Car Shakes When Accelarating: The Ultimate Guide

car shaking

What’s up everyone.  Today we’re talking about one of the most common issues that can really frustrate drivers  when your car shakes or vibrates when you hit the gas.

This shaking sensation can range from mild to pretty violent, and it’s not a fun experience. It can feel like you’re driving an off-balance washing machine down the freeway! Not an enjoyable ride.

Now there are a number of potential culprits for acceleration shake, so don’t panic. We’ll walk through the main causes, from simplest to more complex, and I’ll give you some tips for tracking down the issue.

What Causes a Car to Shake when Accelerating

First Place To Check – Wheels and Tires

bad wheels

Often, the first place to look when you’ve got acceleration shake is your wheels and tires. There are a few common tire and wheel issues that can cause vibration:

First, take a look at your tire tread depth. If you’ve got uneven wear on the tires – meaning some parts of the tread are deeper than others – this tread depth variation from one part of the tire to another can definitely translate to vibration issues.

Next, check your tire pressure. Underinflated or unevenly inflated tires can cause wheels to wobble. Tire pressure naturally drops slowly over time, so hit every tire with a pressure gauge and inflate them to match the sticker inside the driver’s door jamb.

If your tires check out, have your local shop check for tire balance. Over time, tires can become unbalanced, meaning the weight isn’t evenly distributed within the structure of the tire. Kind of like when a washing machine starts rattling aggressively during spin cycle. Rebalancing tires involves adding small clip-on balance weights to the wheels to offset any heavy spots on the tires.

While you’re inspecting the wheels and tires, check the wheels themselves too – that means the rims. If you’ve hit a couple nasty potholes, it’s possible to bend a wheel rim out of round. Any visible dents or damage could be causing the shake.

And the obvious one – if you’ve recently had any front end collisions or body damage from accidents, definitely inspect the wheels closely for any Hidden bends or cracks.

Wheel Alignment

wheel alignment

If all looks good with the tires and wheels, it’s time to move on to the possibility of an alignment issue. Your car’s wheels should be aligned parallel with each other and pointing straight forward.

If the angles are off – like one wheel pointed slightly left while the other points right – it puts stress on the entire suspension system. This tension then transfers to the body and frame. Hitting the gas with an out of alignment car can definitely translate to strong vibration.

You might recognize alignment issues from tire wear too – the edges will look more worn down in certain spots indicative of improper alignment.

Have your local shop check and adjust front end alignment to factory specs. This involves very precisely adjusting the suspension and steering components that allow the wheels to pivot and turn.

Brake Problems

worn brake pads

Next up – issues with the brakes can also translate to shake and vibration, especially when accelerating after slowing down.

Say you’re coming to a stop sign. You brake hard, putting a lot of heat into the rotors. Then you pull away from the stop, hit the gas, and feel strong vibration under acceleration.

This can indicate warped brake rotors. When the rotors heat up heavily during hard braking then quickly cool again once you’re not on the brakes, they can warp. This creates thick and thin spots around the rotor’s edge – almost like when a vinyl record gets warped.

These high and low points on the rotor cause pulsation and vibration when combined with the brake pads pressing against them. Accelerating after braking transfers the vibration into the suspension and vehicle body.

If you suspect warped rotors, have your shop measure rotor thickness for excess wear and runout. They can either surface machine the rotors to clean up thickness variations or install new ones if too worn.

Suspension and Steering Check

bad car suspension

Now if the wheels, tires, alignment, and brakes all check out, it’s time to move on to some of the fundamental frameworks that hold everything together – the suspension and steering components.

Let’s start up front. The tie rods connect your steering system to the wheel hubs, allowing the wheels to pivot when you turn the steering wheel. Ball joints also attach control arms to the wheels. Both tie rod ends and ball joints can wear out over time, getting loose and sloppy. This allows play and wobble between the wheels and suspension – definitely enough to cause vibration.

In the rear, worn out control arm bushings can also translate to vibration issues during acceleration. Like the ball joints up front, bushings anchor parts of the suspension together – just with a rubber damping material instead of a ball and socket design. When they’re worn, unwanted movement between the control arms and frame can cause shake issues. Bad differential bushings can also put stress on driveline components.

A good assessment here involves having your shop put the car up on a lift and manually detect any play in the tie rods, ball joints, bushings, sway bar links, wheel bearings, etc. Any looseness is a culprit for shake and vibration.

Axle Damage

car damaged axle

Here’s another possibility – take a good look at all of your suspension and check for signs of collision damage or bent components. If you’ve recently had a front end accident or impact to the wheels and underbody, critical parts like control arms, struts, and axle shafts can definitely get bent.

Any collisions or heavy impacts put tremendous force through these components. A bent or damaged axle shaft is a common outcome.

The axle shaft delivers power from the transmission and differential to the wheels. If an axle is bent, every time you accelerate, the driveline and wheels fight each other due to the bind in the system – leading to heavy vibration.

Any other damaged suspension or steering parts can have similar effects in causing shake and vibration issues. Again, have your tech carefully inspect the underbody and suspension for any damage or unwanted bends that could cause components to bind up under power.

Engine Problems


Alright, if we’ve covered all the critical suspension, wheel, axle, brake, and tire areas without finding the root cause – it’s time to turn our attention to potential engine problems resulting in shake.

Now, it’s a bit less common, but issues with your engine performance can definitely translate to vibration concerns. I’m talking engine misfires, fuel delivery problems, air intake leaks, bad sensors – basically anything that disrupts the proper balance of air flow or fuel flow in and out of the motor.

The engine relies on precise timing and tuning to run smoothly and efficiently. When things get out of tune, such as with a cylinder misfiring or getting weak spark, the engine doesn’t run cleanly. Unstable RPMs means choppy power delivery – which you’ll feel as vibration through the chassis.

Listen closely for any rough idle or intermittent misses in engine performance. Check your trouble codes for misfire detection DTCs. If you’ve got any engine running issues, address those first before continuing down the diagnosis path for shake concerns.

You can also remove belts one at a time to isolate if the vibration gets better or worse. That isolates it to either the accessory components like AC, power steering, alternator etc – or if it’s internal to the engine.

Transmission Problems

If all engine systems check out, there’s one last possibility for pesky vibration issues on acceleration – your transmission.

Like with the engine, your transmission relies on very precise relationships between gears, bearings, shafts, and friction surfaces to operate smoothly. Too much wear and tear over the miles can throw off these tight tolerances. Not enough clutch pressure, worn U-joints, gear teeth grinding, internal bearing wear – all potential causes for vibration.

You may also pick up on other transmission-specific symptoms if it’s causing your car to shake – issues shifting gears, grinding noises, trouble accelerating.

In brief summation – remain open to any root cause, run all components through a logical diagnostic plan starting with the simple stuff first. Wheels, tires, brakes alignment and suspension. Then check axle, engine, transmission. Go through it methodically until you pinpoint the real problem. Then proceed with the proper repair to get you back out on the road, shake-free!

The acceleration shake can be a tricky mystery to unravel at times, but with patience and an open diagnostic approach, we’ll get you rolling smooth again in no time.

Alright – as always, hit me up with any questions in the comments! I hope you found this overview on tracking down and fixing acceleration vibration helpful. Stay safe out there and keep wrenching!

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