Can the axle and transmission cause the brake pedal and steering column to pulsate?

Hi All,

I got a mechanic who replaced my rotors, brake pads, checked my calipers in the front brakes and replaced my drums and shoes in the back brakes because it was believed that it was the cause of pulsation when I step on the brake at speeds above 30 mph. He noted that the axle was kind of loose and started stating it’s the transmission that is causing the pulsation when I step on the brakes at high speeds. The pulsation is at the brake pedal and at the steering column and my dashboard vibrates too now. Any of you had the same problem and have you heard of the transmission being the problem in this case?


The axle is loose? Which direction has free play? In and out in the direction of the axle’s long axis? Twisting it, like putting your hands at 9 and 3 pm on the hub or tire, pulling in one direction and pushing in the other? Or is the play noted when rotating the axel?

If the latter, there’s usually some amount of play from the transmission when rotating the axle. Is your transmission automatic or manual? This is a 2WD, front wheel drive vehicle, right? There’s some possibility the differential part of the transmission could need some repair I suppose, although that’s a pretty uncommon thing reported here.

If the axle has play in the other two directions of course, that’s a sign of a wheel bearing problem, and could be the source of the vibration. There should be very little play in those directions. Usually the only way to check that play is a special gauge called a “dial indicator”. Just doing it by feel isn’t sensitive enough, by feel you usually don’t notice any play in those two directions even if the axle bearing play is out of spec.

What’s the history of the transmission? Has it always been properly serviced (which is usually dropping the pan and replacing the filter and the fluid for most cars w/automatics, replacing the fluid with manuals) at the recommended intervals? Ever been repaired? Is the transmission fluid level ok. Sometimes w/automatics there are two places you have to check, the second being the differential.

If I had this problem the first thing I’d do is use a dial indicator to check for rotor wobble out of spec on both front rotors. Suggest you ask your mechanic to do that.

A worn wheel bearing or suspension component can cause a shudder, vibration, pulsation, etc and so can a worn CV shaft. I would suspect any of those before a transmission fault and unfortunately, sometimes a CV shaft may have to be removed and manually checked to be close to 100% definitive. That of course leads to the issue of why reinstall a used part back into the car…

What year and how many miles on the car?

If the axle was loose, than you’ve found the source of your vibration… a mechanic too dumb to see the connection.

You need to get this to a competent shop ASAP. Until that “loose axle” is properly diagnosed and addressed, you may be driving a car with a wheel ready to fall off.

I agree with mountain bike. You should get a 2nd opinion and very soon. A loose axle can break while you are driving. My guess is it is still a brake problem since it only happenes when you are applying the brakes. I think if it was the axle, transmission or wheel bearing you would notice the vibration all of the time. It sounds like a warped rotor. The vibration in the steering column indicates that the problem is in the front-end.

Thanks All for contributing suggestions and advice.

Honda CRV 185,000 miles. 4WD. Transmission fluid change. I didn’t keep track of how often. The play on the axle looked like it was showing give vertically while the car was on the hydraulic lift. I will check the transmission oil again.

I got the rotors and brake pads in Dec. 2014 and they were resurfaced once already. The rotors were checked a few days ago for thickness variations and they have heat spots, but they are still ok. My calipers were checked to see if the pistons would stick and the mechanic said the calipers are still good.

I discovered I could get a free electronic diagnostic check and road test at the automatic transmission center on Monday to get a second opinion. Hopefully, it won’t be an ongoing mystery on why I get a pulsation at the brake pedal and steering column because it’s not the rotors, brake pads, and calipers.

Lauren, probably the most common reason for warped rotors is the wheel lugs nuts are over-tightened by a shop or tire changer. It’s possible the new rotors have been warped by over-tightening the lug nuts too. Since it is such a common cause, I think it is always a good idea to investigate that before assuming it is something else.

Axle play in the vertical direction? Well, if you push up on the front axle when the car is on a lift, it will show some play. But that’s not usually play in the axle. It’s just the suspension moving, which is normal. The axle isn’t bolted to the body of the car (so the bumps in the road aren’t transferred directly to the passenger compartment). Instead the axle is sort of suspended from the car’s body using spring/struts and other movable supports.

Edit: Remember that automatic transmission centers obtain their income by repairing transmissions. And there’s no need to repair the transmission if their testing shows there is no problem with it. So just be aware that when you take your car there, they will have an inherent conflict of interest.

A wild thought . . . if the front hub has excessive runout, resurfacing/replacing the rotors won’t entirely fix the problem

An on-car brake lathe can compensate, up to a point

A loose wheel bearing, steering component, or suspension component can also cause a pulsation from the brakes. At 185k miles it’s certainly possible for wear to exist in one or more of those areas.

Dare I say machine the rotors like the guy did in the video that was recently posted… :wink:

You get what you pay for. That transmission center “gives away” diagnoses because they want to find services they can sell you. I’d find an independent shop or dealer to do the diagnosis. If you don’t have another shop in mind, ask everyone you know for a recommendation. When you get multiple recommendations for a shop, that’s the one to try. Also, suspension or wheel bearing problems are not at all uncommon for a vehicle with 185,000 miles. Think of it as maintenance rather than repairs for a high mileage vehicle.