Dear Car Talk:
On my 2011 Toyota Camry SE with 95,000 miles, the steering wheel shakes and vibrates when I brake to slow down. The shaking and vibration are noticeable when I slow down from over 20 mph. When slowing down from a higher speed -- like 60 or more -- the shaking is worse, and I can see my hand and the steering wheel shaking. It's been doing this for the past three years. I would like to know what is wrong before I take the car to the shop. -- Patrick
Yeah, I don't want you to rush into anything, Patrick. But I have a feeling that year four probably is going to be the year to get this looked at.
You have a classic case of warped brake rotors (also known as discs), Patrick. When you step on the brake pedal, a caliper on each wheel squeezes together two pads around a spinning brake disc -- like the brakes on a bicycle tire. But after a while, the disc will warp. That can happen because it's old and worn out, or because you've overheated it. I'm guessing your discs are just 30,000 miles overdue for being changed.
Once the disc is warped, when you step on the brake, the warped part of the disc pushes back against the squeezing brake pads. You'll feel that in the brake pedal, and when it gets really bad, in the steering wheel, too.
And here's the headline, Patrick: Your discs are warped really badly. That means you're not getting the full power of your brakes, which is dangerous. I'm surprised you haven't vibrated yourself into the back of a UPS truck yet.
You also could have more than one problem. You could have warped discs, which start the vibration, and a bad tie rod end, which magnifies it. And a bad tie rod end is something you urgently need to fix, before a wheel falls off.
So now that you know what it is, and that it's potentially serious, please go get it fixed.
Since you obviously haven't been to a mechanic in ages, find out what else the car needs, too. And after that, go see your doctor and get your past 10 annual physicals, too. Good luck, Patrick.