Common Steering Wheel Problems and How to Fix Them
We love our cars, even if we don’t tell them often. They’re the difference between arriving early at the office and having to explain to your boss why you showed up 30 minutes after your presentation. However, we don’t seem to care for our cars as much in return, despite all the times they’ve saved us from tardiness.
How often have you put off a diagnostic check because there’s nothing seemingly wrong with the vehicle? We (most of us, anyway) wait until significant malfunctions occur before taking the car for repairs.
Unfortunately, when we leave our vehicles without maintenance for a long time, the eventual issues become costlier than a routine check. You should evaluate your car’s compartments regularly, even if there are no obvious defects.
How to Fix Common Steering Wheel Problems
1. Steering Vibrations While Driving
Interestingly, some steering wheel problems don’t come from the steering system.
Let’s take vibrations in your steering, for instance.
Most times, these vibrations occur when you’re trying to engage the brakes. You probably have faulty brake rotors if you encounter a shaky steering wheel while braking. It could also be a bulgy tire, uneven brake pads, damaged rims, or a wheel alignment issue.
Sometimes, steering wheel problems can come from the steering compartment. For example, you could have worn-out tie rods or faulty suspension compartments. These faults could be probable causes if the vibration occurs when you’re driving at low or high speeds.
You should get a mechanic to look at your vehicle immediately if you notice any vibrations in the steering wheel compartment.
2. Stiff Hydraulic Steering or Low Power Assist
This issue typically results from low levels of power steering fluid or reduced pressure in the power steering fluid. If you notice a loss of power assist in your steering, it’ll be best to quickly check the fluid level and determine if that’s the cause. Check the hoses or pump for a leak if you notice low steering fluids.
A faulty hydraulic pump can lead to rapidly depleting fluid levels and a complete loss of steering assist. You can also check underneath your engine for any fluid puddles. Steering fluids are either red or pink, and you’ll notice these colors if there’s a leak in the steering system.
If the fluid levels are fine, it could be the steering’s electrical components that are faulty. Worn-out electric compartments could also result in power assist loss, resulting from failing wires in the dedicated module, electric motor, or steering torque sensor.
3. Rigid Steering on One Side
This problem isn’t a significant one. If you’ve got a stiff steering wheel on one side, it’s probably an issue with the system’s calibration, and a recalibration should get things back to normal.
4. Car Drifts in One Direction
You’d typically experience a drifting car when driving on an uneven road. However, if your call pulls in one direction during normal driving conditions, it could be because of an improper wheel alignment. You’ll have to execute a four-wheel alignment to fix the issue.
Faulty brake calipers could also be the cause. Furthermore, your car could drift in one direction if you’ve got tire issues, such as low tire pressure. You can swap tire positions to see if the drift switches to the other side or disappears.
It also helps to crosscheck if the car has the same height on either side. If it doesn’t, then suspension problems could be messing with your alignment. Additionally, if the steering randomly pulls in either direction while driving, you could have worn-out tire rods.
5. Noises While Turning the Steering Wheel
Several faults could lead to squeals and screeching whenever you engage your car’s steering. For one, you could have low steering fluid levels or a damaged steering pump. A faulty serpentine belt or failing pulleys could also be the cause.
Remove the belt and check for cracks, contamination, or missing bits. It’s good practice to note the rotation direction before removing the belt. If you notice contamination, clean the pulleys before getting a new belt to ensure it doesn’t suffer damage as well.
If you’ve replaced any of your pulleys recently, it’ll also help to check for pulley alignment. You could also spin your pulleys to determine if they have faults in their binding.
If you can’t pick out the fault in any of these systems, the problem could be elsewhere. You may have a bad power steering rack, a dry jounce bushing, or damaged control arm bushings. You’ll also notice noises while turning your steering wheel when your car’s struts and shocks are worn-out.
The tie rods, which cause the wheels to turn when you engage the steering, could also prompt noises in the steering wheel compartment if they’re loose or faulty.
6. Boiling or Bubbling Power Steering Fluid
While your car’s power steering fluid should heat up to high temperatures (up to 600 degrees), it shouldn’t bubble or foam. If you notice bubbling in the power steering fluid reservoir, there’s a system problem.
When your car’s steering fluid hits temperature values beyond optimal levels, it could get burnt and lose its ability to lubricate the steering compartment. As such, you’ll likely hear screeches while turning the vehicle.
A bubbling power steering fluid results from air getting into the power steering fluid reservoir. Air can find its way into the steering fluid tank through tank cracks or pressure line leaks, power steering suction, or steering wheel pump.
When air gets into any of these compartments, you’ll notice foaming in the power steering fluid alongside spills from the reservoir. You may also find it challenging to steer your vehicle. It’s best to hire a mechanic as soon as possible to execute steering wheel repairs once you discover this issue.
7. Excessive Play or Loose Steering Wheel
Driving with a loose steering wheel can be dangerous. This scenario makes it challenging to determine the position of the front wheels, and you’ll constantly have to correct the vehicle’s direction to keep it in a straight line. You may also notice knocks when you drive on bumps. Furthermore, your automobile could drift from side to side while driving at high speeds.
Tie rods found in rack and pinion systems connect your vehicle’s steering compartments and tires. These compartments aid the car’s mobility.
However, the tie rods can get worn out over time from use. When they suffer from wear and tear, they become loose, resulting in excessive play in the wheels and steering. You may also experience drifts in one direction, tire wear, and front suspension issues.
A damaged pitman’s arm could also cause looseness in your steering wheel. The pitman’s arm connects the rack with the steering box shaft. It aids the vehicle’s circular movement and turns the wheels from side to side.
When it’s worn out, you’ll notice looseness in your steering and poor steering response. Faulty ball joints in your automobile’s suspension system could also lead to this issue.
When your ball joints are worn out, you’ll experience excessive play while steering alongside clunking sounds while driving on bumps. You’ll need to get the vehicle to a mechanic to replace worn-out parts.
8. Stiff Electric Power Steering
Stiffness in your electric power steering often indicates a fault in the electric power steering system. You’ll typically need a scan tool and diagnosis to resolve this issue.
If you’re lacking a scan tool, you can quickly check your fuses and wiring for any damage or installation faults. Check your battery voltage, as well.
The scan tool can assist you check the data from the modules to determine the fault accurately. Other possible causes include issues in the steering column shaft and electric steering rack.
9. Electric Steering Wheel Alignment, Noises, and Power Assist Troubles
Other issues you can encounter with your electric steering wheel include alignment issues, lack of variation in the power assist, and sounds in the steering wheel. Alignment issues could be a result of faulty alignment in one of your wheels or a failing steering angle sensor.
When it’s the former, you’ll notice the steering wheel is heavier in one direction than the other. Realigning the wheels will solve this issue. Conversely, recalibrating the steering angle sensor will resolve the latter. If you notice sounds in your electric steering, it could be faults in your electric power steering control module or steering gear.
Finally, if your car’s “power assist” doesn’t vary while idling or driving, your electric motor or torque ECU could be failing.
10. Steering Wheel Not Returning to the Center
Under ideal driving conditions, your car’s steering should return to the center after you turn it in either direction. Therefore, you don’t need to counter-steer when you need to make another turn. However, there’s a steering wheel problem when the steering doesn’t return to the center.
One common cause is worn-out steering components. Over time, your steering wheel’s compartments will wear out due to use and become loose. As a result, it’ll fail to return to the center whenever you turn it left or right.
Gear system friction could also lead to this steering wheel issue. Excessive friction in your steering’s linkages and joints could prevent it from returning to the center immediately after a turn. Here, you’ll often require a harder turn to bring the steering wheel back to the center.
You could solve the friction problem by disconnecting the car’s pitman’s arm. If that doesn’t work, check the steering gearbox.
Another possible cause could be worn-out tire rods. Faulty rods could lead to clunking noises in the car and your automobile pulling in one direction.
11. Your Car Floats Over Bumps
If your car floats too comfortably over bumps or bounces unusually, you may have worn-out shock absorbers or struts. These worn-out parts could affect your steering. You’ll notice that when you bend around sharp turns, the car tilts away from the turn in one direction.
The shocks and structs and the vehicle’s suspension system should maintain traction by counteracting this weight shift. However, when they’re faulty, it’s impossible to execute this task. Whenever you notice your car’s unusual bounce over bumps, get a technician to evaluate the vehicle as soon as possible.
How Often Should You Inspect Your Steering System?
Your car’s steering is crucial to your driving. A faulty steering compartment puts you and anyone else on the road at risk. Therefore, you should inspect your power steering for any steering wheel problems regularly.
Ideally, your mechanic should check your tie rod ends and ball joints after every oil change, alignment, or fault involving the front suspension. For your power steering fluid, you should change it every 30,000-80,000 miles.
However, the timeframe also depends on your type of vehicle. Consult your vehicle manufacturer’s manual for precise timelines.
You should also check your serpentine belt after every oil change. Overall, you should check the entire system annually for wear and tear, leaks, or looseness. Furthermore, inspect the entire system whenever you experience an incident with the front wheels or suspension.
A total system scan and steering wheel maintenance are also vital when you notice looseness or steering vibrations.
Keeping your car in peak condition requires regular servicing and system maintenance. However, when you ignore your car’s components for too long, you may have to deal with significant issues that could threaten the safety of your driving and cost substantial repair fees.
Ensure you visit an auto technician regularly for steering wheel maintenance. If you notice vibrations, noises, or looseness in your steering wheel, call your mechanic immediately to check for the problem.
After fixing the issue, execute a full system inspection to ensure nothing else is wrong. By being proactive with your car’s servicing and repairs, your automobile can serve you better for years.
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