Contrary to popular belief, the causes of vibrations in cars are not always wheel alignment issues. In most cases, unbalanced or damaged tires and wheels are the culprits. Damage to the drivetrain, suspension and steering components can also cause annoying vibrations. This article outlines the most common causes of vibrations in cars.
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Speed-sensitive vibrations are usually caused by tires that are out of balance, out of round, have flat spots or bulges in the sidewalls or are damaged in other ways. A bent wheel and damaged brakes will also cause vibration at certain speeds. Other speed-sensitive vibration issues can be directly related to damaged or worn drivetrain components or steering and suspension parts.
Vibration while driving Tires that are out of balance will typically vibrate at higher speeds. The vibration will not be noticeable until reaching 45mph or higher. If vibration occurs at a wide range of speeds, then it's possible that you have a damaged tire, bent wheel or some other issue. If the tires are wearing unevenly across the tread, it's a wheel alignment issue or the tires are not properly inflated and have worn unevenly as a result.
Vibration while stopping If your car vibrates only when you slow down or stop, or pulls to one side or the other, that's a good indication there is a problem with the brakes. Damaged brake shoes or pads, or worse, a warped rotor will cause the vehicle to vibrate when you slow down.
Other speed-sensitive vibrations Loose or broken steering and suspension components can cause vibrations when accelerating, decelerating or changes in speed. Worn tie rod bushings, damaged struts or shocks are common causes of vibration. Drivetrain problems, such as a bad wheel bearing, damaged CV-joint (front-wheel-drive cars), a bent or imbalanced driveshaft (rear-wheel-drive cars) or missing chassis/drivetrain damper weights are all examples of speed-sensitive vibrations.
Vibrations occurring at a certain RPM, but not relative to any particular vehicle speed, are usually caused by problems related to the engine or components attached to it. Loose or broken engine mounts, loose or broken accessory mounts, loose or damaged belts and defects in the power steering system are examples of vibrations that occur at certain RPMs.
If the vehicle was involved in an accident, the chassis may be tweaked, which makes aligning the wheels almost futile. Unfortunately, a damaged chassis is extremely difficult and expensive to fix, In severe cases, it's impossible to correct.
Bad wheel bearings will be revealed more from sound than vibration. A whining sound coming from one of the wheels is a sign that the wheel bearings are damaged. The sound can lead to a noticeable vibration if the problem is not corrected.
Seek professional help
If your vehicle suffers from an annoying vibration, take it to a reputable mechanic or tire dealer. Have them test drive the car. They should be able to diagnose the problem and recommend a solution for the problem.
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