Vibrating Steering Wheel? - BMW 530 2002

Have been having a problem with my 2002 BMW 530. At certain times – I think it’s when I’m driving at around 40mph – my steering wheel will start vibrating back and forth, enough that you feel the vibration through the car – and can visually see the steering wheel jumping back and forth. Not enough to veer off the road, but enough to clearly see it and feel it.

It doesn’t seem to do this at higher or lower speeds, or at least hasn’t been noticeable. And it has been taken to the shop and they tried their best to look for an issue and even drove it; they could find nothing.

To me, it seems like it’s starting to happen more often and yesterday it was quite significant for a few minutes while driving.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’m pretty concerned and am going to take it back in, but I’m concerned they still won’t be able to find anything, especially if I can’t reproduce the problem on demand.

Thanks for any help!

Yup, this sounds familiar. This osunds like the symptoms exhibited by countless vehicles with either worn suspension components or irregular tire wear (cupping, feathering, whatever) due to worn suspension components and/or alignment issues. Occasionally there’ll be an internal tire problem, but generally it’s chassis problems.

If the shop truely did go over the suspension thoroughly, then find a shop that does “road force balancing” on the tires. That spins the tire with a simulated road force (by pressing a spinning drum against the tread) and can detect irregularities that regular balancing cannot.

Even simple jobs like a tire spin balance can be botched and that is my call, you need to have your tires balanced again, and from a real pro thay knows now to detect tire failure issues… Is my answer too simple? sometimes the answer really is the simple stuff.

In regards to worn out suspension components, not likely, the only parts I replaced at the years of use you list were sway bar links, and just for noise.

My advice is to exhaust every possible issue involving the tires before you move into suspension components.

Just a note, I have had customers with exactly the same car you have and we did not solve a vibration issue until we replaced the tires, and we all took our best shot at balancing the tires.

Make sure that before the tire/whell assembley is mounted that the mounting surfaces are so clean that you would eat off them, BMW’s like to accumulate debris at the center hub area, I always took the time to clean this area very good.

Hmmmm…Does this car have Continental tires, by any chance?
I have found that tires of that brand were more likely than any other brand to need Road Force Balancing.

I too had a problem with Contis. NOTHING would get them to roll smooth.

Tire related vibrations are nearly always there 100% of the time. Since that is not what is happening in your case, my best guess is a worn component is temporarily changing the alignment - and that is what is causing the vibration.

The vibration probably is there all the time, the OP just doen’t notice it at times. The suspension components on these cars are very “robust” to say the least.

I did look at TSB’s for your car and there is one that actually is a recall (safety related) it deals with the seperation of the mount on the top of the front shock seperating from its cooresponding part on the car body. If this happened the results could be carastropic,BMW is very good at getting all these done, has this been inspected on your car?

tires tires tires is my best guess. How some ever, it is easy to throw out the alignment by ramming the rt front wheel into a a high hard curb. This in turn can cause uneven wear on the rt front tire, and result in vibrations. The same operation can also knock off a ballance weight. My son used to collect tire wts he found in the street, over the years they came to enough to make some diving wts for our wet suits.

OK, I do have Continental tires and they are new, but the vibration pre-dated them. The thread does make me think it could still be the tires, on the one hand.

On the other, it definitely does not vibrate all the time. It seems perfectly smooth most of the time and when it vibrates, it vibrates a LOT. Nothing would distract me from it at that point; the steering wheel is jumping back and forth – just a few inches, but steady, fast, and quite hard. So, maybe a component?

I don’t know if that safety recall has been checked – but I will check on that.

One other thing – and this has been true since I bought the vehicle used several years ago – there are times, always when I’m turning, when a “thunk” sound comes from what sounds like the front – if I had to guess, it’s under the car – not out towards either tire but between them underneath; closer to center. It doesn’t do it all the time, not even that often, but often enough that I notice it and passengers will say “what was that?” But other than the sound, nothing else seems to happen; you don’t feel it affecting the turn or anything like that.

Anyway, I mention in case it’s another clue. Thanks so much for everyone’s comments!

My 2002 530 has 27k miles after 8 years, no accidents and I’m the only owner. Two years ago I noticed the ABS working just after crossing a shallow pothole to make a right turn, then after going over a 1 1/2 inch step, and after going over a mildly deep manhole iron cover.
I change the tires due to aging not wear, and those tires have been balanced twice after installed, because of a shaking steering wheel between 50 and 80 mph. Since balancing didn’t help, and I felt the tire like a bouncing ball every time it run over a hole, I decided that despite its low mileage, the front struts were bad. Today were changed, and although I bought the heavy duty Bistein brand and preferred they were less stiff, the steering vibration is gone. Lets see if the ABS doesn’t get confused by a floating tire again.

The severity of the shake and the fact that it is speed dependent means that something is loose and has a harmonic frequency. All it takes is the right trigger and the proper feeding frequency (speed) to set it off.

I recently had a similar complaint on a similar suspension - a '97 328. Once in a while it would find its resonant frequency, usually on a slight left curve at highway speed, and not just the steering wheel but the whole car would shake.

It turned out to be a combination of mushy control arm bushings (common on that model) and one very bad ball joint.

I am actually have great luck with the Conti Extreme Contact DWS(Made in Brazil). Maybe QA is up but I know many owners of this tire are very happy as it is popular and sold out this past spring.

One thing that’s commonly done in a case like this is to switch the front and back tires. If the problem doesn’t change, then it’s probably not the tires or wheels.