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Everyone defines “shuddering” in a slightly different way, so when you say that your car is shuddering, it may mean a different sensation to someone else. We would define “shuddering” as an excess amount of vibration. This can come from the engine, the wheels, or any other moving parts in the car.
Let’s go through a few of the most common causes of shuddering. We hope that one or more of these might sound right to you.
If you’re still struggling to diagnose the cause of your car’s excessive vibrations after reading this article, we would recommend taking your car to a specialist. You could also try posting the problem to a chat forum dedicated to your type of car. This can be incredibly useful in solving simple problems without a full inspection from a professional.
Shuddering Is Caused By…
Your wheels and tires are the contact point of the car with the road. They must be kept in pristine condition because of this. If there is a problem with an individual wheel (which is most likely), you’ll probably feel the vibration more strongly in one corner of the car.
It’s possible that the wheel nuts haven’t been torqued up enough, and therefore that the wheel isn’t turning and “staying straight,” as it were. You can check this by checking the torque levels of your wheel nuts. If you find a problem, you should immediately take the car to an auto shop, replacing the wheel(s) in question with a spare wheel. The tire will need to be inspected for damage and will probably need replacing.
In a similar way to the previously mentioned issue, your tracking could be out. If your wheels are out of alignment, you may notice a vibrating feeling. Most auto shops will be able to check this for you. You will probably also notice that, when you hold the steering wheel exactly straight, the car veers off to either the left or the right.
If your wheels have been knocked out of shape – for example, if you accidentally knocked a curb with force – it will create an imbalance as the wheels turn. This will lead to a feeling of vibration.
Wheels need to be balanced many times throughout their lifespan. Mechanics do this by hammering on small weights. If the wheel loses some weights, or its center of mass adjusts from a heavy impact, it will need to be rebalanced. It should also be rebalanced every time a new tire is fitted. An imbalanced wheel causes a juddering feeling.
Another possibility is that your tires have become old or been punctured and lost their shape. Tires can develop bulges when they’re in bad condition, which will, in turn, affect your ride quality. If this has happened, it needs a new tire immediately. If you notice the bulge yourself, you should put the spare wheel on and take the car to a garage to get a new tire.
For most of these issues (excluding tracking problems), you’ll usually notice the steering wheel shaking as you’re driving, especially at speed.
Old or broken shocks and springs don’t absorb the road forces so well, so you’ll notice a much heavier ride, especially going over bumpy ground. It’ll be particularly uncomfortable, and you’ll likely hear an excessive amount of noise coming from the suspension.
Springs often break under heavy, sudden loads, such as potholes. Shocks (technically named “dampers”) are filled with fluid. Over time, a leak may develop, or they may not be lubricated as well.
The Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings are what your wheels sit on. If this isn’t quite on straight, or damaged, they will lead to the sensation of vibrating. Wheel bearings are possible to replace by yourself at home, but they can be ridiculously fiddly, so watch out for that one.
If there’s a problem here, that could be especially dangerous. You should get it looked at and fixed as soon as possible if you think this might be the problem. It’s particularly likely to be this if you’ve just had a heavy impact with something like a curb or had new wheel bearings put on. In the latter situation, take the car back to the garage that fitted them, because they should do the work out of courtesy, especially if it’s their mistake,
If there’s a problem with the brakes, then, obviously, you’ll only notice the vibrating during braking.
Any number of parts in the braking system could become wedged or get something stuck inside them. If the problem is only happening while braking, you should take the brakes apart to look at what’s going on there.
Only do this if you know your way around how brakes are built and how to put them back together. If you aren’t sure, again, there’s no shame in taking the car to an auto shop to get someone to look at it.
So far, we’ve only looked at issues that might be directly affecting the ride of your car. Now, let’s consider the engine.
It’s most likely to be a problem with the engine if you feel that the problem isn’t directly related to any particular driving situation, and the feeling persists when the car isn’t moving.
There are a few things that can cause excessive vibrations, but most boil down to one thing: a misfire (or more than one). It’s also possible that there’s a problem with one of your engine mounts.
The following things can cause a misfire:
- An old or faulty spark plug
- Old or faulty ignition coils
- Faulty intake or exhaust valves
- Faulty fuel injectors
The most common cause is a spark plug that isn’t working. After this, you should check the ignition coils. If this isn’t the problem, it’s likely to go deeper and will require more specialist attention.
Changing Spark Plugs
Changing spark plugs is a relatively simple task. You should remove the ignition coils so you can see down to the spark plugs. Using a ratchet, an extension, and the correctly sized spark plug socket, remove the spark. Inspect it to see if it’s damaged or excessively blackened. If this is the case, it may be the cause of a misfire. You can easily replace all the spark plugs in this way by purchasing a set of plugs from your nearest parts store, making sure they are the right size for your engine.
Change the spark plugs one at a time, so you don’t forget to do any. This also allows you to see if one cylinder is more or less sooty than another, which might indicate a bigger problem.
Checking the Ignition Coils
Pencil ignition coils make this a little easier to do, but if your car uses a coil pack, combining the coils for all cylinders into one unit, you will need specialist electrical equipment to check it.
To see if there’s a problem with an individual pencil ignition coil, run the car and lift the hood. You should then – very carefully – lift the ignition coils out from their respective housings. Listen for any change to the engine’s revs. If you notice no change, there is a problem with that ignition coil or spark plug.
Many ignition coils will be relatively easy to change by yourself, but you may want a professional to help you with more complicated designs.
There are many other possibilities, as well. For example, you may find that a wheel axle or drive shaft is bent.
If you have reached the end of this list and are still not sure of the problem, you should take your car to a professional mechanic and get it properly looked at.