Does Your Car Have a "Shimmy"?

Some people choose to ignore a steering wheel that shakes when braking, but the problem can inhibit your control of the car. Often called a "shimmy," this can also affect the antilock brake system, which may contribute to a crash during a panic stop.

Is it safe to drive if my steering wheel shakes when braking?

If your steering wheel shakes when you apply the brakes, chances are you're going to need a mechanic fairly soon. Exactly how soon depends on a few factors, including the cause of the shakes. For example, you may be able to ignore the problem for a while -- months or perhaps even years -- if it's caused by improperly tightened rotors. The same is not true if the problem is caused by loose lug nuts. In that case, you'd be lucky to make it around the block.

As we mentioned in previous sections, a quivering steering wheel is caused by warped rotors in most cases. It's certainly possible to ignore this problem, but do so at your peril. Chronic vibrations can cause calipers, bolts, brake pads and other components of the braking system to loosen or wear out. This will quickly drive up the cost of what was originally a relatively inexpensive repair. The cost of replacing rotors is about $250. The cost of replacing an entire braking system would run many times that amount.

Another reason not to neglect your warped rotors is that the shaking they cause during braking may result in loss of stability. Driving is already one of the most dangerous things we do each day, so there's no reason to increase your odds of a crash. Besides, very few of us are able to avoid looking ridiculous when clutching a wobbly wheel.

In short, driving for a little while on warped rotors is probably OK, but don't ignore the problem for too long. Doing so is likely to lead to significant damage to your brake system and more expensive repairs in the long run. All things considered, it's best to have the problem fixed as soon as possible. So before you hit the road with your quivering car, be sure to ask a mechanic you trust to take a look at your rotors. Chances are you can solve the problem quickly without breaking the bank.