Sloppy steering giving you fits?
Before you curse your steering system, you need to pinpoint the actual cause of problem. Poor steering may actually be the result of suspension system issues, worn tires, or other non-steering system inadequacies.
Then again, maybe it is your steering system.
Bottom line is, you need to track down the root cause of the problem before you begin to fix poor steering performance. We’ve covered oversteer and understeer as separate issues, but we’ve included 10 other common steering problems and their likely causes below. By identifying possible trouble spots, you can stop cursing, and start curing, your steering woes.
Problem: Hard steering
Description: Hard steering is a condition in which you must exert excessive effort to turn the steering wheel.
- Possible Cause #1: Friction or too little clearance in the steering gear, steering linkage or ball joints.
- Possible Cause #2: Low or uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #3: Excessive positive caster on wheels/tires, which also causes the steering wheel to return too fast.
- Possible Cause #4: Power steering is inoperative; however, you can eliminate power steering as the culprit by raising the front end of your vehicle off the floor and starting the engine. If the steering wheel still turns easily, the steering is not at fault.
- Possible Cause #5: Body or frame is bent or misaligned.
Problem: Excessive Play in Steering
Excessive play occurs when there is extra movement in the steering wheel without response or movement in the front wheels. Too much play can reduce your ability to steer accurately, or even control the vehicle.
- Possible Cause #1: Looseness in steering gear.
- Possible Cause #2: Looseness in steering linkage.
- Possible Cause #3: Worn ball joints or steering knuckle.
- Possible Cause #4: Loose wheel bearing.
Problem: Steering Wander
Wander is a vehicle’s tendency to to drift from one side of the road to the other.
- Possible Cause #1: Mismatched tires or uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Linkage binding or insufficiently lubricated.
- Possible Cause #3: Steering gear binding or insufficiently lubricated.
- Possible Cause #4: Excessive wheel toe-out.
- Possible Cause #5: Looseness in steering gear or linkage.
- Possible Cause #6: Chassis/suspension issues, specifically loose ball joints or leaf springs.
- Possible Cause #7: Uneven load in vehicle.
Problem: Vehicle Pulls to One Side
In this scenario, you’ll notice your vehicle always pulling to one side during normal driving.
- Possible Cause #1: The most common cause is uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Vehicle out of alignment, typically uneven caster or camber.
- Possible Cause #3: Tire wheel bearing.
- Possible Cause #4: Uneven, sagging, or broken springs.
- Possible Cause #5: Uneven torsion bar adjustment.
- Possible Cause #6: Brakes dragging.
Problem: Vehicle Pulls to One Side While Braking
If your vehicle swerves to one side while braking, look at one of these possible causes:
- Possible Cause #1: Uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Vehicle out of alignment, typically uneven caster or camber.
- Possible Cause #3: Brakes grabbing.
Problem: Steering Shimmy
Shimmy is basically the wobbling of your front wheel on its steering axis, leading to a distinctive side-to-side shake at the front end of your vehicle.
- Possible Cause #1: Uneven or low tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Loose steering gear or linkage.
- Possible Cause #3: Loose ball joints.
- Possible Cause #4: Front springs are too soft.
- Possible Cause #5: Incorrect or uneven camber.
- Possible Cause #6: Wheel imbalance.
- Possible Cause #7: Worn tires or irregular tire tread.
Problem: Wheel Tramp
Wheel tramp is the hopping up and down of your wheel at higher speeds. In addition to any of the possible causes listed under shimmy, here are a few more possible contributing factors:
- Possible Cause #1: Wheels out of balance.
- Possible Cause #2: Excessive wheel runout.
- Possible Cause #3: Defective shocks.
Problem: Steering Kickback
Kickback is a sharp or rapid movement by the steering wheel everytime the front tires hit a hole or bump in the road. Although some kickback are normal and unavoidable, excessive kickback can be caused by:
- Possible Cause #1: Low or uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Sagging springs.
- Possible Cause #3: Defective shocks.
- Possible Cause #4: Looseness in steering gear or linkage.
Problem: Poor Steering Wheel Returnability
The phrase “poor returnability” is used to describes a condition in which the steering wheel returns slowly to the straight-ahead position after a turn. Typically, the wheel will return to center position once the driver releases it. If return is slow, or requires you to manually move the steering wheel back to center, you should focus on these areas:
- Possible Cause #1: Friction in your steering system — steering gear, linkage, etc.
- Possible Cause #2: Friction in suspension system requiring lubrication or replacement of components.
- Possible Cause #3: Excessive negative camber.
- Possible Cause #4: Issues within power steering system.
Problem: Tire Squeal on Turns
This self-explanatory problem is usually caused by taking turns at excessively high speeds. Sound like anyone you know? Sinner.
If, for some reason, this doesn’t sound like you, here are a few more possible causes:
- Possible Cause #1: Low or uneven tire pressure.
- Possible Cause #2: Improper wheel alignment.
- Possible Cause #3: Worn tires.
Tire Tramp. This condition is almost an exclusive imbalance situation. In a fully balanced state the rotating action of the tire will not produce any displacement in any direction. The off center addition of weight now has the potential to induce vibration in a rotational environment. The density of the added mass and it’s distance from the center of designed rotation and rotational speed will determine the severity of the imbalance. The addition of a shock absorber will only attempt to limit the severity of the wheels’ movement. Good, bad or no shock, the imbalance must be corrected.
The cause of big accidents is sometimes the rough and unpaired alignment. this is an important factor to over all balancing and well performance for your vehicle. Please don’t compromise if you feel bit uncomfortable to handle your staring and tire balancing. Visit the nearest mechanic to repair ASAP.
I am having this problem now. Turning any corner is hard to steer and just plain driving straight is hard also. The engine has shut down too when this happens. I was lucky as I was able to complete the turn and steer on to the side of the road and out of traffic. Will take to mechanic ASAP.
I have a 2013 Ford E350 Class C motorhome I have put upper and lower ball all bushings and front end parts heavy duty damper with spring lined up tires have proper air everything I know of I’ve done check steering shaft U-joint seem to be working properly someone said to drop my can you give me Caster back as far as I can get it and then someone said to just my worm gear in my gearbox which I have never worked on that before the problem is it drifts and it’s not very comfortable to drive it does Wonder a bit
I drove 1 ton Ford’s in a fleet.
The era of your motor home chassis.
Quite a lot to handle in high wind and slickery.
It was systemic and Ford made lots of repairs.
Cruise control for circumstances.
Maybe change to model with heavy duty king pin suspension and lots of greased, pivots and ball joints?
Then that’s 700 dollars a tire. Detroit and or Chalmers or New process then maybe
Fuel vs.least bad frowns per state or province.
I saw median strip bridge hazard of posts unzip a aluminum motor home right between the seats.
At 75 it was a mortal toothpick explosion
I have a 2009 Dodge Diesel Ram 2500. When the recall work (N49) Left outer tie rod was done mileage 67,800. (a error was made) : Drag link ends were very far off being aligned to each other, they were 90+ degrees rotated away from each other, Error found at 82,500 mileage. In the interim of this, at mileage 71,054 steering complaint, result was told due to tires needing replaced, at 79,680 steering complaint, at 80,147 inner and outter drag links, outter drag link bracket, adjuster tubes & Steering gear replaced. 80,920 steering stabilizer, trac bar – mopar parts & carli ball joints installed. ( It was recommended after market ball joints would correct the issues.) 81,315 Steering gear replaced again.(82,500 error found) at 82,655 performed a new N49 recall. 83,237 left tie rod replaced from N49 recall again drag link and brackets. During this time my truck would not fall in specification on the front end alignment, so forth I took it to a shop that was equipped with the equipment that the others didn’t have for an alignment. It’s better than what it’s been, on a nice road it goes straight down the road, but on an uneven road it feels like a bouncing ball and the left front end feels weak. Prior to the recall work I had no issues.
Drag link R and R, always needs a new pitman arm on the steering gearbox. And spot on center on the splines.
I remember when I was about 19y.o. in the
Late 1970’s, there were [Bear]chassis/alignment companies.
The machine even had a cuddly little cub
For the logo. Some modern suspensions with transverse[side mounted]Engine/transmissions can shift offcenter from violent side deflections like large potholes or curbs causing bent steer wheels or tie rod shafts and strut rod bend of a few degrees.
Then attempts and repeated steering and suspension parts being guessing at the problem.
I had a former circle track chassis guy align my 60’s GM coupe after complete front end repair following icy Monday morning and no stop into a 18 wheeler at a very red light.
Frame repair and all new after this man’s
Help and the car handle like new on the 10am vacant interstate with the Speedo wound up around 15mph. I tell you that was eerie without new window deltas and rubber trim.
Please be honest about those bumps that did not seem to bad, just because it still rolled to your destination.
[Deltas?]well the 64 A body GMs
Did have wing windows.
She was a sweetheart that paid for my wife kids and her parents to move to Texas.
Her buyer eliminated the freeway
Stability she had by installing hair shocks.
All that improved trw/moog out the [window]. : (
And that knowledgeable chassis guy did
Let on that when John Delorean approached GM corporate, the 64 had been drafting board for an inline 6.
Repairing the stress crack in common, facilitated correct geometry for my
Reduced 9 to 1, LT1. 250 ponies is pretty snazzy at the rear, for sure.
I drive an 08 GMC Sierra and when I turn the wheel either direction while driving it acts like it’s pushing a break and it gets difficult to move forward or reverse I don’t know what the problem is maybe the hub assembly?
I’m having the same problem on my truck right now, please let me know if you figure it out
what about a toyota yaris 2007 that feels like it wanders or maybe more correctly “shifts” only when turning at a faster speed on large radius turns like a on ramp, most of the time when it goes over a bump like a joint in the road?
hello this is brandi, im having a few problems with my 2004 chevy aveo. 1ST problem longest problem ive had- when I back up in reverse and turn at a certain angle it pops when I stop to hard it pops…. 2ND when im COASTING meaning im not touching the brakes or gas pedal there is a loud RATTILING under the front end sound like its coming from the front driver side. (could be wrong)… 3RD when im driving at high speeds of 50-70 mph I get this shimmy shake in the steering wheel itll come go come go then when I HIT THE BRAKE PEDAL TO STOP IT WILL (JERK) TO THE LEFT WHEN I LET OFF OF THE BRAKE PEDAL IT JERKS TO THE RIGHT AND ITS EVERYTIME I HIT AND COME OFF THE BRAKE PEDAL. PLEASE IM IN NEED OF SOME ANSWERS. IVE HAD MY CAR SINCE MARCH 9TH 2018 IT HAD 100,043 MILES ON IT WHEN I LEASED IT. IT HAS 133,459 MILES ON IT NOW. IVE PUT BRAND NEW INNER & OUTER TIE RODS ON BOTH SIDES BRAND NEW ROTORS BRAKES STRUTS SWAY BARS 1 NEW CONTROL ARM. YOU CAN EMAIL ME AT Flowerladie28@gmail.com please help me.
I have a 78 chevy k20 it currently has 38.5 x 14.5 tires. The turn radius is almost non existent. Any ideas what the culprit could be? Are the tires to big or to wide?
I can only turn steering wheel 3 and a half turns right and two and a half turn right ???
I had work done last year on my steering for a really loose steering wheel – was told it was 3 of my 4 tie rods, bearings or bushings or something like that, and my steering box. I picked it up and all was fine on Feb 6, 2019. I had to drop it off again the other day because the steering has become loose again – worse than it was last year. I was told last time due to the severity that the steering box was likely the main culprit but they weren’t sure until they worked on it and they did confirm it. If my ball joints were going, they would have likely noticed wear on them last year like they did the tie rods. Now, interestingly, the last thing they did last year was the alignment. I was told to get the truck that day only to find out they had to keep it an additional week due to getting the wrong part, discovered during the alignment. I do not remember what part it was but it was not the steering box. I’m wondering if it was damaged when they did that as again – the alignment ended up being the last thing needing done before and after discovering they had installed the wrong part. I noticed the steering issue returning a couple of months after the repair but thought I was imagining it until I noticed it was getting really bad again. Also suspiciously, the repair shop has my truck right now and I was told they’d let me know what was wrong by the end of business Wednesday… I have not heard anything and it’s now Friday. I have tried calling but there was no answer, AND their voicemail box is full. They are not answering emails either. Unfortunately, because they did the original work, they have to fix it this time due to the warranties… and it’s a very highly rated repair shop for my area.
Does anyone have any ideas on how to handle this? Also, should the manufacturer be covering the labor for this second repair if it is a defective part as it’s something that must be done by a shop? I was told I’d likely have to cover the labor costs of the second repair myself if it is a defective part.
My truck has been having a hard steering problem and I almost ran over a deer the other day so I figured it’s about time I address it. I like how there are multiple possible reasons for this kind of problem and I’ll make sure to double-check each of them, especially my tire pressure since it’s kind of tricky to make that perfectly balanced. If all else fails, there’s always truck repair services.
I have a 2005 Honda Element with a steering problem that has caused it to be parked because it’s too dangerous. I can’t figure it out. When driving, it will suddenly swerve drastically to one side or the other but the steering wheel doesn’t move. Only the wheels. It is bad. Where should I be looking for the cause?
My car is having the same swerving problem but not as bad only slight.
how to get steering wheel on? trying to put this together brand new
I have a 1967 Chevy II have some play in the steering but when I come up and over a front tire start squealing and hill its drifting to the driver side to the center line until it settles down it won’t come back I’ve tried to steer it.It will also do it if I punch it from a rolling or dead stop
1994 Jeep Grand Cheokee: Turning left or right sharp noise is made, resistance to turning. Replaced bad tie rod and drivers side ball joint. While driving no problem turning for lane to lane. Excessive looseness in steering. What could be cause this?
I have a 99 Honda Civic. My steering wheel feels like it’s not catching a gear properly when turning in low gear. Any idea of what I need to fix it?
ALSO my steering wheel will turn but the wheels won’t. If that puts anything into perspective
Sounds like a steering rack problem. The good news is that replacement Honda Civic rack and pinions are available and they aren’t too expensive. The only other thing it could be (off the top of my head) would be broken tie rod(s), but that would probably be accompanied by a few more noticeable problems methinks.
2004 gmc yukon XL. There’s more play in the steering wheel than normal (loose) and everytime im on a bumpy road im all over the place (going from one side to the other), When on a level road it’s not as noticable but kinda same the problem of being all over my side of the road. Can anyone help me on where to start looking??
Hello, my vehicle (2012 SUV Suzuki Grand Vitara) feels like it’s wobbling when I make a slow sharp right turn. For instance, turning sharply onto a street from a stop sign. Making a sharp left turn doesn’t do it quite as much. Are these tire issues or something else? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
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very good and clear article. Thank you
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Hi! I own a 1994 Ford F-150 (6 cyl/auto). I had a leak in power steering. A mechanic told me leak was coming from steering box. We went to auto zone, purchased a replacement, and gave them my old one for core exchange. The mechanic Re assembled everything only to find turning steering wheel clockwise turned the tires to make a counter clock wise turn . So steering seems reversed. Anyone run into this problem? The solution? Thanks for any help.
I have a 2003 Cadillac escalade ext I have been loosing power steering fluid but as I was pulling in my driveway I heard a loud pop and now steering wheel turns freely put wheels don’t you can even turn steering wheel with no power on what would be the problem I can see like the pinion rod seals look bad like it needs replaced but I think maybe steering box what do you think I should check out
1966 Chevy Chevelle SS
My turning radius is very poor when turning the steering wheel to the left. I’m unable to do uturns without backing up.
Do you think this is a gearbox issue?? Please assist if you can!
97 MERCURY GRAND MARQ HAD STIFF STEERING ISSUES WITH STEERING WONDER. TURNED OUT TO BE BINDING IN THE CONTROL ARM. REPLACED THE GREESE FITTING, GREESED THE BAJEEBERS OUT OF IT AND BACKED THE CASTLE NUT OUT TO NEXT HOLE. IT SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN THE SOLUTION. THE DIAGNOSTICS OF THES WEB SITE GAVE ME THE CORRECT COURSE OF ACTION, THANKS.