My Car Shakes When I Step On The Brakes

I recently bought a used Toyota Camry and it already seems to have a problem.  When I step on the brake the steering wheel will violently shake back and forth. I checked the pressure in the tires and it seems to be fine and the tires themselves seem fine…what is happening?

Sharon

Hey Sharon

I think you are ok, not a major problem anyway. What you are describing is called “warped brake rotors” and its very common. The brake rotors on the front of the vehicle are not smooth anymore, due to heat and friction they are now “out of round”.  The brake rotor is the round metal part that the brake pads grab onto and stop the vehicle.

I like to describe the brake rotor as the white  part of an Oreo cookie, take a look at my picture below

brake caliper and brake rotor

Red brake caliper mounted on a brake rotor (still mounted to the vehicle)

I also like to describe the brake pads like the two darker outer pieces of the that same Oreo cookie (does this make you hungry), and since we are showing pictures,  the brake caliper is the part that holds the brake pads, one brake pad on either side of the brake rotor..remember the caliper holds the brake pads.

So I said all that to say this…when you step on the brake pedal, it sends brake fluid into to the brake calipers which produce hydraulic pressure to push in the brake pads and squeeze the brake rotor.

So I said all that to answer your question.  So what is the cause of brake rotor warp?  Well, brake rotors  become “warped” which is basically having an uneven or high spots on the rotor surface which is due to normal wear and tear caused by friction. 

But it can also become warped due to expansion and contraction of the metal material in the disc rotor. This happens a lot due when driving through a large puddle of water on the freeway exit ramp after a long trip on the freeway then the driver smashes on the brakes at the stop light.  I’m sure that has never happened to you.

So what do you do if you have warped brakes?  It’s pretty simple really and it should be part of a routine brake job. You need to get the brake rotors “trued”, and that is where the mechanic uses a lathe to shave off a thin layer of the rotor surface which will make the surface smooth and “true”  again.

Here is an picture of the truing process . There is a problem though, the rotor has a limit to how much material can be removed,  this “minimum thickness” specification is stamped on the side of the rotor for the mechanic to follow.  If the rotor has been trued before, or needs to be trued down more than the minimum specs will allow it will have to be replaced.

So know I bet you want to know how in the heck does this rotor warp cause that vibration in the steering wheel you are experiencing? When you step on the brakes, the brake caliper and the brake pads start to squeeze the brake rotor which stops the vehicle.  The brake rotor is turning at the same speed as the tire and wheel is spinning.

When the brake the rotor surface is warped, it will cause the brake pads to  pulsate back and forth inside the brake caliper as they come in contact with a high spot on the rotor.  This pulsation causes the tire and wheel to shimmy or vibrate from side to side, and that vibration can telescope and be felt in the steering wheel. 

But, a shimmy in the steering wheel is only caused by warped FRONT rotors since the rear wheels are not connected to the steering components.  The shimmy usually gets worse at freeway speeds because the rotors are spinning faster and the high spots on the rotors will be more pronounced at higher speed.

Can having warped rotors cause damage to my brake pads or anything else?  You did not ask that but just so you know, yes is can cause premature brake pad wear, but more importantly it can be dangerous in a panic stop situation….it can be hard to steer with the steering wheel shaking back and forth. 

Like I started this reply with, truing the brake rotors is usually part of a routine brake job…so I would bet you are in need of one now.

Hope this helps.

Please share this with your friends,
Austin Davis

Posted in: Brakes

68 Comments on "My Car Shakes When I Step On The Brakes"

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  1. Candee says:

    2007 Chevy uplander entire front end shakes violently when brakes are applied from fast rate of speed. Brakes and rotors look okay. Front right tire was replaced a couple months ago because it was chewed up. Just took off front left tire to look at brakes/rotor and left tire looks sliced on the back of it. I know the van needs a front end alignment, could this cause the shaking and tire damage? Please help!

    • Austin Davis says:

      Sorry for my delay, been overwhelmed with questions lately. Try moving that tire to the rear and see if it changes anything. I would bet you have a brake rotor warp issue though.

  2. Doris says:

    Thank you so much Austin, this was very helpful to me. Thought I might need new shocks, but going to have my brake rotors checked out.

  3. dezz says:

    i have a 2002 Honda Odyssey i just had my ball joints replaced wheel aliment tires rotated balanced etc my van still shakes once i hit the breaks after i get up to 50 miles and hour it shakes hard what can it be ?

    • Austin Davis says:

      IF the shaking only happens when you step on the brake pedal, then you have “warped” brake rotors which either need to be replaced or “trued” meaning resurfaced. I would probably suspect you need a brake job as well, so new brake pads and new brake rotors.

  4. Kobe says:

    Hi Austin .. I had the same problem with my 99 toyota solara. It used to vibrate massively .. I recently changed all the four brake rotors and brake pads.. Not more than 2 weeks the shaking has started again.. Especially when going down the hill on highway and also when I apply the brakes.. What can I do

    • Austin Davis says:

      Hummm. Overheating of the brake rotors is the main culprit of warping. I would make sure you do not have a front brake caliper or brake hose that is stuck or collapsed causing the brake pads to drag on the brake rotor. You can also feel the metal wheels after you have been driving for awhile to make sure one wheel is not excessively hotter than the others, which would indicate dragging.

      Also, make sure you are not a two footed driver with one foot on the brake pedal (nobody EVERY admits to doing this but I see it all the time on customer test drives and they do it subconsciously I guess)

      Since the problem went away with the new rotors and pads, I can only assume you have an overheating brake problem. Also, make sure you are not using any shields on your wheels that keep brake dust off the wheel surface, those can overheat the brakes as well.

      An overheated rotor will sometimes look blue-ish in color, so see if you can see that as well to help you narrow down which wheel is the problem. I would also raise the vehicle and make sure I can easily spin each wheel by hand. If the shaking is felt and seen in the steering wheel the problem is in the front brakes.

  5. Al says:

    Austin, thank you so much! I had taken my car back to my mechanic twice for the same complaint and they told me it was something wrong with the front end and would cost $800 or so to fix. What a crock. I had my front rotors trued as you suggested and problem is gone. Argggggg

  6. Ed says:

    Great! Austin, I just love coming to your site. I learn so much. My wife thinks I am a car genius.

  7. Lucy says:

    And to think that my mechanic spent a lot of money on an alignment and struts because he told me that was what the problem was. I wonder if he just fixed the brakes the sold me 7 months prior.

  8. Grease Monkey says:

    The problem is with your brakes, steering linkages, suspension, or possibly all three. So which is it? Since the “symptoms” will often “overlap”, the cause isn’t always that easy to diagnose.

    Rotor problems will often cause shake/shudder as well as a “pulsating” brake pedal, but ONLY while the brakes are being applied. You may also hear some “rhythmic” scraping, squeaking, or rubbing sounds (proportional to your speed) as the brake pads rub against the warped rotor, even when they’re NOT being applied.

    Worn steering linkages or suspension parts can also cause shake and shudder. This will usually be transmitted more through the steering wheel (with less noticeable brake pedal pulsation), but will often manifest or intensify while braking. In this case, your tires may also squeal when turning corners, and you might even hear/feel a “thunk”. The car may also tend to “wander” on the highway.

    Any honest shop will tell you if they can’t do an alignment due to bad suspension or steering linkages though, and so there may be no need to do ANY brake work if that’s the case. Front end shake often results when worn-out steering linkages can’t keep both front tires running parallel under braking, so they toe in or out which causes the shake.

    If all’s well there, the brakes should be looked at. Overheating can prematurely WARP rotors (especially cheap or previously turned ones, but even NEW ones) and is often due to “dragging” brakes. Sometimes the calipers won’t release fully. This could be a binding caliper, but sometimes the (cheap) flex hose that feeds the caliper is damaged internally (which isn’t visible) and that’s why it’s not releasing. Although it’s less likely, it might even be an (expensive) ABS or master cylinder problem.

    Don’t replace parts just because one shop tells you that’s what it MIGHT be. Brake shops like to do brake work, and front-end shops like to do linkages and alignments. Have an experienced (and honest!) mechanic test drive & diagnose your vehicle’s problem before throwing away money on useless repairs.

    BTW, in my experience you CAN often do outer tie rod end replacements without having to re-align anything, as long as you take the proper measurements beforehand. Also, brand new rotors don’t often come warped “straight out of the box”.

  9. Hotstuff says:

    Oh yeah.. for Vin, whose car shakes “only between 100 – 105 km/hr”… although your car may also have other issues, your wheels definitely DO need balancing. Get it done at a shop with a dynamic balancer (the bubble types found at some local garages are often unreliable).

  10. Hotstuff says:

    Replacing parts haphazardly can get very expensive. A good mechanic would isolate and diagnose the problem first. If the car shakes when braking but there’s little or no pulsation felt at the brake pedal it may actually be a suspension problem. Many people have done complete brake jobs and yet still had this problem. Check whether the brake rotors are warped before replacing or turning (“trueing”) them. Affixing a dial gauge and rotating the wheel (with the rotor bolted down tight) will quickly show if the rotor is warped, or if the wheel bearing has excessive play. If those are good, then it’s time to check the steering linkages, tie rods, ball joints, and control arm bushings. It’s also not possible to do a wheel alignment if those parts aren’t in good condition.

  11. Alex says:

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button!
    I’d without a doubt donate to this brilliant blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding
    your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  12. Tinya says:

    I love how he has to keep repeating the same problem over and over again. I have the same problem with my car and am going to see about getting the rotors fixed, so ill keep updating to see if it helps.

  13. JULIA says:

    05 IMPALA HITS THE BRAKE AT 70 MPH SHAKES AND FEEL VIBRATION IN THE PEDAL AND STEERING WHEEL WHATS WRONG

    • Austin says:

      Most likely you have warped brake rotors as I mentioned in my article above. I would get all brakes inspected for wear, you probably need a front brake job and will consist of resurfacing the 2 front brake rotors and replacing the brake pads. In some cases the brake rotors will have to be replaced if they are worn too much that they can not be resurfaced.

  14. Ryan says:

    2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GT. I had a complete front end brake work done last October (calipers, rotors and pads). After a few months, braking at high speeds (i.e. steep downhill) the whole car starts to shake while brakes are applied even modestly. A light, non-metallic thud can be heard coming from the rear end while cruising at 25 mph, which can only be heard when it is quiet and no brakes are applied. Also that thud increases and decreases when increasing and decreasing in speed. I had the rear rotors turned and replaced brake pads but the shudder still occurs while at 50-60 mph going down hill. The light thud can still be heard from the rear. The brake pedal does shake as well as the steering wheel while in the same situations as before. I confirmed the light thud is definitely from the rear as my wife sat back there recently and commented on the noise coming from there. My thoughts are possibly front end brake warp, easy to get them turned but that doesn’t account for the light thud from the rear. Any thoughts?? Thanks.

    • Austin says:

      I would concur with you that the brake rotors are probably warped and need to be retrued, and there is a very distinct possibility that the thud noise is also due to the warped brake rotor as well….I have heard this noise before and a warped rotor was the cause. So take care of the rotor first and see what happens.

  15. sandra says:

    I also have the shaking front end and pulsating brake pedal when brake is applied. This only started after I got new tires. Could they have done something that caused this?

    • Austin says:

      Probably just coincidental, but if they tightened the lug nuts down improperly (not in a star pattern) I guess there is a possibility that the brake rotor could be slightly offer center causing the pulsation feeling. I would take it back to the tire place and let them know you did not have this issue prior, and that you heard improper tightening/installation of the lug nuts MIGHT be the cause and see what they say and do for you. If that is not it, then most likely you will need to get a front brake job and have the front brake rotors “trued” to make them smooth again.

  16. kurt says:

    i am not willing to believe it is the rotor for the simple fact i had no problems till said work was done.i was an auto mechanic for 15 years now i work as an industrial mechanic i am not inept to how automotive systems work and yes i know warped rotors are the most common cause ,but i think most mechanics jump to this conclusion to quick myself included.i have replaced an inner tierod and problem has ceased.how can someone align a front end with play in the system. answer YOU CANT!

  17. kurt says:

    i have 2004 ford expedition 5.4 4wd.i recently installed new rotors (dimpled and slotted) and new ceramic brake pads all around worked great till had new tires rims and front end alignment done now i have a severe shudder from drivers wheel while brakes are applied it did not do this till the tires and alignment were done

    • Austin says:

      Most likely a warped brake rotor, even new rotors out of the box can be warped. If not a rotor, possibly a problem with a tie rod or something left loose during the alignment ??

  18. Luke says:

    Yes, that is exactly what I did the next day (loosened all lug nuts and tightened them in the star pattern), but to no avail.

    • Austin says:

      You will need to remove the wheel and reinstall it as the brake rotor could be cockeyed. If you did that I would remove the brake rotors and have them resurfaced and see what happens.

  19. Luke says:

    I replaced my front brake pads but did not have my rotors turned. I drove my vehicle for three weeks and braking was perfect. There was no vibration, pulsation, or any other abnormality. Then I had my tires rotated (X pattern swap). Immediately after leaving the shop my vehicle began to vibrate while braking, which can be felt in the steering wheel. My vehicle drives perfectly when not braking. Could a tire rotation be causing a pulsation/vibration problem when braking? Again, this only happens when braking, and is more prominent when braking from high speeds. Also, I did notice that the inside pad on the driver’s side was less worn than the outside pad. Would a lazy caliper cause this vibration?

    • Austin says:

      My first thought would be that the wheel was improperly torqued down when installed. I would remove the front wheel and reinstall them paying attention to the star pattern nut tightening and hand torquing. They probably just tightened the wheel down with an air impact wrench.

  20. Maria says:

    My car shakes when I press on the brakes while on the freeway (going to exit) AND it shakes when I am at a complete stop at the signal light after being on the freeway for fifteen+ more minutes. What do you think is wrong?

    • Austin says:

      You might have two problems. 1 the shaking on the brake application is most likely warped brake rotors like I talked about in the article, and you should have the front brake rotors “trued” to make them smooth again. 2. if you have shaking at idle speed I would be suspect of worn out motor mounts causing the engine to vibrate, or you could have a engine miss due to worn out spark plugs and the need for a tune up. You did not mention that the car runs bad on the freeway…..sooo, hummmm, theorectially the spark plugs SHOULD be ok.

      If the engine idle speed is set too low it can cause a vibration, and it feels worse with the A/C on, so if the vibration is better when you turn the A/C off, you might want to have someone check the idle speed and or clean the throttle body which dictates idle speed. I talk about this more here http://www.myhonestmechanic.com/articles/throttle-body-cleaning-tips.shtml

  21. Lind says:

    No doubt, shaking can be caused by a lot of things, NOT just the rotors. Engine mounts, transmission mount and last but not least, (Lower Control Arm Bushings). I witnessed this first hand. This allows the control arm to shake during braking. One can’t just say “cart Blanche”, that it is the rotors. This is simply NOT TRUE. And shade tree mechanics usually know a lot more than the shops. They have a vested interest in the car. They own it and care about it more.

  22. sam says:

    Actually, most cars with two spot braking system like Australian Ford Falcon BA/BF/FG also have the issues but due to the two spot system this phenomenon never occurs unless you’ve done over 100,000k, while on the previous generations like EA/EB/ED/EF/EL/AU it shudders after only 20,000-30,000k because the braking system is inferior in design and has no even distributing force on the disk surface so if the disk is exposed several times in spirited driving conditions it will warp and the single spot caliper wont be able to squeeze hard or well enough to actually compensate those forces and minimize or cover up the shuddering feeling.

  23. Eric says:

    I drive a 2002 Mercedes-Benz C240 and I also have a shaking problem. The key speed is around 30 mph. The shaking comes from the front, passenger side wheel. It shakes if I accelerate in a turn to the left (putting more force onto the right-front wheel), when I brake on any incline, mostly downhill, while turning in any direction (like when exiting the freeway and braking to slow down), or even when I turn hard to the left while not pressing the gas or brake (keeping in mind the 30 mph requirement). I have had several mechanics look at it and none could see anything wrong. I’m not a car guy so I can’t remember exactly what they checked out and what they said looked just fine. However, if you suggest things, I’ll probably remember. Essentially, the greater the force applied to the right-front wheel while turning or braking will create the shaking. My wife looked out the window when it was shaking the car and the wheel does “physically” shake when turning. Almost like it wobbles back and forth. Driving straight there is nothing noticeably wrong with the wheel or handling. The car also pulls a little to the left while driving on winding roads, but that may be unrelated.

    • Austin says:

      I would suggest you get a 4 wheel alignment to see if there is something worn or broken. I would also have all wheels rotated and balanced to rule out a bent wheel or out of balance wheel.

  24. Ren says:

    Forget all the above. It is very likely body mounts. Some cars have body mount bushings, which connect the chassis to the body.

  25. Tom says:

    My steering wheel also shakes but only if I am going fast down a hill and then have to apply my brakes. The brakes were redone about one year ago.

    • Austin says:

      If you step on the brake pedal and feel a shaking in the front end or the steering wheel itself and sometimes a pulsating brake pedal then you most likely have warped brake rotors that need to be machined smooth again or replaced if they are too thin to machine. This is called “truing” so you want to have the brake rotors “trued” which is usually part of a brake job. If you had a brake job recently, I would suspect you will just need to machine the rotors again. Problem: machining or truing brake rotors too thin will make them warp easily…..so replacement rotors might be the answer for your situation.

  26. Vin says:

    Ok, I don’t know if this is the rotor or not but my Mazda 3 when i drive 100km/h to 105km/h exactly without braking my car shakes, anything below that range and above is fine. As, what most people would think it’s a rotor/pad issue. Also, when I apply brake within those range I notice the vibration even more, but keep in mind even if i drive between 100km/h to 105km/h without applying brake the car shakes a little also. So I’m a little stump! As, Joe mention could be tie rod. I’m bring the car on Monday and will replace rotor and tell you guys what happen 🙂

    • Austin says:

      I would still be suspect of warped brake rotors for the brake shake issue. For the wheel shimmy without brake apply I would be suspect of a wheel balance problem and would start by rotating and balancing a 4wheels.

      Keep us posted

  27. Carla says:

    I meant to say whenever I back up and I have a 2006 Cobalt LS.

  28. Carla says:

    Whenever I press on brakes, slow or fast, my front end shakes.
    Whenever I put back up my car also shakes and acts like it wants to shut off. AND SOMETIMES DOES! Any problem as to what may be causing the problem?

    • Austin says:

      If the front end shakes, steering wheel and or pulsation in the brake pedal itself when you step on the brakes its most likely due to warped brake rotors like I talked about in the article. You most likely need a front brake job, which should include truing or machining the two front brake rotors to make them smooth again.

      The dying while backing up, could be due to a dirty throttle body, which can be cleaned at most fast lube places.

      Here is an article and a picture of a throttle body on my other website Throttle Body Cleaning

  29. Iain says:

    Nobody has mentioned seized caliper, I Have this issue at moment and stumbled on forum by accident. rotors are fine, pads are fine, piston is seized in near side caliper due to perished dust boot. if you are not competent – please do not mess with brakes, only attempt home repairs if you know what you are doing. Ask around locally for good honest mechanic and always get a full breakdown of parts and labour charges. An honest mechanic will diagnose the fault and guarantee the work.

  30. Chris says:

    Ok I agree with the rotor issue but my problem did not exist until I slid into a divider in the middle of a snow storm so I’m incline to believe that it would be from something else. Could it be tie rods or either control arm. Oh my car is a 94 Firbird.

    • Austin says:

      Before you go spending money and swapping parts I would get a 4 wheel alignment done. That will tell you if something is broken or bent, then go from there.

  31. Jim says:

    Can bad struts on a 2003 Buick Century cause this same problem? Have had the brakes done twice and the problem goes away for approximately 100 miles or so and then starts up again. Could this also be a master cylinder problem? Back brakes check out fine with no vibration.I don’t have ABS on this car.

    • Austin says:

      I would have the front brake rotors checked and make sure they are thick enough. Once they have been machined they could be too thin and will warp very easily. If you have machined them twice it’s probably time to replace them. Struts won’t cause brake shake.

  32. Jack says:

    If all of a sudden car front shakes during stopping.
    it could be the automatic braking system, (ABS)
    After tire shop busted my ABS sensor wire by improper removing or re-installing whell on hub.
    That is what hapened to my 1995 Chevy. only the dealer never checked my abs sys or code thing till I paid for a brake complete brake job and fluid changes $1900.00.
    Now i haven’t had working abs for three years. price to fix =another $1000

  33. Trey S. says:

    I have changed rotors on both sides, pads, calipers, and hoses. The front end still shakes when I apply the brakes at highway speeds. I have also changed all 4 tie rods. It’s on a 97 Chevy 1/2 ton 2wd. any help would be appreciated.

    • Austin says:

      If you only get the shaking when you step on the brake, I am still assuming this is most likely a brake rotor warp type of issue. Did you have the new rotors trued? I have had a few NEW rotors that were warped in the packaging and we had to cut them. A Chevy truck rotor is still pretty thick, so it would probably be a little uncommon to have one warped new in the box but anything can happen. I would also have a front end mechanic check the front end for anything worn or loose, although you did not complain about any other front end symptom.

      You did not mention anything about shaking in the steering wheel or a pulsating brake pedal during this event, both of which should be present if the FRONT brake rotors are warped. if the rear rotors/drums are out of round you usually will get the brake pedal pulsation but not the steering wheel shake. Don’t over look the rear brakes as the culprit.

      In an empty parking lot, get going 30MPH or so and slowly apply the emergency brake AS you hold the release handle so the brake will not ratchet and lock. You are looking/feeling for a pulsation from the back brakes. If you feel anything during this, you have an issue with the rear brakes and should have them machined.

  34. mike barnes says:

    check if your rim(s) is bent

  35. Bud says:

    If I may one more thing about front end shake on brake application. If the front end shakes when you apply the brakes, it IS the brakes causing the problem. You might have a bad part that you can change and TIGHTEN up the front end. The shake may seem to go away, but it is still there to some degree. Any shake on brake application is always initiated by the brake system. If it shakes without touching the brakes look elsewhere.
    Here is to brakin’ without shakin’!

  36. Bud says:

    How could anyone say that when you change a ANY steering component that a wheel alignment does not need to be done. I have been an ASE tech for 35 years and have tried MANY different ways to install part and not have to realign the vehicle. It is almost impossible. So if you want, change to parts and burn off a good set of tires. Make sure to realign when you get your new set though or you will ruin them as well. Good answer to Joe, Administrator.

  37. Josh Kraus says:

    or if not the brakes which have someone check it out if your not sure but dont waste money by changing things if there not broke, another thing that could cause this is the front ball joints which are relatively easy and inexpensive to get at and same for the back if it vibrates.

  38. sandy says:

    Our steering wheel only shakes when going down a steep winding road. Do you think it is the rotors?

    • admin says:

      I would get the front end examined, you might have something loose or a bad steering stabalizer. IF you dont get the shaking when you step on the brakes on a smooth flat road I think you can rule out the rotors as the culprit.

  39. joe says:

    Everyone always assumes it is the rotors,I did too and replaced pads and rotors.Still had shaking when applying brakes,worse at higher speeds.Come to find out it was my tie rod end on passenger side was shot.Very easy fix and cheap too.There are lots of how to videos online that will show you just how easy this is to fix yourself.I was able to do this myself for under $22.00.If your alignment is not off it is possible to replace without having to get an alignment.

  40. jerry williams says:

    i replaced brake rotors on my daughters 95 saturn sl 2 and it still shakes through pedal..

    • admin says:

      Did you replace the brake pads as well? If not you should since they will also be “warped”. The rear rotors could be warped and causing the shaking. You might have them trued and see if that helps

  41. MikeM. says:

    You can not see a warp in the rotor with your bare eye! so like they said just have it turned and go on with your life….

  42. jacquej says:

    what if there is no shaking in the steering wheel, only in the front end (front passenger side) when brakes are applied?

    • admin says:

      If the front end shakes when you step on the brake I would suspect warped brake rotors as the culprit and a front brake job as the cure.

  43. leland says:

    ok well what if its not the rotor? shaking can be caused by many other things when braking? right? theres nothing wrong with my rotors i checked them. i just replaced my cv axal cuz it was bad but it was shaking then too of corse. and its still doing it im repllacing the other side this weekend as well just cuz when one goes the other aint far. so what else could be making it do that?

    • admin says:

      If you have shaking in the steering wheel and and feel it in the brake pedal when you step on the brake…I am still suspect of warped rotors. Have then machined or replace them and rule them out as the culprit.

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