It’s never a good sign when you start to feel your car vibrating under you while you’re driving. Most people start wondering what could be the source of the vibration, and it’s normal to think of worst-case scenarios first. But that ignores one of the most common and fixable problems, bad wheel alignment.
Yes, in some cases getting an alignment can fix car vibration, assuming that bad alignment was the cause of the problem in the first place. Alignment isn’t always the root of car vibration though, so it’s important to get your car properly diagnosed by a mechanic, especially if the vibration continues after an alignment.
Fortunately getting an alignment and tire rotation for your car isn’t difficult, and it’s a normal part of regular maintenance anyway. You should always keep your car’s alignment in good condition because it will improve the life of your tires, suspension system, and even the car itself.
Why Is My Car Shaking?
There are a lot of possible reasons for car shaking and vibration, which is why it’s so important to get your car checked by a qualified mechanic if you’re starting to have trouble.
Still, there are a few common things that can cause car shaking, and knowing the possible causes can make it easier to diagnose and fix the problem when it occurs.
1. Tire Problems
One common cause of vibration and shaking on the road are simple tire problems. Even when your wheels are properly aligned, the tires themselves can have a variety of problems that cause excess vibration.
If it’s been a while since you got your last tire rotation, for instance, uneven wear may be starting to affect tire performance and causing the vibration. It’s also possible for tires to go ‘out-of-round’, especially older tires with a lot of miles on them.
When a tire goes out-of-round it means that it’s no longer perfectly circular and needs to be replaced. Out-of-round tires often cause some vibration because your tires aren’t making even contact with the road once they aren’t perfectly circular.
2. Engine Issues
Much like your tires can cause excess vibration for a variety of reasons, so can your engine. If you suspect engine trouble might be at the heart of your problem it’s important to get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
Engine problems have a tendency to get worse over time, so getting it fixed sooner can also mean getting it fixed more affordably. Here are some common engine-related sources of vibration:
- Dirty Fuel Filters
- Bad Spark Plugs
- Not Getting Enough Air
- Bad Air/Fuel Mixture in the Pistons
If your car seems to vibrate more when you’re accelerating or doesn’t vibrate unless you’ve been driving for a certain amount of time, your engine may be causing the vibration.
3. Damaged Brake Rotors
Damage to your brake rotors can also be a cause of vibration because the damage or warping of the rotor can cause it to apply uneven pressure to the wheel, preventing smooth operation.
This kind of vibration is usually easier to spot because you’ll only feel the vibration while you’re using your brakes.
What are the Symptoms of Needing an Alignment?
Most cars should get a tire alignment at least once a year, and more often is usually better than less often. Of course, your car might need an alignment off schedule, especially if you put a lot of miles on your car or spend a lot of time driving on uneven roads, off-roading, or driving on gravel or dirt.
It’s important to know what the symptoms of bad wheel alignment are so that you can identify the problem and fix it as quickly as possible. Bad alignment can cause strange wear patterns on your tires and can make your car less safe to drive over time.
The longer you go without getting an alignment, the worse the problem is likely to be. Here are the main symptoms to look for:
1. Your Car Starts Pulling Off Course
This is one of the most common signs of a car that needs an alignment. While you’re driving down the street your car should go mostly perfectly straight, assuming you have good road conditions.
If you notice that you’re having to pull the steering wheel left or right to keep going straight, especially if the pull is consistent on different roads and different speeds, you likely need an alignment.
It’s important to note that pulling isn’t always a sign of a problem. Some models of cars naturally pull a little bit in one direction or the other.
If you’re driving one of those vehicles (your mechanic should be able to tell you) then you should watch for the pull getting worse, or suddenly changing direction.
Cars that naturally pull in one direction are always consistent in which direction and how much they pull.
2. Noisy Steering
Another common sign that your wheels are out of alignment is noisy steering. If your tires suddenly seem to be louder while you’re driving, especially when you’re turning, that can be a sign that there’s additional friction on the tires, likely caused by poor alignment.
3. Rapid Tire Wear
This is one of the last signs of bad alignment. If you get to the point where you’re starting to notice uneven or excessive tire wear then you’ve probably been dealing with bad wheel alignment for at least a couple of weeks.
More likely, if you’re seeing uneven tire wear, your car has needed an alignment for a couple of months.
What Does Bad Alignment Feel Like?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what a bad alignment feels like because alignment problems can present in so many different ways. Pulling in one direction or the other while driving is probably the most common sensation of bad alignment.
However, a little extra vibration can also be a sign that your car’s alignment needs attention. You may also feel like you’re struggling to maintain control of your vehicle while you’re driving, even in good driving conditions.
Once your cat gets to this point it’s likely that your wheels are badly out of alignment. Up until that point though, wheel alignment problems can be pretty subtle.
Mostly alignment problems feel like your car changing how it drives slightly. But since those changes happen over time, it can be hard to spot when it’s happening.
That’s one of the core reasons that many mechanics recommend getting your car aligned regularly. It’s not easy to spot when you’re having alignment problems. Getting your car’s alignment redone regularly helps prevent the wear and tear damage bad alignment causes over time.
Can High Tire Pressure Cause Vibration?
Yes! High tire pressure can absolutely cause vibration through your vehicle, especially if the pressure is really too high.
High tire pressure is most likely to cause vibration if only one or two of your tires have high air pressure. If they all have high air pressure you’re less likely to feel it because your tires will probably perform similarly, especially if they all have similarly high internal pressure.
High air pressure is just like other tire issues like our-of-round tires and tires with uneven or excessive wear. It causes vibration because the tire has uneven contact with the road. Low tire pressure can do the same thing. It’s also more likely to cause vibration if only one or two of your tires have low air pressure.
High Tire pressure can also cause drifting and rattling and make your tires louder than normal. That’s all because they have uneven contact with the road, which causes uneven friction and can make the tires much louder.
It should. Uneven tire pressure, either too high or too low, can feel a lot like bad alignment. Fortunately, uneven tire pressure is a little easier to fix.
You can use a home PSI gauge to check your tire pressure and make corrections at home, assuming you have an air compressor. Without an air compressor, you can take your car to a mechanic to have the tire pressure checked, or you can take individual tires.
It’s even possible to check tire pressure and make corrections at your local gas station’s air pump!
Why Does My Car Still Shake After an Alignment?
Unfortunately, an alignment isn’t necessarily a guarantee when it comes to car vibration. Your mechanics are likely to catch issues with your car’s alignment, brakes, and even its tires during an alignment though, so it’s often a good first step.
That’s because most mechanics will also rotate your tires and check tire pressure while they’re performing an alignment. It’s part of the service and will help prevent uneven tire wear and tear over time.
Removing the tires to rotate them also gives your mechanic a chance to look at the brakes, which means they’ll likely spot any obvious brake problems right away.
However, an alignment won’t necessarily reveal problems with your engine, and may not reveal some of the more subtle problems with your axels and driveshaft (another possible source of vibration).
If your car is still shaking after you’ve gotten an alignment, it’s a good idea to take it to a mechanic to specifically diagnose the vibration problem. Make sure you describe the vibration you’re experiencing in as much detail as possible to help them isolate the source of the problem and make appropriate repairs.