Last Updated on September 1, 2023 by Kristin

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It can be very alarming if your steering wheel starts to shake when you are driving. Here’s what you need to know about what causes it, and what you should do if it happens to you in a rental car.

What Causes a Steering Wheel to Shake

A shaking steering wheel typically has little to do with the wheel itself, and signifies a bigger problem with another part of the car. There are several possible causes for the problem, and often a mechanic is needed to pinpoint the exact issue.

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A steering wheel might shake due to a number of reasons, including unbalanced tires, wheels, axles, engines or brakes. If the shaking is happening specifically when the car is braking, it could have to do with worn-out brake rotors, brake pads or brake calipers.

What to Do When Your Rental Car’s Steering Wheel Shakes

If you own a vehicle with a shaking steering wheel, you would take it to a local repair shop. When it happens in a rental car, you might wonder if you should call roadside assistance or just try to enjoy your vacation despite the problem and handle it when you return?

Don’t panic.

If your steering wheel is shaking in your rental car, don’t panic. This problem doesn’t necessarily mean the car will break down, but it is something you’ll want to deal with sooner rather than later. Any time you face a mechanical issue it’s best to notify the rental car company as soon as possible. Not only is it the safest thing to do, but documenting the incident will help you avoid any potential charges later on and potential bigger issues like breakdowns.

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Swap your car if possible.

If you notice a shaking steering wheel immediately after you drive a rental car off the lot, it’s a good idea to turn right back around and ask for another car. Drivers are often not at fault for issues that appear to pop up out of the blue (as opposed to after an accident or, say, forgetting to turn off a car’s dome light). The rental car company typically covers the cost in those situations, but returning the car immediately helps strengthen the case for it being a mechanical issue out of your control. Getting a new vehicle also lessens the chance of having to take drastic measures, like having to call a tow truck.

Call the rental company.

But what if you notice a shaking steering wheel only after hitting the highway, and can’t easily return to the original rental location? In this case, the best bet is to give the rental car company a call to walk you through your options for handling the situation. Many larger rental car companies offer 24-hour roadside assistance. Looping in the rental car company about the issue can help avoid problems down the line with your bill and will give you directions to follow for how to handle the specific situation. If you need roadside assistance, AAA and AARP also provide it.

So, if you find yourself behind a shaking steering wheel, don’t panic. Call the rental car company and ask for advice about the best options.