My car is shaking the steering wheel really badly regardless of brake application and pulls to one side. Do I need an alignment and new struts and shocks?
While you might need both of these it would be strictly a coincidence! This is just about the most common inquiry we receive and I have yet to receive feedback that the problem was other than a tire. One of your front tires is ready to blow out or separate, so please don't waste a moment and get to a tire store. Meanwhile, do not drive at a higher speed than that at which you would feel comfortable with a blowout. The tire is probably the one on the side that the car is pulling towards and may well look ok in terms of tread depth. If a rear tire is failing the symptoms will be similar except that the pull will be absent and the entire car will shake but not particularly concentrated in the steering wheel. There ARE other problems similar in symptoms to a failing rear tire but NONE the same as the front tire failure.
My car shakes when I apply the brakes, are my brake pads worn out?
They could be but the problem lies in the front brake rotors being warped. Occasionally this comes from the rear. The way to tell is if the shake is particularly noticeable in the steering wheel at highway speed. If so the problem comes from the front. Unless severe it is more of a nuisance than an immediate peril, but sooner or later you will want to get it fixed.
Are my brakes unsafe? They squeal and screech even though I just had them serviced at a brake franchise. It sounds like something is rubbing!
They are most likely perfectly serviceable apart from the noise. There is indeed something rubbing when the brakes are applied because that is exactly how they work-two unlubricated surfaces rubbing on one another-the metal rotor or drum and the friction material of the brake pad or shoe. From an engineering standpoint there is nothing more NATURAL than brake squeal, screech and groan. That is why brake noises are a common cause of new car warranty complaints. Vehicle designers attempt to appease the public with all sorts of gimmicks added on to the basic brake design in a desperate attempt to dampen normal vibration and noise or at least shift it to a frequency above the range of human hearing. Sometimes they get lucky. At Johnston Auto Service we try to make a practice of replacing all the little pieces of anti-squeal hardware when we do a brake job and this keeps our noise comebacks lower than those shops-typically franchises-that rarely do this.