Steady as you go
From negotiating turns to maintaining a steady course, you rely upon your vehicle’s steering system every time you climb into the driver’s seat. This important system allows you to navigate your vehicle down the road to your destination. If your steering feels loose, it’s time to get to the bottom of the issue. Read on to learn the symptoms and causes of loose steering.
Looking at the problem
The great enemy of any steering system is over-turning, commonly called “free play.” When the steering wheel experiences excessive over-turning, you may find that you aren’t able to control the vehicle. The steering may feel loose and may require constant correction in order to keep the vehicle in a straight line.
There may also be a knocking noise when hitting bumps due to looseness in a steering component. Sometimes a shimmy in the steering wheel is noticeable when driving at high speeds. Additionally, your vehicle may wander from side-to-side while in motion. Any one or a combination of these symptoms is just cause to investigate the problem immediately. Ignoring the warnings signs can lead to excessive tire wear, difficulty in steering and, in severe cases of neglect, a part separation, which could result in an accident.
Causes of loose steering
The most common reasons for over-turning in the steering are looseness in the steering gear itself or looseness in one or more of the steering linkage sockets.
There are many different suspension and steering system designs, however they are all composed of three basic component groups.
Steering box or rack and pinion that is connected to the steering wheel by the steering column.
Linkages that connect the steering box to the wheel assemblies at the front wheels.
Front suspension parts that allow the wheel assemblies to pivot at the joints and hold the tires in position on the road.
The front end is connected to the steering box, or rack and pinion, through a series of linkages. The linkages connect the steering box to the wheel assemblies at the front wheels, allowing them to move back and forth when the steering wheel is turned. If these linkages wear out, they become weak and allow play in the steering system and make the steering feel sloppy.
Tooth contact inside of the steering gearbox or rack and pinion can change as the vehicle ages or may be misadjusted. In either case, looseness in the steering can result. Sometimes an adjustment may solve the condition but in cases of high mileage, the entire gearbox or rack unit may require replacement.
Worn chassis components such as the rack and pinion, tie rod ends, control arm bushings, ball joints, steering gears, or any other parts that exhibit wear or damage can cause problems that can be detected by a visual inspection.
Diagnosing loose steering
If you suspect that there may be a problem with your steering, it’s time to make an appointment with your mechanic. Your mechanic will likely perform a dry park test on the vehicle. While sitting on the tires, an assistant slightly wiggles the steering wheel from side-to-side while the mechanic looks at each steering linkage socket with a flashlight. They will also raise the car on a hoist for a better look to help them diagnose and fix the problem.
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