When you hear a new noise in your car it is a good idea to turn down the radio and drive as normal to try and determine where the noise is coming from, when it occurs and how to describe it to your mechanic.
This article will address the many sounds you may experience from your steering wheel, or when you are turning corners in general. First, it is important to understand all the things happening with the front wheels of your car, or the “front end” as most mechanics will call it. Your front wheels have to be able to move in all sorts of directions. They have to be able to move up and down as your suspension travels. If you are going over a speed bump, both wheels will move together, but if you are going over a pothole, one wheel needs to be able to jump down then back up while the opposite side wheel stays flat and level. Also, your wheels need to be able to pivot along their axis to allow your car to turn, but not the same amount. When you are turning, your outside wheel will roll in a wider radius circle than your inside wheel meaning when your turn your steering wheel it has to adjust each tire a different amount to make your turn smooth and quiet. All this needs to happen while the tire is rotating at thousands of RPM and caring the weight of your vehicle on an uneven road. Also, if your vehicle is front wheel drive, a shaft, or axle, needs to be connected to the center of the wheel to drive it along.
This monumental task is completed using lots of arms, linkages, very special joints and unique connections. Even during normal driving all of these joints and moving parts will have a lot of pressure and go through a lot of motion to keep your ride comfortable. All this pressure and movement can cause many of the parts to regularly wear out, especially if you drive on rough roads, often hit potholes or construction or just drive aggressively in general. As these components wear down, they will usually warn you before they fail, you just have to know what to listen for.
The one noise you’ll hear even in new cars may be when your steering wheel is turned all the way to one side. Your wheels have metal stops on them, sort of like the rubber stopper you have on the wall that stops your garage door from opening too far. This keeps the steering linkage from over extending and makes sure your tire wont rub on the frame or body of your car when turned sharply. When the wheel is pushed up against this stop, the power steering system will be working hard to push against it. This usually creates a whining noise as the pump is working more than normal. To solve this, once your wheels are turned all the way, stop turning your steering wheel. If you start to hear this sound all the time, you likely have low power steering fluid, and possible a fluid leak. If you discover a power steering fluid leak, use BlueDevil Power Steering Stop Leak to fix the leak.
Another noise you may hear coming from your steering wheel is a rattling, clicking or clunking. These sounds are usually a symptom of worn joints in your steering linkage or front suspension. There are joints in your steering column that allow the steering column to change directions from your steering wheel down to the steering box or rack and pinion. These joints may have become worn or loose over time. Also, after your steering box there are joints that connect your drag link or tie rods to the steering knuckle. These joints also wear out with time. The best way to test for any of these joints being bad is to turn the steering wheel back and forth slightly while your car is parked. If you can turn the wheel a significant amount without the tires turning, or hear the same clunking or clicking noise these joints likely need to be replaced. Lastly, the suspension joints or bushings may be worn on your actual control arms or suspension components. These joints are more difficult to diagnose. You often need to have that wheel completely lifted off the ground and a significant amount of pressure needs to be put on the tire or joint to test it for play. These tests should usually be left to a mechanic with the proper tools. All of these joints can translate clunks, clicks, or rattles into your steering wheel as you drive if they are worn out or in need of replacement.
Lastly, if your vehicle is front wheel, 4-wheel or all-wheel drive the noises you are hearing may be coming from the axles. As we discussed earlier the front wheel needs to be able to move around quite a bit so the joints connecting the front axle to the front wheel are often complicated. In all but some older 4 wheel drive vehicles this is done through a constant velocity, or CV joint. The CV joint is a joint that allows the front wheel to pivot in all directions to a certain angle while maintaining constant axle speed. Since the CV joint is constantly spinning and articulating they will wear out and need to be changed as part of your regular maintenance. You can test a CV joint by turning your vehicle as sharply as you can and driving slowly in a circle. If you hear crunching or popping coming from down by your wheel, you have a bad CV joint. If you are hearing this noise during normal corning, or turning left or right from a stop sign you also need to replace your CV joints. If you are hearing that same clunk or crunch during normal driving or are getting abnormal vibrations you should consider having your CV joints checked as soon as possible.
The front end of your vehicle is an impressive combination of arms, joints, linkages and bushings. All of these components need to work together to make sure your vehicle can turn, stop and drive as you expect it to. Making sure all these components are in good working order will keep you safe and can help reduce tire wear and road noise. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms check these components for wear or play as soon as possible.
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