Why does my steering wheel feel loose?

If you ever watched prominent car review videos on platforms like youtube, one thing they love to do is give the whole car a good shake and pull it out of the driver’s seat to make sure the interior construction is solid. In some cases, loose parts from the center stack, storage lids, and more may appear.

When people refer to a “loose” steering wheel, or loose steering, however, it means something a little different. That doesn’t mean your steering wheel feels loose on your spine, like everything could fall off the dash in a moment. Rather, it refers to how responsive your steering is to how you turn the steering wheel. In today’s blog, we want to first clarify what to expect when experiencing a slack steering wheel – otherwise known simply as “slack steering” – as well as how and why it happens and what you should do about it.

How is a loose flywheel?

When the car’s steering system is working properly, the steering wheel should be able to give the driver an accurate picture of how far he is turning the vehicle when he moves the steering wheel. A slight left turn should cause the entire car to shift slightly to the left, while a sharp turn of the steering wheel to the right should take the car perfectly and as expected around a hairpin turn on a winding road.

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So, loose steering, then, is the opposite of that situation. When traveling on a straight path, it can be difficult to keep the car straight and the driver may have to constantly correct steering to keep the path straight. In a corner, slack steering would cause the driver to move the steering wheel to a position where they would expect to have enough steering, but would find it to be either too much or not enough and would therefore have to correct mid-corner, which of course can be dangerous.

It is sometimes referred to as the steering wheel having “excessive play” when you turn the steering wheel a large degree just to get very slight response from the wheels. The term “play” is also important when looking at some of the potential causes.

loose steering wheel feeling

Why does my steering wheel feel loose?

There are several factors that can cause the steering wheel to become loose. Below is a selection of the most common ones:

worn tie rods

Tie rods are the component that connects the steering wheel to the tires. They wear out and become looser – also known as slack in the tie rods – as is natural when driving, so worn tie rods are more a sign of time since your last replacement than due to any actual failure. Under normal driving conditions, tie rods can last the life of the car, but depending on your driving style, where you drive and how much varied and difficult terrain your vehicle faces, the lifespan may be reduced.

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Defective Ball Joint

Ball joints are used to attach the suspension to the tyres/wheels. Depending on the design of your car, there will be upper and lower ball joints, or just lower ball joints. Either way, all it takes is one ball joint to stop working to create loose steering. Worn ball joints affect wheel camber, which results in poor steering response and even a tendency for the steering to pull to one side.

faulty ball joint in the car

failed bushings

Most cars use a rack and pinion steering system, and sometimes the bushings at each end of the steering rack can start to fail, which allows steering play. The steering rack itself is a very strong component and rarely fails on its own, but these bushings can and do.

Uneven Tire Wear

If drivers fail to rotate their tires correctly at the right time – usually every 6 months – uneven wear can occur that affects driving. Even with rotation, uneven wear can occur under certain extreme conditions.

How can the problem be fixed?

If loose steering is being caused by the above causes, the best way to deal with it is to take the car to the mechanic shop and have the relevant parts repaired or replaced. In some cases, a tightening or adjustment may solve the problem, but where there is more serious wear and tear, replacement is the only option.

For example, if you used tie rods, replacement is the best policy, as they will only get worse the way they are now. A loose steering rack or loose wheel bearings, on the other hand, can be properly repaired with a grip. Replacing relevant parts is still the most common treatment for various driving problems.

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When diagnosing the exact problem, a mechanic will turn the steering wheel while the car is stopped to see how the wheels respond. If there’s less turnover than expected, they’ll know there’s definitely a problem. They also lift the car on a hoist and inspect the steering and suspension mechanisms, especially the connecting pieces.

play in the direction

Repair cost: Loose steering wheel

Costs can vary depending on the make of vehicle, but drivers can expect to pay the following fees:

  • Replacement Tie Rods – $150-200
  • Replacement Ball Joints – $240-330
  • Replacement bushings – $200-500
  • Replacement Steering Rack – $600-1000

Is it safe to drive with a loose steering wheel?

Absolutely not. Just as it’s not safe to drive with the correct wheel alignment, it’s also not safe to drive with the steering wheel loose. When driving with loose steering, you are, in essence, driving a car that you don’t have full control over. Safe control of a vehicle depends on the driver being able to accurately estimate how much one turn of the steering wheel will suffice to navigate a road and also on being able to depend on the car driving in a straight line without any steering input.

When driving with the steering wheel loose, these guarantees disappear and therefore it becomes highly dangerous.

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