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5 Causes of Common Steering Wheel Problems

Educational  ·  August 12, 2020

5 Causes of Common Steering Wheel Problems

When you've been driving the same car for some time, it starts to become an extension of your body. After a while, you become very familiar with how the car sounds, smells, and especially how it feels as you drive it every day. Assuming you're wearing clothes (let's hope you are!), your hands will be the only parts of your body in direct contact with the car, since you will be holding the steering wheel at all times. This is important, so read on, and I'll tell you why.

You see, your steering wheel has its fair share of problems and is no different from any other part of your car. So, it’s quite normal to see faults in it after a while. The thing about steering wheel problems is that quite often, the issues that you notice are only symptoms of a problem elsewhere. When the wheel shakes, wanders, or becomes unusually heavy, it’s telling you that you should trace the cause.

So, in this article, we're going to take a look at common steering wheel problems and, more importantly, what's causing them.

5 Causes of Common Steering Wheel Problems

1. Worn-out steering racks and tie rods can result in a loose steering wheel 

Depending on who you talk to, a loose steering wheel might be called something else. Quite often, some people describe it as the wheel having 'too much play'. 

This can get confusing, so let me clarify a bit more. What this means is that you're able to turn the steering wheel an inch or more, but the wheels don't actually turn. So, you're sitting in your car turning the wheel left and right, yet you still can't tell where your wheels are pointed. That's a 'loose steering wheel'.

This isn't normal, of course. By 'normal', we mean that movements on the steering wheel and the wheels of your car should be exactly the same. But what causes this looseness?

The culprit is pretty obvious – steering racks and tie rod ends that have become worn out.

Is it dangerous to drive with a loose steering wheel?

Your steering wheel is a critical part of your car. So, if you ever think there's a problem with it, you need to bring it to a mechanic immediately.

To answer the question about whether or not it’s dangerous, the answer is YES. A loose steering wheel makes it difficult for you to control the direction of your front wheels accurately. This could lead to you accidentally hitting other vehicles especially on a high-traffic road. So, don't take a loose steering wheel lightly!

2. Worn-out ball joints can lead to loose or sloppy steering  

What causes sloppy steering?

Loose steering becomes more defined when you're driving since you will feel the sloppiness in manoeuvring. You'll look like one of those people in old TV comedies, turning the wheel left and right wildly even though your car's only turning slightly!

Aside from problematic steering racks and tie rods, this can be caused by worn-out ball joints as well.

Remember: if you notice these problems, don't delay in getting them sorted out. Your steering wheel is crucial and needs to be in good shape to keep you safe on the road!

3. Worn-out steering jack and faulty power steering pump can cause a hard-to-turn steering wheel

So far, we've talked about issues featuring loose steering wheels. Now, let's talk about the exact opposite. What about finding yourself with a hard to turn steering wheel?

A hard to turn steering wheel is not only annoying; believe it or not, it poses a real danger to you and your passengers.

Firstly, a tight steering wheel means that you'll have to exert more force just to get your wheels facing the correct direction. This is dangerous if you're trying to avoid a hazard on the road. You won't be able to make the split-second moves that you usually could!

Next, all that energy you spend trying to turn your steering wheel will tire you out much more quickly. Let's not forget that driving, especially long-distance drives, is already a tiring activity on its own. With a hard-to-turn steering wheel, you'll be exhausted long before you arrive at your destination. And we all know that a tired driver is a dangerous driver!

What does it mean when your steering wheel is hard to turn?

So, what does this symptom indicate? Well, a stiff steering wheel can have several causes. Just like a loose steering wheel, a stiff one can be caused by a worn-out steering rack.

This could also point to a much bigger problem: a faulty power steering pump. 

Don't forget: the reason a steering wheel is usually so easy to turn is that you're getting help from a power steering system. If that system isn't working, you'll be turning your heavy wheels all by yourself.

But remember what I said at the beginning of this article? A steering wheel problem isn't merely about the steering system. Quite often, it points to issues elsewhere in the car, far away from the steering column.

Sometimes, a stiff steering wheel is your car's way of telling you that there's a problem with your tyres. Perhaps your tyres are underinflated. Or, your wheels might not be aligned correctly.

4. Loose steering linkages and others can be the culprit to a wandering steering wheel

Here's another common problem: a wandering steering wheel. This makes it tough to keep your car moving in a straight line. You'll find yourself having to correct your steering repeatedly just to keep it in the same lane!

What causes this? There are several possibilities. Your steering linkages might be loose, the steering gear might be worn out, or you might have too much of a caster angle.

Any of these causes is a major issue, so you need to get it inspected by a mechanic immediately!

5. Fluid running low or suspension issues can result in screeching noises whenever you turn the steering wheel

Last but not least, let's talk about the screeching noise that happens when turning the steering wheel. 

First and foremost, you need to figure out the source of that screeching noise. Pay close attention whenever it happens. If the sound comes from the power steering system, it might be running low on fluid. If it comes from your suspensions, they might need to be lubricated.

The point here is simple: if the noise happens when you turn your steering wheel, it might not have anything to do with the steering system itself! The only way to be sure is to trace the sound to its source.


Whatever the case may be, your steering is one of the critical systems in your car. If you think you're having a steering wheel problem, you have to get it inspected as soon as possible.

You may want to check our article on suspension and steering components that are prone to fail and similar posts to help you understand your car better. Or you may also subscribe to us to get yourself updated about the latest in the car industry. Visit us at to learn everything you need to know!

By Ray Hasbollah

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