What is a Death Wobble and What Should You Do if Your Car Has One?

Has your car developed a ‘death wobble’? Or maybe you’ve noticed a weird vibration, or shaking while the engine is idling?

Whatever type of wobble you’re experiencing while driving, we’re here to help diagnose the problem. In this guide, we look at what death wobbles are and what causes them, as well as how to identify other strange shakes and vibrations around your car.

What is a Death Wobble?

A death wobble is when your car shakes, wobbles or vibrates while you’re driving. It’s used to describe serious shaking and vibrating that occurs particularly at high speeds.

What Problems Cause Cars to Shake, Wobble or Vibrate?

Wobbles, shaking and vibrations on your car can be unnerving, but it doesn’t always indicate a serious, dangerous fault. Though we’d always recommend taking your car to a professional, here are some of the issues which could be causing it to wobble while driving.

Engine Issues

If your car judders or vibrates while idling or when you’re driving, there could be a problem with the engine. A couple of issues cause these kinds of symptoms, including:

Faulty Spark Plugs

Spark plugs control how your car’s engine ignites the fuel-air mix in the combustion chamber. If a plug fails, it can cause the engine to misfire, which may result in juddering or vibrations.

spark plug replacement

Spark plugs normally last around 80,000-100,000 miles, so they shouldn’t cause any problems over the lifetime of your car. That said, they do need regular maintenance to avoid faults, so make sure they’re included as part of your annual service.

If you suspect a faulty spark plug may be the cause of your car’s wobble, you can check and replace it if you’re confident under the bonnet. Our partner brand Redex has an in-depth guide on how to maintain and replace spark plugs, so be sure to give that a read if you plan to take on the work yourself.

Blocked Air Filter

A blocked air filter causes similar problems to a faulty spark plug, including engine misfiring, juddering and a drop in power. That’s because it interferes with the fuel-air mix in the combustion chamber.

If a blocked air filter is to blame for unexplained shaking, you can count yourself lucky. Clearing out or replacing the air filter is a quick fix that most people can do, and it doesn’t require any specialist tools or pricey repair bills.

Your manual can help you check, clean or replace your car’s air filter. The part is often found directly at the front of the car and is easy to get in and out. If it’s clogged with dirt, you can use an air hose, vacuum cleaner or can of compressed air to clean it. If it looks damaged, be sure to replace it.

Wheel, Tyre or Brake Faults

If your car wobbles, vibrates or shakes while you’re moving, there’s a good chance there’s a problem with the wheels or tyres. Wheel and tyre issues account for the majority of death wobbles out on the road, so regular maintenance and upkeep are essential.

mechanic aligning car wheels

What’s more, if you notice that your car judders or wobbles under braking, you may need to get the brakes checked by a professional. Brake wobble isn’t always a sign of something serious, but you should get the problem fixed as soon as possible to keep your car safe and roadworthy.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why wheels, tyres and brakes can cause your car to shake.

Wheel Alignment and Balance

Front and rear wheels need to be aligned to allow your car to track straight and true on the road. If they’re out of line even by a few millimetres, it can cause a range of issues, including uneven tyre wear and a shaking motion.

If you suspect your car’s wheels are misaligned, take it to a professional mechanic or tyre fitter. They use a machine to realign the wheels, and it’s not as expensive as you might expect.

It’s surprisingly easy to knock car wheels out of alignment. Whether you’ve hit a kerb while parallel parking or struck a pothole at speed; you may need to get your car’s wheels realigned once a year to make sure they’re straight and balanced.

Tyre Pressure or Uneven Tread Wear

Your car’s death wobble may be due to something as simple as low tyre pressure. If this is the case, we’d recommend taking it into a garage, as you may have a slow puncture or other underlying condition that’s causing the tyre to lose pressure while driving.

Uneven tread wear can also cause shaking and juddering, particularly at high speeds. This is essentially when the tyres lose their shape and uniformity – a side effect of misalignment.

If uneven tread wear is to blame for your car’s shake, have the wheels realigned and rotated. Rotating the tyres means swapping them front to back and side to side, so that any uneven wear is gradually balanced out.

Remember: always check your tyre pressures every fortnight, particularly in very warm or very cold weather.

repairing brake discs

Brake Problems

If your car shakes and wobbles while you’re slowing down, there’s almost certainly a problem with the brakes. Worn brake pads, damaged brake discs and ‘catching’ brake shoes can all cause an alarming juddering sensation or cause your car to pull to one side.

If you notice a problem with your brakes, get your car to a professional as soon as possible. While it may not be anything serious and require only a simple fix, it’s always best to be safe than sorry when it comes to brakes – so don’t wait until you have a warning light on the dash.

Suspension or Chassis Damage

Hit any big potholes lately? Or maybe you shunted into the back of someone? If your car has started to wobble, vibrate or shake after a recent knock, particularly at high speed, it may indicate damage to the chassis or suspension system.

To check for suspension, chassis or axle damage, you’ll need to get under your car using a service pit or a set of jack stands. Assess all parts of the suspension system and chassis, checking the shock absorbers, driveshaft, CV joints, control arms, and struts for any dents, splits or hairline cracks.

Even if you haven’t hit any potholes or damaged your car recently, you shouldn’t rule out a fault with the suspension or chassis. Rust and corrosion may be to blame for a sudden suspension failure, so it’s worth booking your car in with a professional mechanic to get the problem diagnosed.

We hope this guide helps you get to the bottom of your car’s wobble. Whatever the problem, our car maintenance tools and products can help you solve issues with your car in minutes. For more information or to view our complete range, visit the homepage.

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