A car is comprised of many moving parts, and when one part stops working, it is usually a sign of a bigger problem. While that isn’t always the case if you notice something is wrong with your steering wheel or are hearing a strange noise, get it checked out immediately.
When you use your steering wheel, certain parts of your car are affected every time, like the suspension, ball joints, and the steering system to name a few. Turning the steering wheel puts stress on these parts, which causes them to wear down. This can cause a groaning or whining noise that may be nothing, or it may be the result of a bigger problem.
There are ten reasons a steering wheel may make a strange noise when you turn.
Before you can truly understand what may be causing the noise, you might hear and why you should have some knowledge on how the steering system works. As you may be aware, the steering wheel is used to control the vehicle. The steering system is what allows you to change direction or control how and when the vehicle moves.
This happens by applying either a little or a lot of pressure to the steering wheel. When you apply this pressure, the components of the steering system control the car. Inside the system, other parts work with the wheel to control the car.
These days your car will either have a steering box or a rack and pinion based system. With a rack and pinion based system, there is a circular gear that works with a linear gear to change the revolving motion and change it into linear motion. A steering box system is a gearbox that sits between the steering wheel and the steering system. The gears allow the front wheels to turn and stop any road shocks that may occur.
Without the suspension system, the steering system doesn’t work, at least not safely. In the suspension system, there are springs, a shock absorber, and the wheels. These components stop the vehicle from bouncing all over the road. When you drive, you want the wheels to, in a way, work independently. The suspension system stops one wheel’s movements from affecting the other three wheels.
The suspension system is important to your vehicle. It allows your car to run safely. Without it, your car could bounce all over the road and cause a lot of damage, or you could get in an accident. Regular maintenance is a must. Wear and tear on the suspension can cause a rubbing noise when the steering wheel is turned. If you hear this, get it checked out.
Reasons for Steering Wheel Noises
Often if there is a problem, you may hear a rubbing noise when you turn the steering wheel. This noise could have many causes, including problems with the suspension system.
1. Power Steering Rack
When the power steering rack is the problem, you will hear a rubbing noise whenever you turn the steering wheel. This noise will be heard even when the vehicle is going slow. The rack is what allows the steering wheel to turn. Along with making the steering wheel, the power steering rack connects the electrical and fuel system so they can work together.
2. Power Steering Fluid
If your power steering fluid is leaking, then that can cause a problem with your steering wheel. The fluid in your steering system keeps the gears lubricated and other parts lubricated, which stops friction. Unlike an oil leak, you may not notice if your power steering fluid is leaking as the leakage only happens when you are driving. This problem needs to be fixed immediately.
Signs of a power steering leak are:
- A lower level of fluid than you originally thought.
- The steering wheel has a sluggish or sticky feel to it.
- A strange noise when the steering wheel is in use. This noise could be a rubbing sound or a whining sound.
The leak could come from the power steering pump, the seals in the power steering rack, and the connections between the rack, lines, and reservoir. If you think there is a leak, you shouldn’t pour more fluid into the reservoir until you find the leak and have it fixed.
3. Control Arms Bushing
Your car’s frame has upper and lower control arms. The control arm bushings are at the joint between the aforementioned control arms. The control arms connect the frame to the steering knuckle. These parts are crucial to the steering of your car and safety. The bushing’s job is to reduce vibration and to make sure the control arm is aligned.
If you are hearing a strange noise when you turn the steering wheel, it might be the control arm bushings, and they might be worn down.
If this is the case, you may also experience:
- A vibrating steering wheel
- A clunking sound from underneath your car.
- Steering wheel pulling to the right or left.
- Uneven tire tread wear.
- Vehicle rocking back and forth when pressing the breaks.
If you are experiencing any of these things and a rubbing noise when you turn the steering wheel, you should get it checked out immediately.
4. Front Struts
The front struts are what absorb the bumps on the road. There are jounce bushings in the front struts. When these rubber parts become damaged, it can change how the vehicle operates. The jounce bushings can become damaged because of time or because of driving on a bumpy road constantly. When this happens or the bushings dry out, this can cause the steering wheel to make a noise.
5. Ball joints
The ball joints are very important. These joints are what allow the control arms and the steering knuckle to function correctly. These parts are what ensure the car drives in the right direction, moves at the intended speed, and that the car is under your control. If the joints are dry, then things might get shaky.
Dry ball joints will cause friction, which can cause the steering to make a strange noise. And if it goes untreated, the steering wheel may start to shake, which will make the vehicle difficult to control.
6. Tie Rod Ends
The tie rods are what controls the tires. Without the tie rods, the wheels will not go in the direction you turn the steering wheel. With this part of your vehicle is damaged for whatever reason, then the steering wheel will be affected. You may hear a loud creaking noise whenever you use the wheel.
The parts in your vehicle are reliant upon each other. So when one part is damaged or not working correctly, others can become damaged. The struts and shocks of your vehicle are what absorb the vibrations of the road. The rougher the road, the more of a pounding these parts take even though they are designed to last a long time.
The struts or shocks of your vehicle may be damaged if you’ve noticed any:
- Tire shaking
- Bouncing even when the road isn’t rough
- Vehicle shakes when rounding a corner
- Strut or shocks are leaking
These signs coupled with the steering wheel making noise are a sign that the shocks may be damaged and should be checked out.
8. Steering Column Bearing
A steering column can breakdown and cause a clicking or grinding noise when the steering wheel is turned. Along with the noise, the steering tilt function will not lock, the wheel won’t return to the middle, and the steering wheel has a rough feel when turned. These things can happen because dirt and debris get into the column and blocks the gears.
Or it could be because the steering has expanded because of the heat coming from the steering system. When this happens, the plastic from the column will rub up against other parts, causing friction which will cause the parts to get even hotter which may alter or damage them. Whatever the reason this happens, it needs to be checked out as soon as possible.
9. Clogged Fluid Reservoir
Because of the constant heat and friction that happens inside a vehicle while it is in motion, certain parts need to be well lubricated. This is true about the power steering system. The power steering reservoir needs to have the right amount of fluid that is the right type and thickness.
If it’s not, then the parts may not be lubricated enough which will cause friction and the parts to overheat. The reservoir could be empty, clogged, or not functioning properly because of a leak. If that happens, then the steering wheel will make a noise when you turn it.
10. Shaft Joint
The joint between the steering wheel and the steering rack is called the shaft joint. The shaft joint makes sure there is a good connection to the steering system. The joint can breakdown over time and this can cause a clunking noise when you turn the wheel.
Along with the noise, you may also find that the wheel is difficult to get back to the center, and a squeaking noise under the dash.
This joint is crucial when it comes to how the steering system works. If it is not working correctly, then you will find it hard to steer the vehicle.
How to Fix
If the steering wheel is making a noise when it is turned, the causes may be difficult to determine, especially if you have no real car knowledge and experience. If you’ve never worked on a car before, you probably shouldn’t try to diagnose or fix the problem yourself. Instead, take note of the noise and try to describe it to a mechanic the best way you can. The more accurately you describe the problem, the faster they may be able to help you.
The inner workings of a vehicle rely upon each other heavily. If one part breaks down and goes unchecked, then the rest may be following suit. The steering wheel is a crucial component of any vehicle, so when it makes strange noises it should be investigated and fixed immediately.
It is important to pay attention to your vehicle. If you hear any noise, especially when turning the steering wheel, take it to a mechanic, even if the noise is slight and really low. The louder the noise, the bigger the problem, and the higher the chance of other parts getting damaged.