Car Creaking When Turning? How to Diagnose Ball Joints and Tie Rods

If you car is creaking when turning, it’s time to inspect the ball joints and tie rods. Learn what causes a car to be making a creak when turning and how to fix it with the tips in this article and video.

How to Tell If a Tie Rod or Ball Joint Is Causing a Creaking When Turning

1A Auto mechanic under a car and reviewing how ball joints and tie rods can make a creaking sound when turning

Steps to diagnose a car that is creaking when turning

  1. Raise the Front End

    You want to jack up the car to check the tie rod and ball joint. We recommend jacking up both sides of the front of the car.

  2. Find Out What Side the Creaking Is on

    This will help you tell if the creaking is coming from one side or both sides.

  3. Turn the Wheel in and out to Test for Creaking and Stiffness

    Make sure the steering wheel isn’t locked. Grab the tire at the 3 and 9 o’clock position. See if it feels hard to turn and if you need to put a lot of weight into turning the tire. Listen for creaking. Frozen parts make it stiff and create creaking. If it feels tight, that’s resistance you’ll feel while driving.

  4. Remove the Tire

    Take off the tire to test the ball joint and tie rod further.

  5. Remove the Tie Rod End and Test It

    Remove the cotter pin and castle nut from the tie rod end. Then thread the nut on by hand. Hammer the knuckle to loosen the tie rod end. Remove the tie rod end.

    Try to move tie rod end and feel if it’s frozen.

  6. Turn the Rotor in and out and Feel for Stiffness

    With the tie rod end free, turn the rotor in and out from the 3 and 9 o’clock position. If there’s still trouble turning where its stiff, then the creaking noise is in the ball joint. If the rotor moves fine and doesn’t feel excessively stiff, then the creaking noise is in the tie rod end. There should not be a lot of resistance.

  7. Check the Other Side

    Repeat steps 1-6 to check the other side, and make sure it or a pitman arm or idler arm is not affecting the turning.

Steps to Take If You Hear No Creaking With the Car Raised

If you hear no creaking with the car raised, you can check the ball joints with an automotive stethoscope. You’ll need the weight of the vehicle on the ball joint.

1. Have an Assistant Turn the Wheel with the Car on the Ground

With the vehicle on the ground, have an assistant turn the steering wheel.

2. Put a Stethoscope on the Ball Joint and Listen for Creaking as the Wheel Is Turned

Listening to a ball joint with a stethoscope

Listen to the ball joint with an automotive stethoscope by placing it on the joint at the top of the boot and listening for the creaking as the assistant turns. Do the same for the upper ball joint and compare the sounds.

3. Feel the Knuckle for Vibrations as the Wheel Is Turned

You can also carefully place your hand on the knuckle and have the assistant turn the wheel. Feel for a vibration, as shown in our video at 6:30.

How to Prevent Creaking in Your Car When Turning

Install Tie Rods with Greaseable Fittings

You can install a tie rod with a greaseable fitting as one way to prevent a creaking in your car when turning. Then you can maintain and grease it when needed, but we only recommend this if you’ll do the maintenance since shops aren’t likely to check it for you during other maintenance repairs. If the tie rod end is not greaseable, like in the example featured in our video, you won’t have to maintain it. But, like in our example, that can eventually lead to a problem where the end rusted and froze up despite the protective boot being in good condition.

How-to Videos: Replace Ball Joints, Tie Rods, and More Yourself

Follow the step-by-step instructions in our how-to videos and learn how to work on your car yourself with our expert tips.

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Car Creaking When Turning? - Diagnose Ball Joints & Tie Rods - 1A Auto
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Car Creaking When Turning? - Diagnose Ball Joints & Tie Rods - 1A Auto
If you hear your car creaking when turning, learn how to inspect the ball joints and tie rods with these tips from the expert mechanics at 1A Auto
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1A Auto
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