A loose steering wheel does not allow the vehicle to respond as easily to the driver’s commands. If you are an off-road or adventure driver you have to have complete control and a loose steering wheel takes away some control.
The most common reason for a loose steering wheel is a worn linkage.
Slack in The Steering of a Jeep Wrangler
The steering system on your Jeep should not allow you to turn the steering wheel more than one and a half inches without it causing the wheels of the vehicle to move.
When you are driving your steering wheel commands the vehicle and you use the wheel to tell you how your tires are positioned. If the wheel is at the center then the front tires will be aimed straight ahead of the vehicle.
If the wheel is turned to the right or to the left of the center then the wheels will be pointing to the right or the left, and the vehicle follows where the wheels are pointed.
If the steering wheel is loose and the tires are not responding to your commands you may not know exactly how the wheels are positioned so you can have accidents or run off of the road.
Causes of a Loose Steering Wheel
Several things can cause the steering wheel to develop excessive amounts of slack or play in it. If your steering feels looser than normal you need to investigate it as quickly as possible.
The steering wheel is connected to the ties by these rods. Over time the tie rods can be damaged, become worn, or simply deteriorate to the point that they loosen the connection.
A worn tie rod will give you several indications that steadily worsen over time.
- Excessive wear of the tread located on the inside of the tires
- When you are turning you may hear a popping sound
- When you are turning you may feel a vibration or shimmy
Checking for a bad tie rod end:
If you believe that your tie rod ends may be worn or breaking you can jack your vehicle up and check them.
- Park the vehicle on a solid surface that has no slope to it
- Jack the vehicle up and to be safe use jack stands or blocks to hold the vehicle in position
- With the tire, a few inches off of the ground grasp it with one hand on the top and one hand on the bottom
- See if the tire can easily be moved in and out or in any way. If the tire is easy to move then your tie rods are probably needing to be replaced. If you hear a clicking noise while you manipulate the tire then you probably need to replace the tie rod ends.
Bad ball joints will also affect how the vehicle steers and response. Like the tie rod ends, ball joints are not extremely expensive to replace.
Symptoms of a bad ball joint:
- Loose steering
- Rattling noises
- The uneven tread pattern on tires
- Car wanders to either side
- A lot of vibration
What to do?
You are going to have to park the vehicle until the ball joint is replaced. Driving around with bad ball joints can set your vehicle up to get other parts damaged because of the extra stress that they are under.
A bad ball joint can cause you to have an accident and possibly be injured. When these parts are bad you can hit the curb o hit vehicles on either side of you.
Control Arm Damage
The control arm can be the reason your steering wheel is loose. Other symptoms of a failing control arm include:
- Squeaking and knocking noises
- Vehicle pulling to either side
- Tires are wearing out faster than normal
- The tread pattern on the tires is uneven
- Vibrations you can feel in the steering wheel
Bad control arms are often the result of worn ball joints that have not been changed.
What to do?
The best thing you can do if you have a bad control arm is to take the vehicle to a shop. When you are addressing issues concerning your suspension system you need the repairs to be done by someone with experience, and the proper tools.
The replacement of these items requires specialized tools that most people do not have. You might be able to rent the tools, but if you are not experienced with these components go ahead and let a certified professional do the work for you.
Addressing a Loose Steering Wheel
The biggest problem with a loose steering wheel is that the problem is not going to get better. The problem is not going to stay the same. The looseness you feel now is going to increase and worsen over time. You will eventually lose the ability to control the vehicle with the steering wheel.
If you experience a loss of control while you are driving there is a great possibility that you will wreck the vehicle. If you are traveling at high speeds when this happens there is a great possibility that you will suffer catastrophic injuries to yourself or to the vehicle.
If you are driving over rough terrain in an off-road driving scenario and lose control of your steering wheel your vehicle can flip or be broken down in an area where it is hard to get a tow truck.
When it comes to your steering and control of the vehicle always play it safe and have every issue checked out quickly.
How Much Do Loose Steering Wheel Repairs Cost?
If you need a new steering column the parts will run between $100 and $300 but the labor is intensive so labor costs will be about $300 to $600. Your repairs could be as much as $1000 dollars.
Why Can’t I Get My Jeep Wrangler Steering Wheel to Return to The Center?
There could be several reasons why the steering wheel will not go back to the center. These include steering column issues or components like the ball joint or kingpin sticking or binding.
Are Tie Rods Expensive?
A lot of steering issues are caused by broken or worn tie rods. These parts can cost between $40 and $150 dollars. The labor to replace these items will cost between $45 and $100 dollars.
Steering wheel issues are not minor concerns that the normal shade tree mechanic can address. If you find yourself with a loose steering wheel seek professional help immediately.
More Jeep Steering Related Problems With Solution
1. Jeep Wrangler Steering Wheel Jerks When Turning
2. Jeep Wrangler Steering Locked Up Stiff While Driving