So, you’re just driving along, and you suddenly notice a peculiar problem of the steering wheel not straight? If you notice that your steering wheel isn’t properly lined up, don’t worry just yet, as there is an explanation behind it.
- How Does The Steering System Work?
- How Does The Steering Rack Work?
- Power Steering
- Steering Wheel Not Straight Problem
- Bad Alignment
- Damaged Suspension Components
There are plenty of reasons why your steering wheel not straight problem may appear. Some of them are fairly simple to solve, while others need some deep troubleshooting to find the actual cause for this problem.
But you shouldn’t panic. Today, we’re going to cover everything that you need to know when it comes to the steering wheel not straight problem in your car.
Remember that it’s of big importance to get these things fixed in time. After all, the steering wheel not straight may point to something terribly wrong with your suspension or steering.
If you are having a suspension issue, your life could be at risk. And you may be more likely to get yourself involved in an accident. So, the best thing to do is to get these issues resolved in good time and make sure that your safety is guaranteed.
The suspension is a crucial component that needs to be always in order, and you shouldn’t delay any of these repairs.
In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know when it comes to fixing the dreaded steering wheel not straight problem. We’ll also discuss why your steering wheel not straight issue appears in the first place, as well as the possible outcomes. So, if you want to learn more about this concerning fault and how to solve it, do follow along.
How Does The Steering System Work?
One of the most probable causes your steering wheel not straight is that your car isn’t properly aligned.
What does “not aligned” mean? If your car isn’t aligned correctly, it means that the suspension components inside of the car are not properly calibrated.
You have the steering column, which holds the wheel. The steering column is like a big metal bar that goes down into your engine bay.
With the steering column, you can tell the car which way to go or where to turn. The bar spins on which side you want to take your car to.
The steering column is connected to the intermediate shaft. This intermediate shaft is then connected to the rack and pinion. The role of the intermediate shaft is to connect and deliver power from the steering wheel to the steering rack. The intermediate shaft has universal joints at both ends, and that allows it to connect at an angle with the steering rack. The engine bay is too cramped, and there has to be an intermediate shaft to transmit the steering energy to the rack and pinion.
Rack And Pinion
The steering rack is the primary brain that decides how much your car needs to be turned at each time.
Steering racks are very expensive and prone to failure. That’s something that we’re going to discuss more on later in this article.
The most important thing to know about the steering rack is that it’s connected through a steering gear with the intermediate shaft. And this steering gear transmits the torque and tells the car where to move and by how much.
The steering rack is a complex mechanical structure that has plenty of gears here and there, and they move based on your input. We are going to cover the steering rack a bit later in depth.
The steering rack has tie rods at each end. These rods are then connected with the wheel knuckle.
This is basically the whole process of the steering system and how it works. In my opinion, it’s pretty simple to figure it out, and it’s not overly complicated in design. Remember that all the magic is happening inside the steering rack. If you have a steering wheel not straight issue, it’s probably that something is wrong with your steering rack or tie rods.
Okay, So How Does The Steering Rack Work?
In the previous chapter, we have mentioned that the steering rack in every rack and pinion system is the most important piece of the puzzle.
Steering racks are common these days, compared to any other steering system or design. It’s implemented in most cars. In fact, almost every vehicle on the road today has a rack and pinion steering system.
This rack is an enclosed metal tube, and at each end of the steering rack, there is a protruding rod. These rods are most known as tie rods. The tie rods are connected to the spindle, which is responsible for giving directions to the vehicle.
If we dive deeper into the steering rack function, we can see that the pinion gear is connected to the steering shaft. The pinion is also known as steering gear.
How they work together is quite simple. You turn the wheel, and the gear starts spinning and will thus move the steering rack left or right.
The rack and pinion that is connected to the steering rack are basically doing two things. They convert the rotational motion of the steering wheel into linear motion.
Remember that you give rotational input with the steering wheel, and this action has to be converted into a linear form for the wheel to turn.
Then, the pinion also creates gear reduction, hence making the wheel easier to turn. This system is also aided by a power steering pump that pumps hydraulic fluid inside the rack, which allows you to turn with ease.
To turn the wheel from side to side, you will need three revolutions of the steering wheel in most cars.
Power Rack And Pinion, Or Power Steering?
In the last chapter, we’ve discussed how the steering rack works, and we made mentions of power steering. So, how does this power steering work?
Power steering works in a simple way but implements a slightly different design. To accommodate this, the power steering pump is needed to make all this work as a complete unit.
A part of the steering rack has a cylinder with a piston in the middle. This piston is connected with the steering rack, and there are two ports that pump fluid on each side of the piston. When the power steering starts working, it pumps fluid from one side to the other, which moves the piston left to right. Then, this piston will move the steering rack and provides power assist in the process.
For this assistance to function, it needs hydraulic fluid. This fluid is red in color and is used in many other hydraulic applications and automatic transmissions. This fluid is extremely durable and is only made for these types of systems.
If you add some other fluid that isn’t power steering approved, you might ruin your steering rack and this can cost a fortune to replace. That is, naturally, something that we are going to discuss in the next chapter.
Power Steering Makes This System More Expensive
Power steering makes the rack and pinion steering system pretty expensive to fix. Remember that in this piece of equipment lies a lot of engineering and also some really clever tech.
Everything needs to be machined precisely in order to always deliver a proper response. The last thing you need is your steering rack failing, and you suddenly lose your power steering abilities.
How the steering racks fail is pretty easy to explain. At their connection with the tie rods, there are seals. These seals tend to wear out and cause the hydraulic power assist fluid to leak, which can result in the steering wheel not straight problem.
Imagine that on one side of the piston there is fluid, while on the other side there’s not enough fluid. This may develop some issues while turning and produce some squeaking sounds.
The good thing is that these steering racks are rebuildable and you can rebuild them with some expense.
However, rebuilds are also not cheap, with a quality rebuild costing you $200 to $1000, depending on what type of vehicle you own. That’s not to mention the labor that goes in this to remove the steering rack that will also cost maybe another $300 or more.
If you opt for a new steering rack altogether, you’ll probably have to pay more than $1,000 for some more expensive vehicles.
That’s why replacing the power steering fluid is necessary in order to increase the longevity of your power steering rack and pinion. Replace your fluid regularly, and you won’t have an issue like the steering wheel not straight in your car.
We have discussed how the steering system works and the rack and pinion’s function. Now let’s discuss why steering wheel not straight problem appears.
Why Does Steering Wheel Not Straight Problem Appear?
Steering wheel not straight issue can pop up and can be caused by a few reasons. Namely, we have a lack of alignment, defects of the suspension, and a bad or broken steering rack. Now, let’s go through all of these reasons one by one and see why this issue appears.
1. Bad Alignment
Bad alignment is one of the main symptoms to observe when you are having a steering wheel not straight issue. The wheel always needs to be dead in the center. Any bias either left or right tells you that something’s wrong, and if you don’t fix this issue, it can get you into an accident.
How Do You Know That You Need An Alignment?
Bad alignment is the primary cause of a misaligned steering wheel. If you’re noticing that your steering wheel not straight, that will be one of the first symptoms that will alert you that your car needs an alignment.
Vehicle Pulling On One Side
If your vehicle is pulling on one side, things are getting very serious and you should be careful. This is a clear sign that you need alignment of your steering system. How you can test this is by driving carefully on the road. If the car wheel is dead straight and the car moves to the left or right without your input, and you’re having to correct it, then there is something seriously wrong with your steering system.
This problem will be more and more noticeable over time, and you need to act quickly. If you don’t, you may end up in an accident that will have serious consequences.
You should not try to avoid this by trying to compensate for the movement of the car by moving the wheel to the opposite side. This is a quick fix, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
In order to solve this issue, you have to visit a tire alignment shop. They will center your front wheels and your steering wheel should now be dead straight. This can cost $100, but $100 isn’t a lot when it comes to your own safety. Safety is a number one priority. That’s why you need to fix issues on your car as soon as they appear.
Uneven Thread Wear
If your steering wheel is not straight, you can do a small inspection and take a look under the vehicle. Inspect the tread of your tires. See what the thread pattern condition is, and note down if the wear is even.
Tires should not have uneven wear. For example, when the wear is more pronounced towards the left side of the tire or on the right side of the tire. It means that they’re not aligned, and these bald tires are not safe because there is now a lot less traction.
For you to have grip on the road, you need your tire to lay even with the road. Anything else than this is unacceptable and potentially dangerous. You don’t want to end up in a serious situation with uneven and worn bald tires. It can have catastrophic effects.
Even if you balance these tires that have uneven wear, they’re already trashed. You shouldn’t do this because it’ll only get worse. That’s why you need to get a new pair of tires and then balance them. The balancing process is fairly simple and can be done at a shop for less than $50. Invest in your safety and have your tires balanced. You’re going to be grateful because you’ve done that.
Steering Wheel Doesn’t Return To Center
If you’re turning, and your steering wheel doesn’t want to return to the center, then this can be a clear sign that you have a problem with your steering wheel.
The steering wheel should always return to the middle. If it’s misaligned and doesn’t want to return to dead center, it’s very likely that you’re having a problem with your steering wheel alignment.
If you notice this issue, you should instantly visit a mechanic in order to diagnose the problem and to bring your car back to a working factory spec. When the wheel is concerned, anything other than center is unacceptable and you can get yourself hurt. Besides, you probably want to avoid injuries and also the potential injuries of your passengers or pedestrians on the road.
2. Bad Suspension Components
When suspension components fail, they also can cause your steering wheel not straight. In order to fix this problem, you may also need to make some suspension changes.
If your wheel feels loose and you have a lot of play, it can affect your driving. This is especially if you don’t know how the car behaves, and you need to make a turn. For example, if your steering wheel has a lot of play, you might not even be able to know where your wheels are.
If you turn left, you expect the car to turn left. But unfortunately, when there is play the car doesn’t turn as expected to, you have to apply additional effort to turn to catch the corner.
This is not entirely dangerous, but it’s recommended that you have it fixed. Some cars that have aged are starting to develop this issue, so we can consider this to be normal. This is because the ball joints that are at the end of the tie rods are worn out.
These ball joints are fairly inexpensive and easy to repair. Any professional mechanic can do this job in a few hours. Also, it isn’t expensive to repair overall. It’s also useful to replace all the bushings in the control arm when you’re planning to do this job because it’s going to save you a lot of money as you work to have a perfectly straight steering wheel.
Bent Tie Rods or Bent Control Arm
Tie rods can get bent and your steering wheel not straight issue will appear. Rods can get bent because of excessive force. Let’s say you’re driving your car and you don’t pay attention to road signs and have an accident. Or, for example, you drive into a pothole at high speed. You are probably going to damage some of your suspension components.
When these components are damaged, it’s reflected on the steering wheel and steering feel. The steering wheel may not be straight anymore, and your car may pull to one side.
If you’re having any one of these issues, it’s a good idea to inspect the control arm and the tie rods. Just have a peek to see if they’re perfectly straight and in order.
Another thing worth looking into is the ball joints and the bushings. As the car gets older, these bushings will start to develop cracks and wear out. They become brittle and there is some play in there.
Also, the ball joints are now old and develop cracks, especially if they aren’t greased. Many people install these two components and are forgetting to grease them. The lack of lubrication will develop cracks, and the wear will be noticeable in the first few thousand miles.
So, in order to prevent this issue, grease your ball joints and bushings before installation. Make sure that they are perfectly installed and everything is in order.
This job can cost a few hundred dollars to do. The parts are relatively inexpensive and you can do this job even at home with basic tools. But remember that you will need an alignment later on for the tires to be perfectly aligned.
Broken Steering Rack
If you have a steering wheel not straight issue, you also might have a problem with your steering rack. Steering racks are prone to failing and when they do fail, they cost a lot of money to fix. Steering racks are extremely complicated and this translates to a higher cost for repair.
How do they fail? Well, the fluid that’s inside them tends to leak, and these leaks can cause your steering rack to fail and be misaligned. This misalignment can cause your steering wheel not straight.
But it is rather fortunate that these steering racks can be rebuilt and many places are offering these rebuilds. Although in my opinion, you shouldn’t be cheap when it comes to steering components and you should get a brand new one. Preferably, a brand-new steering rack that has a warranty period will make you sure it won’t fail after a few thousand miles.
Steering racks can be pricey compared to other suspension components. They can come with a price tag of $500 for a new one, and it can go higher if you own a Lamborghini or any other exotic, for example. The pricier the car, the more expensive it will be to repair. So, get a car according to your budget, and if you have a leaking steering rack you shouldn’t panic about not being able to fix it.
Steering Wheel Not Straight – Conclusion
In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to the steering wheel not straight problem. First, we learned plenty about how the steering system works and which are its main components. We learned the input that you apply from the wheel goes to the steering column, and this circular input is transformed inside the steering rack and pinion. The steering rack moves left and right. Thus, telling the wheels where to go.
In the second part, we have covered the reasons why the steering wheel not straight issue appears. And these are caused by a lack of alignment and bad suspension components. Alignment is a simple procedure that can be done with ease at a tire shop.
If there is some suspension part that had let you down, you know that it’s time to replace it with a brand new one, so that you don’t have to worry about your wheel anymore.
These tools have been tried and tested by our team, they are ideal for fixing your car at home.