Let’s put it simply: the steering wheel is a primary means of controlling your vehicle.
A loose steering wheel is enough to make you feel as though you have less control when driving. That would frighten anyone. Any driver can benefit from understanding the symptoms of a loose steering wheel, what causes it, and how to deal with it.
This article will go through these aspects in detail so you can understand why your steering wheel feels loose.
Signs of a Loose Steering Wheel
The most common sign of a loose steering wheel is that it will overturn. This will require you to put more effort into steering the car. Turns will require a tighter grip on the steering wheel, and you’ll need to adjust the direction when the steering overturns. Failure to do so could result in an accident.
A rattling sound in the steering column is the second indicator of a loose steering wheel. This sound is usually stronger when traveling on a bumpy road and may increase in frequency as you drive faster.
The final indicator of a faulty steering wheel is that the entire steering wheel wobbles from side to side when driving.
If you detect any of these signs, whether alone or in combination, you should immediately check your steering wheel for the source. Ignoring it could result in problems with other parts of the car and make driving more dangerous.
Causes of a Loose Steering Wheel
We know these issues are hard to deal with, so we’ll give it to you simply: a loose steering wheel might be caused by only a couple of factors. They are related to important connections that help the steering work.
- Fault in the Steering Column and Steering Box
This problem is what mechanics call “worn-out tie rods.” The tie rods are located near the rear of the steering rack and are responsible for your tires moving when you turn the steering wheel.
Needless to say, these tie rods deteriorate over time. This is hardly surprising, given the vibrations transmitted via the tires as you drive. They can also be damaged if you strike a pothole or a curb. Who knew?
- Fault with the Steering Box and Front Wheel Linkage
When you turn the steering wheel, it’s not just the hand movement that’s transmitted to the front wheels. Linkages connect them; if these links wear out, the steering wheel could become loose, making it hard to turn the car.
You can see if this linkage is broken by looking closely at it for signs of damage, wear, or excess movement. You may also notice that your vehicle drifts slightly to one side or the other when you make a hard left or right turn. This could mean a steering linkage is bent or broken.
- Fault With the Front Suspension
The car’s front suspension maintains the wheel in place and allows it to turn. If your front suspension is broken, it will be hard to steer, which will cause your steering wheel to become loose.
The most typical problem with front suspensions is worn-out bush or ball joint usually attached to the control arm. The suspension control arms connect the chassis to the steering knuckles via these joints.
If you suspect a suspension fault, the whole front suspensions and associated steering components would need inspecting for damage, knocking and excess movement. It’s tricky to do this without a ramp, so the car may need to go into the garage for a proper inspection.
- Fault With the Power Steering
Both fluid based power-assisted and electric-assisted steering can cause an unusual feeling when steering if the pump or motor has failed. A failing power steering pump or electric-assisted steering motor can become temperamental and work intermittently. They may make you feel the steering wheel is loose when the input effort changes when turning the wheel.
- Incorrect Wheel Alignment
The wheel alignment is the angle at which the wheels point about the steering wheel. When the wheel alignment is out, the car veers off to one side if you hold the steering wheel straight on a flat road. When excessively out, not only can the tire shred from uneven wear, but it can also be a battle with the steering wheel to keep the vehicle in a straight line hence the steering wheel feeling loose at specific points in steering wheel rotation.
The most common cause of the wheel alignment being out is impacts, i.e., hitting the curb.
How to Repair a Loose Steering Wheel
Whatever the source of your loose steering wheel, taking it to the repair shop is the best method. Unfortunately, the broken parts can’t be fixed, so they’ll probably need to be replaced and the wheel alignment set up again.
Whether you choose to replace the worn components at home or not, the wheel alignment will need to be set up again. Depending on your car type, you may need a four-wheel alignment is done, which a specific machine can only do. Done by a mechanic, so it may be worthwhile having a mechanic carry out the whole job.
- Is it safe to drive with a loose steering wheel?
No. You will have difficulty steering your car if your steering wheel is loose. As a result, the likelihood of an accident is substantially higher. It is not worth the danger, and you should have a faulty steering wheel checked as soon as possible.
- What other problems can a loose steering wheel cause?
Depending on why your steering wheel is loose, you may notice different problems with your car. The longer you ignore the loose steering wheel, the worse it will get. Aside from trouble steering, your vehicle may drift from left to right, and tires may rub, leading to uneven wear on your tires.
- Will alignment fix a loose steering wheel?
If your alignment is even slightly incorrect, your automobile may veer too far to one side. This is frequently confused with a loose steering wheel that overturns. Fixing your alignment will improve the feel of your steering, but it will not fix a loose steering wheel. Turning your steering wheel while stationary and having someone examine your wheels can help you tell the difference.
- How do I test my steering rack?
To test a steering rack, the car needs jacking up, but the wheels must remain touching the floor. Have someone turn the steering wheel from lock to lock and listen for knocking and crunching noises. You may need to get under the vehicle and feel the steering rack while the other person turns the wheel to think about the crunching. Power steering fluid leaks may also be evident.
Let’s be honest: You don’t want to drive around with a sloppy steering wheel. It puts you and others on the road in danger. An issue with one of the steering linkage ball joints is the most common cause of a loose steering wheel. These ball joints also tend to deteriorate over time, worsening the problem.
In short, if you discover a loose steering wheel, you should inspect it or take it to the mechanic as soon as possible before the symptoms worsen.