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One sunny spring day, I decided to hand-wash my Jeep. I grabbed the garden hose and some soap and scrubbed off the mud from commuting on my dirt road. After finishing the body, I began spraying underneath the car and found mud caked onto the undercarriage too. Then my phone rang, my friends were having a barbecue across town. Instead of finishing the maintenance job, hopped in the SUV and drove down the road. But on the highway, I found my steering wheel vibrating and jumping all over the place. I realized I’d caused the poor handling by washing half of the mud off my rims.

Do muddy rims make your steering wheel shake?

Muddy rims can absolutely make your steering wheel shake. Rims with an even coating of mud all the way around should feel relatively balanced. But a couple of chunks of isolated mud or ice can make your vehicle handle poorly.

A muddy Jeep parked next to a lake on a dirt off-road 4x4 course.
Jeep Wrangler | Angel Rodarte via Unsplash

In the case of my poorly-handling Jeep, I hand-washed my rims, clearing the mud off the parts of the rim closest to the ground. In rare instances, this can also happen in a professional car wash. The solution is simple, make certain that you’ve cleaned the mud off all the way around the rim.

How in the world can a bit of mud or ice mess up your handling? According to, Vehicle rims need to be perfectly balanced to spin at high speeds. Next time you have your tires swapped, take a look at the size of the weights clamped to the outside of your rim. Many of these are just a few grams, but tire technicians use them to eliminate any wobble from an unbalanced wheel and tire.

If you notice your steering wheel begin to vibrate, or even feel your car shake at high speeds, know that the problem might be easy to solve. Pull over and take a look at your rims–especially the back side. Can you see chunks of snow ice stuck to them?

Do icy rims make your steering wheel shake?

A big chunk of ice stuck to one part of your rim can throw your vehicle off balance. If it’s too cold for this ice to melt on its own, getting it off your rim can prove challenging.

A woman uses a carwash spray gun to clean off a Dodge Challenger sports car at night.
Washing a Dodge Challenger | Philipp Katzenberger via Unsplash

Freezing rain can coat your rims in ice, but not always evenly. More commonly, road sludge can build up on the back of your car rims, then freeze in place overnight. If it freezes unevenly, or if a chunk of it falls off, it can mess up your rim’s balance.

Because chunks of ice take time to melt and fall off, it is very possible for a wintertime car wash can clear the ice off part of your rim while leaving a chunk of ice stuck to another part of your rim. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to leave the car wash during the winter time and find your vehicle handling poorly.

What can you do if your rims are unbalanced because of mud or ice?

You may be able to clear your rims by hand. If mud or ice is really stuck to them, you might need a garden hose or a bucket of water to clean them off. If even this fails, a trip through (or back through) the car wash is a good next step.

Closeup of a scrub brush cleaning mud or ice off a soapy red sports car rim.
Washing a car rim | Adrian Dascal via Unsplash

If you are up for getting your hands dirty, you can do your best to knock all the mud or ice off of your rim yourself. Remember, the detritus stuck to the back side of your rim, and inside your rim, is probably doing more damage than anything stuck to the visible face of your rim.

Going back through the carwash that caused the problem sounds ridiculous. But if you are dealing with ice frozen to your rim, it might be the second washing that finally thaws it out.

Finally, if you take your car to a professional tire shop for a “tire rotation” service, they will fix the problem. The technicians there will remove all four of your rims, clean them completely, then spin them on a balance machine and replace any weights that have fallen off. The result should be four perfectly balanced tires and–hopefully-no steering wobble.

Next, find out how to adjust your tire pressure before a road trip or see some tips on how to get your rims extra clean in the video below: