A loose or ineffective steering wheel is a major safety hazard. If your wheel isn’t aligned correctly, that’s a red flag that something has gone wrong with your car’s steering system.
The problem often goes deeper than the steering wheel and the parts directly attached to it. Many systems and parts between the wheel and your tires affect how your car steers (or doesn’t.)
Steering and Suspension
Steering is more complicated than just making the wheels turn. To ensure accuracy and control, the wheels have to turn at precise angles and timings. These angles and timings can’t change if the wheels come into contact with the car’s suspension on a bumpy road.
Since many aspects of steering integrate with your car’s suspension, it’s important to consider suspension issues when trying to diagnose your misaligned steering wheel.
Something as small as a leaf spring shackle that needs replacing can throw off your steering. (Leaf springs are tiny, curved parts that protect your car as the wheels bump over uneven terrain, and leaf spring shackles keep leaf springs from bending too much in either direction.)
Incorrect Wheel Alignment
If your steering wheel is tilting to one side, shaking loose, or not reflecting where the car is going, the problem may be your wheel alignment.
The wear and tear of driving can warp your car’s suspension and cause slight changes in the angle of your wheels, as well as their connections to the steering system. Hitting a curb or pothole can knock your wheels out of alignment instantly.
You can test if the problem is your wheel alignment on your own. Drive your car to an open area where you won’t hit anything, Then, accelerate gently without touching your steering wheel. If your car drifts to the left or right instead of going straight, head to a mechanic to get your alignment fixed.
Worn Out Parts in Steering Wheel
Bad alignment isn’t the only cause of a crooked steering wheel. Many small parts make up a car’s steering system, and these parts can degrade over time. If any one of them fails, it can affect the entire vehicle.
If you hear a groaning noise while making turns, your car is consistently pulling hard to one side, or one tire is showing more wear than the others, you may need to replace your idler arm. The idler arm keeps the passenger side tires in line. If it starts to wear out, these tires won’t follow the rest of the vehicle smoothly through turns.
A failing steering knuckle will cause similar symptoms. The steering knuckles connect your car’s wheels to the suspension and steering. If a steering knuckle cracks or breaks, your car will become difficult to control, so it’s important to act quickly and repair the issue. Driving with a bad steering knuckle can also bring your wheels out of alignment.
Don’t take a loose or crooked steering wheel lightly. A misaligned wheel is often a sign of bigger problems in your car’s steering and suspension.