Loose Steering Wheel? How to Diagnose and Fix

If your steering wheel is loose and your steering feels less stable and has more play than it used to, there might be an issue with the tie rod or wheel hub. These tips can help you fix this problem yourself.

Parts to Inspect for a Loose Steering Wheel

Mechanic driving with a loose steering wheel

If your steering feels loose there could be a loose tie rod or wheel bearing.

1. Check the Wheel Bearings

Steps to inspect a wheel bearing if the steering wheel is loose

  1. Raise and Secure the Vehicle

    Raise and secure the vehicle with a jack and jack stands

  2. Push the Tire in and out at the 12 and 6 O’clock Positions and Feel for Play

    Grab the tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and shake the tire back and forth. Feel for looseness or a sensation of the wheel moving, also known as play. This is a good sign of a bad wheel bearing.

  3. While Pushing the Tire, Listen for Clunking

    If the wheel bearing is in bad shape, you may hear a clunking noise

  4. Replace the Bad Wheel Bearing

    1. Loosen the lug nuts with the vehicle on the ground
    2. Raise and secure the vehicle
    3. Remove lug nuts and wheel
    4. Remove the axle nut
    5. Remove the brakes
    6. Remove the wheel speed sensor if you have one to prevent possible damage
    7. On the backside of the knuckle, remove the bolts holding the hub bearing
    8. Hammer off the hub
    9. Clean the new hub bearing
    10. Install it the new hub, putting the bolts in the backside without tearing the cv axle boot
    11. Tighten the wheel speed sensor
    12. Tighten the brakes
    13. Tighten axle nut
    14. Torque the axle nut to spec (very important)
    15. Reinstall the wheel
    16. Lower the vehicle
    17. Torque the lug nuts

2. Check the Inner and Outer Tie Rod

Steps to inspect an inner and outer tie rod if the steering wheel is loose

How to Check the Outer Tie Rod

Mechanic checking for a bad inner tie rod by moving the tire in and out
  1. Grab the wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock position
  2. Shake the wheel back and forth, pushing in and out
  3. Feel and listen for clunking and play, which is a sign of a worn outer tie rod.
  4. Check the tie rod for damage. You’ll see movement in the tie rod where it’s loose, and you may notice a torn boot

How to Check the Inner Tie Rod

Inner tie rod joint
Inner tie rod joint
  1. See if there’s any signs of damage on the inner tie rod, like a torn boot. A damaged tie rod will also have a lot of play at the ball and socket joint
  2. Have a helper move the steering wheel back and forth
  3. Grab the top of the tie rod end and pull down to put on pressure the joint. This will cause the tie rod joint to tighten up. If the play in the steering wheel stops with pressure applied, the tie rod end is causing it

More on how to diagnose an inner tie rod

How to Replace and Inner and Outer Tie Rod

  1. Raise and secure the vehicle with a jack and jack stands
  2. Remove the tire
  3. Loosen the jam nut and remove the cotter pin if its there
  4. Remove the nut
  5. Separate the tie rod from the knuckle
  6. Spin the outer tie rod off
  7. Take the boot off with a pick if needed
  8. Loosen inner tie rod with two wrenches or a special tie rod tool
  9. Tighten and torque the new tie rod
  10. Put the boot on and put grease on end of the boot to help with spinning
  11. Spin the outer tie rod on
  12. Put the outer tie rod in the knuckle
  13. Put the nut on and torque it to spec
  14. Install a new cotter pin
  15. Reinstall the wheel
  16. Lower the vehicle to the ground
  17. Torque the lug nuts on the wheel
  18. Get alignment once done

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Loose Steering Wheel? - Diagnose & Fix - Expert Tips - 1A Auto
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Loose Steering Wheel? - Diagnose & Fix - Expert Tips - 1A Auto
Learn how to diagnose and fix a loose steering wheel with expert help from the 1A Auto mechanics in this article and video
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