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Steering Wheel Jerking Right and Left

If you notice your steering wheel jerking from one side to the other side, an inspection is in order. Here are some potential causes of this jerking to check for and address.

Road Conditions

Observe the condition of road you’re traveling and see if it has grooved pavement, which can cause the vehicle tires to follow the line of grooving. If these grooves are somewhat crooked, your vehicle will try to steer with the groove direction. Rutted roads will direct your steering to follow the ruts—this effect is most prominent in asphalt paved roads with heavy truck traffic. If grooved or rutted roads aren’t the problem, move on to checking the vehicle.

Inspect the Steering Components

Chock your rear wheels to prevent rolling, then jack up the front of your vehicle and support it with jack stands. Get a helper to either observe what happens when you shake the wheels and steering components or to do the shaking while you observe. With the front wheels clear of ground contact, shake them from side to side and up and down. Note what components, if any, have slack, and how much. If this test shows slack in both up and down and side to side movements, your wheel bearings are loose or worn. If only side to side slack is evident, the most likely problem will be worn tie rod ends or idler arm issues.

Rotate the tire and wheel assembly and check for bent/warped wheels, out of round tires, or bulges in tire indicating a slipped belt or impending blowout. The steering gear could have excessive play from being worn too much. Check the back and forth movement of steering wheel before your tires and wheels begin to move. Any movement greater than 2” at the outer rim of the steering wheel indicates excessive wear in steering gear box. Check the flexible joint in the steering shaft between the steering wheel and gear box. Any slack or wear in this component indicates a need to replace it.

Measure the Toe In and Toe Out of Front Wheels

Toe out can cause steering wander and make a vehicle drift from side to side. Too much toe in and the vehicle is hard to steer and will have a tendency to dart from side to side. Each vehicle has a specified distance for correct toe in.
The wheels need to toe in because as the vehicle reaches highway speed, forces on tires will tend to toe out the wheels. It needs enough toe in when stopped to compensate for the toe out that occurs at highway speed for the wheels to run straight.

Check Suspension Components

Check all rubber bushings in the suspension (A-frame and/or strut bushings). As they age, the rubber deteriorates and sometimes falls out of the metal housing, allowing suspension components to be out of alignment.

Repair and Replace

Make notes of what has excessive slack or wear and repair or replace as needed. Usually when one steering component is worn, it’s most likely the other steering parts are worn also. Tires with bulges (slipped belts) or knots need replaced along any bent wheels. Hard bumps with curbs and hitting too many potholes will do damage to tires, steering, and suspension components.

Alignment

Alignment of the wheels is important and critical to good steering.

Camber refers to the in/out tilt of wheel in the vertical plane. Caster refers to the front/back tilt of wheel in horizontal plane. Toe in/toe out refers to the relationship of the straight line tracking to each other of the wheels on same axle. If any of these adjustments are out of specifications due to worn parts, bent components, or loose or missing fasteners the vehicle needs a wheel alignment. This includes all wheels as misalignment of the front and rear wheel relationship will make the vehicle “dog track” or go down the road slightly sideways. This makes it hard to control the vehicle’s forward movement, especially in wet or icy conditions.

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Control Arm Assembly

A control arm, commonly referred to as an A-arm, is a suspension component found on virtually all road going passenger vehicles. It is a suspension link that connects the wheel hub and steering knuckles to the chassis. They are equipped with bushings and ball joints that allow it to flex and move according to road conditions and steering input from the driver. Over time, the bushings or ball joints on the control arm wear out and can cause all sorts of problems. Usually a problematic control arm assembly will produce a few symptoms that can alert the driver of a potential problem that should be serviced.

1. Steering wheel vibration

One of the first symptoms commonly associated with bad control arms is steering wheel vibrations. If the bushings or ball joints in the control arm become excessively worn it can cause wheel shimmy, which may cause vibrations that may be felt in the wheel. The vibrations may increase as you accelerate and smoothen out once you are traveling at speed.

2. Steering wandering

Another symptom commonly associated with bad or failing control arm assembly is steering wandering. Excessively worn ball joints or bushings can cause the vehicle’s steering alignment to shift, which may cause the steering to pull to the left or right when traveling down the road. This will require a constant correction from the driver in order to steer the vehicle straight.

3. Clunking noises

Clunking noises are another symptom of possible problems with the control arms on a vehicle. If the bushings or ball joints develop excessive play or looseness, this can cause them to knock during takeoff, or when the vehicle is traveling over rough terrain. The clunking sound will continuously get louder as the component wears or until it eventually breaks.

The control arms on a vehicle are very important suspension component, as they are the component that links the spindle, hubs, and therefore wheel to the vehicle’s chassis. When they become worn it can cause problems for the vehicle that may compromise handling, comfort, and safety. For this reason, if you suspect that your vehicle’s control arms may be bad or worn, have the vehicle’s suspension inspected by a professional technician, such as one from YourMechanic. They will be able to replace your control arm assembly if required.

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