What Causes Play in the Steering Wheel?

Play in the steering wheel, often called a loose steering wheel, may be caused by loose ball joints, worn tie rod ends or a loose steering box. If those things check out, play in the steering wheel may be caused by worn C-bushings in the caster.

Sometimes, a physical inspection is all that is needed to find the cause of a loose steering wheel. Two people are needed to inspect the steering system and a thorough inspection can be made without having to lift the vehicle off the ground. In a well-tightened steering system, the wheel shouldn’t move more than 1.5 inches before causing the front tires to move.

While one person moves the wheel, another should be looking at the steering components. The person making the inspection should tighten up anything that appears to be loose. A common cause of a loose steering wheel is a loose steering box. It should be firmly fastened to the frame, although looseness caused by everyday driving is common. The play-adjusting screw at the top of the steering box may be loose but should never be tightened more than one turn. Over-tightening may jam the sector shaft into the piston, causing considerable damage to the steering box.

Those lacking mechanical skill or proper tools should seek the help of a qualified mechanic.