learning about how wheel bearings and hub assemblies work so you can keep yours in great shape and prevent your vehicle from wobbling.