Any car owner knows that whenever a noise surfaces out of the ordinary, something is broken or malfunctioning in the car. If your steering wheel makes noise when turning, that could mean you have a serious problem on your hands. The steering wheel is supposed to be smooth and silent.
It is hard to exactly pinpoint the problem when your steering wheel makes noise when turning. There could be many reasons for the noise to originate. The cause could vary from the tiniest wear to a suspension problem.
Whether it be the engine, brakes, transmission, or the steering, whenever you hear noises from them, it needs to be looked into. Ignoring these noises often results in much more complicated damage eventually becoming harder to repair.
If you think about the weight of the car and the speed you travel, you should get an idea of the stress the car has to absorb while turning. Over time, it’s common for them to wear down, resulting in an unpleasant whining, groaning, or rubbing sound when taking a turn. Driving with a damaged steering system is a risk not worth taking. If you can’t steer your car, you cannot control it.
To understand why a steering wheel fails you first need to understand the mechanics behind it.
- How does your car steer
- Dangers of a bad steering wheel
- Other signs
- Steering failure while driving
How Does Your Steering Wheel Function
Everyone knows that when you turn your steering wheel, the two front wheels of your car turn. But the process behind it is not so simple. The input you provide into turning the steering wheel moves along a path of gears and rods before reaching the wheel.
The steering system converts the rotation of the steering wheel into a swiveling movement of the driven wheels. When rotating your steering wheel, the wheels turn slightly.
To elaborate, the steering wheel moving four turns from full left lock to full right lock travels the wheels by nearly 16 ft. The steering wheels, meanwhile, move only 12 inches. If the energy you put into the steering wheels directly goes into the wheels on the road, it will be approximately 16 times harder.
How Does A Steering System Work
The mechanics behind a steering system differ from the type of steering system. There are 3 most commonly used types when it comes to steering systems.
Steering Box System
In this type of steering system, there is at the base of the steering column, there is a worm gear. A worm is a threaded cylinder like a short bolt. Just like when a bolt holding a nut is turned; the nut held by the bolt will turn with the bolt. The same is seen with worm gear.
The motion is transmitted through what is called a nut system. The nut system has hardened balls running inside the thread between the worm and the nut. When the nut moves the balls this causes the balls to roll out into a tube that takes them back to the start.
Both the wheels are connected by a pivot. When the force is provided to this pivot both the wheels can turn at the same time.
Due to the multiple moving parts in this system, it lacks accuracy. This is starting to be considered obsolete.
The Rack-And-Pinion System
With this system at the base of the steering column, you would find a small pinion or gear wheel inside a housing. The teeth of a gear mesh with a long rack with similar teeth. When the gear turns, it ends up moving the rack.
Turning the pinion makes the rack move from side to side. The ends of the rack are connected to the road wheels directly moving them when the pinion is turned.
This is a much simpler system than the steering box system. This makes it a lot more precise.
A universal joint in the steering column allows it to connect with the rack without angling the steering wheel awkwardly sideways.
Power-Assisted Steering System
And finally, we have the power-assisted steering system. Commonly known as power steering.
On a heavy car, the steering wheel requires multiple turns to turn the road wheels. To make the process easier, a power steering uses hydraulic pressure.
The engine drives a pump that supplies fluid under high pressure to the rack or the steering box. When the driver turns the wheel, a valve opens sending power steering fluid into the cylinder. The fluid works to push a piston that helps to push the steering in the appropriate direction.
When the driver stops turning the steering wheel, the valve closes. This immediately stops the motion of the road wheels, giving it a lot more accuracy.
The convenience and accuracy of these types of steering offers make it perfect for handling. Most modern-day cars are equipped with this type of power-assisted steering wheel.
Dangers Of Driving With A Bad Steering Wheel
If your steering wheel makes noise when turning, then you know that your steering system is malfunctioning. Driving with a faulty steering wheel can be hazardous and can cause havoc in many different ways. There are many ways you can fall into trouble if you continue driving with a bad steering system.
Lose Power Steering
This is one of the common occurrences. Now you know that power steering works due to hydraulic pressure. If you lose that pressure, you could lose your power steering. After something like this happens, instead of one turn of the steering wheel, now you have to turn it multiple times.
Yes, it is possible to drive without power steering, but if you are not used to it, you could be caught in a mess. What could be worse is, if you lose power steering mid-drive. It doesn’t matter at which speeds you are driving, if you can not control the car you are going to crash.
Steering Wheel Freezes
If you continue to drive your car with a bad steering system, something like a frozen steering wheel is possible. This usually happens if a gear or cog gets stuck. There could be many reasons for something like this to happen.
This usually happens mid-drive. Again you won’t be able to steer your car. No matter how hard you try you will not be able to turn the steering wheel. Also, fatal.
This happens if the signals you give from your steering wheel don’t reach your wheels on the road. Your steering wheel will feel just fine, but you will not be able to control your car. There can be many reasons for a similar issue to occur.
Obviously, if you can’t control your car, you know what is going to happen.
These are just a few ways your steering system could fail. None of them is going to be a happy ending. Luckily, steering wheels are not known to fail out of the blue. Steering wheel noises are almost certain with a steering system failure. So it is crucial that you let a mechanic take a look at your car if, your steering wheel makes noise when turning.
Causes For A Steering Wheel Make Noise While Turning
When your car ages, noises coming out of the internal components of your car is common. If your car makes noise specifically when turning, the problem is almost certainly with the steering column.
If your car’s steering wheel is making noise while turning, it means the components on either your steering system or suspension cannot take the weight of your car. Usually, the cause is due to wear. Lubrication can help the life span of your steering system, but as your car ages, wear is inevitable.
As a result, you might hear unpleasant whining, groaning, or rubbing sounds when taking a turn. Here are some of the most common causes, why your steering wheel makes noise while turning.
Faulty Power Steering Rack
As mentioned earlier, the steering rack turns the rotary motion of the steering wheel into the left and right movement which is transferred to the wheels, allowing them to steer the vehicle. Due to constant steering day in and day out, the steering rack eventually tends to wear out.
The steering rack is continually exposed to hot pressurized oil or power steering fluid. Because of this, the seals become worn and brittle.
A whining sound will be generally noticeable while driving at lower speeds if this were the issue with your steering system. Another noticeable feature comes with the climate. If you are experiencing high steering effort when driving in cold weather but it improves when you are driving through warm weather, it is an indication that your power steering rack is faulty.
Clogged Power Steering Fluid’s Reservoir
Power steering fluid is stored in the steering reservoir tank. This reservoir tank is equipped with a filter. It filters the dirt and debris and keeps them away from entering the steering rack. Over time, with a lot of dirt accumulated, the filter gets clogged.
With a clogged filter, the steering fluid cannot come out of the reservoir tank. This will mess with the flow of the fluid. The steering fluid is responsible for reducing the friction inside the steering system. With no steering fluid, the steering system will not get lubricated.
This results in an increase in friction. Power steering fluid is stored in the steering reservoir tank. Ignoring this could end up causing greater trouble.
Worn Struts and Shocks
Vehicle struts and shocks aren’t known to give out prematurely. They tend to last a very long time. But eventually, they tend to wear and malfunction.
The first symptom associated with worn-out struts and shocks is noises while turning. If ignored, and your car has prolonged exposure to worn-out struts and shocks, you might experience slight bounces while taking turns. At high speeds controlling a car that bounces when turning is troublesome. You need to get the parts replaced.
Damaged Ball Joints
The steering knuckles and control arms can support the movement with the assistance of ball joints. The problem with these rotating conjunctures is that they tend to dry easily. Oil or steering fluid is vital to keep these joints from drying.
Like all joints, ball joints lead to wear eventually. With a worn ball joint, you would hear a squeaking sound every single time you turn the steering wheel.
A similar case is also seen if your ball joint is running dry. This could be an issue that your steering fluid reservoir is empty or even a problem with your steering fluid itself. Ball joints are also known to be associated with steering wheel shakes. If you see symptoms of damaged ball joints or dry ball joints, steering wheel shakes are to be expected.
Spoiled Steering Column Bearing
Another reason why your steering wheel makes noise while turning could be associated with the steering column itself. If you hear sounds while turning, the problem might not be as deep as you think. It could be with the bearing in the steering wheel column.
This can cause the plastic on the rear of the steering wheel to rub against the cowling on the controlling section. This will be more evident in warmer climates. The plastic expands in hot weather, this could increase the chances of the parts rubbing together exponentially.
Bad Tie Rod Ends
The tie rods take the input that you deliver from the steering wheel and into the wheels on the road. A tie rod is part of the linkage that transfers motion from the steering rack out to the wheels.
When a tie rod is worn, loosened, or damaged it would result in noises while steering. A loose or damaged tie rod will create a knocking, clunking, or creaking sound.
The noises will be more distinct and loud while driving at lower speeds.
Leaking Power Steering Fluid
As mentioned above, the importance of power steering fluid cannot be overlooked. It is required to steer smoothly. A clogged filter can cause the steering system to run dry.
The same is seen with leaking power steering fluid. Power steering fluid provides the hydraulic pressure and also provides lubrication to the steering rack, which allows the driver to turn the steering wheel, easily, smoothly, and efficiently.
A leak in the power steering reservoir or any other spot will result in your car running dry. This will make turning much harder and take a lot of strength as well. Other than that you will also hear noises while steering.
A low level of power steering fluid usually indicates a leak.
Bad Control Arm Bushings
Like all bushings, the control arm bushings will wear over time and eventually will go bad. Repeated pressure puts a ton of stress fractures in the bushing over time. It can only take so much until it eventually cracks. This would result in a creaking sound when you turn your steering wheel.
Bad Suspension Bushings
As mentioned earlier, the bushings in your car will not last forever. With time, it will tend to break or wear. If they fail or disintegrate, they will likely make a sound you won’t be able to ignore. The noise will be so intense and steering is not going to be easy either. You will not be able to drive for long with a bad suspension bushing. You are going to have to take your car to a mechanic.
Seized Steering Shaft Joint
You will never see a completely straight shaft between your steering wheel and steering rack. For it to turn, it’s fitted with a universal joint. Over time, the joints can become worn enough that the movement of these will not be as effective.
This will weird noises and stiffness while turning. Eventually, this will cause your steering system to seize.
Other than the above-mentioned, there are some components that make distinct sounds when malfunctioning. If you are capable of identifying these distinct noises, you can pinpoint the exact location of the issue.
If you hear a whining noise, it is likely that your steering pump is the problem. Whining noises are rarely heard with other components of the steering system.
If the problem is in your suspension, you would hear a popping noise every time you turn. This could either mean your suspension is running dry, or a component or a joint of your suspension is worn out.
If you hear a rubbing noise, the culprit is often the upper bearing of the system. More precisely with the lubrication. Without proper lubrication, the components will rub against each other making this specific noise. It could either be a clogged steering fluid filter or a steering fluid leak.
And finally, you could hear a humming noise. This is when the weight distribution of your car is off.
If your steering wheel makes noise when turning you should get it checked immediately. The repercussions of ignoring these noises are going to be scary health-wise and economy-wise. And they will not stop after a while so you should get it checked.
Other Signs That Your Steering Wheel Is Failing
Other than the different sounds there are a few other symptoms that could indicate that your steering wheel is failing. Often these are coupled with a distinguished sound, but they can appear silently as well.
Steering Wheel Becomes Harder To Turn
If you have to put a lot of effort into turning your steering wheel it means that your power steering is failing. As mentioned earlier, there are occasions where this would make a unique noise. There are cases where a power steering failure does not make any weird noises.
Low power steering fluid, a leak in the steering rack, or damage to the power steering belt are all potential causes for a power steering failure.
Steering Wheel Vibrates While Idling
If your steering wheel is vibrating vigorously, that could indicate that your steering wheel is failing. Again, the problem is in the power steering system. It comes as a surprise for most, since the power steering is not even in use while idling. This often leads to ignoring the problem.
These violent steering wheel vibrations indicate that your belt is either damaged, loose, or needs to be replaced.
If you notice your vehicle swaying from one side to the other when you turn the wheel, you might have bad strut bearings or tie rods. Another common problem area can be either the ball joints or a bad steering rack. With both these problems, you will see your vehicle swaying when you try to steer.
Steering Slips While Held In A Turned Position
A steering wheel usually comes back to its initial position once take your hands off after a turn. As long as you keep your hands with a slight force, that should be enough to keep a steering wheel in a turned position.
If your steering wheel finds it hard to maintain the position or you require a lot of effort to keep it in position because it tries to slip off your hands, it could mean that your steering system is going bad. Low steering fluid, a loose steering pump belt, or worn or damaged steering rack components can cause this issue.
Steering Wheel Noise: Facts You Need to Know
- Mysterious noises coming from a vehicle can be frustrating, and they tend to get louder over time.
- A vehicle’s steering system is often the source of irritating noises such as creaking and knocking.
- Different noises signify different issues, and the exact source of the problem varies from case to case.
- Familiarizing oneself with the potential causes of such noises can help resolve the issue and return the vehicle to service.
- Abnormal noises when turning the steering wheel can be caused by power steering faults, poor quality power steering fluid, aged upper strut bearings, worn shocks/struts, deteriorated front end bushings, steering shaft failures, and fatigued upper steering column bearings.
- Power steering faults are among the most common causes of abnormal noises and often result from low power steering fluid or a restricted power steering filter.
- Use of cheap power steering fluid of inferior quality or the wrong type or viscosity of power steering fluid can cause similar symptoms to a general lack of power steering fluid.
- A vehicle’s upper strut bearings can cause clunks and pops when turning the steering wheel, especially at low speeds, when they are worn to a significant degree.
- Deteriorated bushings of the vehicle’s ball joints, tie rod ends, and suspension components can also create a host of noise when worn beyond specification.
- Motorists should proceed with caution if they hear any noise when turning the steering wheel as it is indicative of an issue. Continued driving should be kept to a minimum, and the cause of the sound diagnosed at the earliest opportunity to minimize the risk of further issues.
How To Deal With A Steering Failure Mid-Drive
If you lose your steering during a drive it can be dangerous for you and everyone else on the road with you. Try to follow these guidelines to minimize the risk as much as possible.
Your main priority, if your steering wheel fails, is to get your car to stop, preferably at a side of the road. Gently press the brakes while you guide your car to the side. You might have to put a lot of effort to turn the wheel. Do not slam the brakes because you will lose control. Try to gently slow down and stop the car.
Alert others on the road by immediately switching on your hazard lights. This is imperative as others would keep their distance from your car, protecting you and themselves.
You can avoid being in this position if you read the signs the car provides you. These issues do not surface out of anywhere. You will hear irregular noises or other symptoms if your steering wheel is failing. Identify these problems before it escalates and take your car to a mechanic and get the problem area repaired or replaced. Never continue driving if you think that your steering wheel is failing.
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