Auto Repair Help

by Jim Miller

The steering has excessive play. The steering may feel sloppy and may require constant correction in order to keep the vehicle in a straight line.

The usual cause of this symptom is worn suspension components, such as a rack and pinion or steering box. It can also be caused by worn tie rod ends or center link.

A visual inspection of the front suspension will usually uncover the cause of the symptom. The front end is connected to the steering box or rack and pinion through a series of linkages. Most of these linkages contain joints that allow them to move back and forth while still maintaining a direct link to the steering mechanism. If these joints wear, they will become sloppy and allow play in the steering linkage which will make the steering feel sloppy. These joints will require inspection. With the vehicle on the ground, the engine off, the steering wheel unlocked and the parking brake applied, have an assistant rotate the steering wheel back and forth just to the point where resistance is felt. Inspect each part of the steering linkage for excessive play. Each joint should be tight and move together without play. If the joints are in good working order, the most probable cause is a worn steering box or rack and pinion. This can be confirmed my inspecting the action and relationship of the steering shaft to the output steering linkage. There should be very little or no play in the steering gear. The output linkage should move in direct relationship to the input shaft without hesitation.

Special tools and equipment are often required to service the front end suspension components. A front end alignment should be performed after replacement of any suspension component. Do not attempt repairs to the front end or steering components without first consulting a vehicle specific service manual.

Continues on Part 2

(Jim is a lifelong fan of Dodger Baseball and used to race sprint cars in the 1980s.)

23 responses to “Steering Feels Loose And Sloppy”

  1. Dartanian Wade says:

    I replaced the idler arm and the pitman and it is still loose and pulls to the left a little bit. I was thinking it was either the center link or, hopefully not, the steering box. any ideas?

  2. Skyler says:

    So basically you just need to get the front end alined and then your good? and how much would that cost?

  3. Leo Traverzo says:

    What is the approximate cost of repairing steering problem on a car? Right now there is just a lot of play on the steering wheel. Thanks.

  4. mahboob khan says:

    my left wheel turn without turning steering . please suggest why that was not happening like that before.

  5. Bill Thomas says:

    I sometimes experience this! I will check the front suspension periodically.

  6. Darren Strong says:

    my 56 f100 tends to wonder when driving n there is a shouder when turning

  7. John says:

    Our steering wheel breaks loose in the same two places when turning right or left. These points are directly opposite from each other. What is happening?

  8. Holly says:

    My steering wheel turns upside down when making turns. I ran over something in the road and now I have this problem.
    I just replaced my tie rods and new tires and got alignment. What might be the problem?

  9. Kristin says:

    We just had the steering rack replaced and had a front end alignment done. Now the steering wheel feels loose and the steering wheel still pulls to the left while driving.

  10. Jenna Hunter says:

    It was so helpful to know that if the joints are in good working order it is most likely the steering box or rack and pinion. I have had some close calls when turning left to get onto my street. I will be sure to get that looked at so no accident happens!

  11. Linda says:

    What is the cost in repairs of steering components or rack and pinion? Thanks!

  12. Christopher Simon says:

    I recently leased a ’16 Honda Civic LX sedan, and I read at least a couple of reviews of it on MotorTrend, Car and Driver, etc., and these automotive magazines describe it has having a “sporty” steering feel. Unfortunately, that has not at all been my experience with this car. Right from the get-go, the steering felt extremely loose, vague, numb, etc. Especially when I drive on the highway, it is very difficult to keep it going straight, as if I hold the steering wheel in the center, the car will slowly drift leftward, and I keep on having to correct it toward the right to keep it going straight. In other words, there is absolutely no on-center feel, so the car essentially drives like an old, beat up clunker. There is also a loud knocking noise coming from the front right wheel whenever I hit a bigger bump, and no dealership seems to be able to figure out which component is responsible for the noise. I have taken it to 3 dealerships multiple times, and no mechanic seems to be able to find the problem, which is downright frustrating, especially since I don’t feel safe driving this car on the highway.

    • Philip says:

      Have you checked the ball joints? And, is there any vibration at higher speeds? Also, check the control arm bushings. They may be defective.

    • Steve says:

      You might have A problem with your Strut it is not observing the bumps in the road And the pull to the right is probably from a sagging Spring on that side

  13. Carrie says:

    My steering was not loose until my husband replaced the rack and pinion, now it is so loose, I am scared to drive it. He says he should replace the rack and pinion again. What do you think needs to be done? Please help

  14. Katherine Bryant says:

    The steering on my Toyota Corolla is very very loose when I drive down the street, turn corners and back in, I took it to my mechanic and he said that there was nothing wrong with my steering, and I was wondering if anybody could give me some ideas of what might be wrong, and should I drive it long distances like it is.

  15. Cristina C says:

    I have a 2008 Toyota Corolla. (Electric steering)I recently got in an accident. Driving on the freeway at about 75mph my car started to fel like it was vibrating and wouldn’t stay straight. When I tried to correct it seems to over correct which sent my car out of control. I have read similar reports from other corolla drivers. I’m wondering what could be the cause of this ‘malfunction’

  16. rod says:

    I had a ball joint replaced and now its sloppy but had no problem before it was replaced

  17. jim youderian says:

    79 bronco,appx. 2″play in wheel and column shaft before engaging in steering shaft.what needs to be repaired,upper bearing,lower bearing etc? or replace with new/rebuilt column assy

  18. Monde says:

    My Steering wheel is completely turning without the wheels.Seems loose.

    • Phyllis says:

      My ’96 Jeep Cherokee Country steering went out & I was able to stop @35mph getting to the shoulder of the road-very frightening! There had been play in the steering after my mechanic had done extensive front-end work. I’m having to wait a week for the mechanic to check it after towing it in.

    • janice adams says:

      my 2006 chevy hhr does the same thing. what is the problem?

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