A steering wheel that feels loose or has “play” in it prevents the driver form getting an accurate interpretation of how the wheels are turned. Any steering setup where you can move the wheel more than one to one and a half inches without moving the wheels is too lose and may have an issue. When the steering wheel feels loose it can be difficult from drivers to accurately know the position of the front wheels. This lack of responsiveness can be dangerous for drivers, especially in heavy traffic or winding roads.
How this system works:
The majority of modern vehicles use two different kinds of steering setup to help control the movement of the car. Rack and pinion steering is typically used on cars, small trucks and SUVs, while recirculating-ball steering is used on large SUVs and trucks. The similarities and differences in the two systems begin to manifest themselves when components fail, causing the steering wheel to feel loose.
Common reasons for this to happen:
Worn Tie Rods: Tie rods serve as the driver’s connection between the steering unit and the tires. Tie rods are present in both rack and pinion and recirculating ball setups. If tie rod ends become worn, they may cause the steering wheel to feel loose. A vehicle with worn tie rods may also squeak as the steering wheel is turned and be out of alignment.
Worn Pitman Arm: A pitman arm is only present in vehicles with recirculating-ball steering. The pitman arm connects a gear attached to the steering wheel to the steering rack itself. When the pitman arm becomes worn or the teeth in the gear connecting the pitman arm begin to slip, it can cause the steering wheel to feel loose.
Worn Ball Joint: Ball joints connect the vehicle’s wheel hubs to the rest of the suspension components. Depending on the vehicle, one or two ball joints per wheel and may or may not be load bearing. A ball joint that is worn may cause the steering to feel loose and may also create a banging sound, especially when going over bumps.
What to expect:
A top-rated mobile mechanic will come to your home or office to determine the reason for the loose-feeling steering. The mechanic will then provide a detailed inspection report outlining the reason for the loose steering and the cost of any repairs that need to be made.
How it's done:
When the mechanic arrives, he or she will first lift the vehicle and remove the wheels so that they can better access the suspension and steering components. From here, the mechanic will be able to assess the reason why the steering has become loose.
If the mechanic suspects that worn tie rods may be the issue, he or she will inspect the tie rod for superficial damage. If the tie rod end had become worn or loose, the mechanic will remove it and replace it with a new one. The mechanic will also ensure after installation, that the new tie rod end is properly lubricated.
If the mechanic believes that the pitman arm has become worn, he or she will remove the pitman arm from the track bar and replace it with a new pitman arm. The mechanic should ensure that the new part is properly tightened.
If the mechanic suspects worn ball joints, he or she will remove the control arm(s) in order to access the faulty ball joint. He or she will then remove the old ball joint and replace it with a new one. The mechanic should also ensure that the new ball joint is properly lubricated in order to ensure longer life.
In the case of all repairs the mechanic will make sure that all the new parts have been installed correctly and are properly lubricated. In order to ensure that the steering is working properly, the mechanic may test drive the vehicle to check for excess play.
How important is this service?
A steering wheel that feels loose may not be giving an accurate indication of the front wheel’s position. Loose-feeling steering may also indicate that a problem has occurred with the steering unit or suspension. If you notice that the steering does not seem to be as responsive, you should stop driving the vehicle and have it inspected by a mechanic.