If you hear a squeaking sound, screeches, and/or your steering wheel vibrates while you are turning, you probably have a problem with your car’s suspension, steering component or even front tires.
The pitch and characteristics of the squeaking noise and whether the sound is accompanied by steering wheel vibration can help a professional or a car person to determine the source of the problem.
Below you will find a guide with the most common problems that can cause loud squeals, how to check them, and some tips to fix the problem.
The front suspension has many moving parts that are designed to follow the wheels’ movements. Most of these parts are linked to the car’s steering system while others, though not directly linked with it, are designed to follow the turning of the wheels as they are steered by the driver.
If there is a problem with one or several of your car’s suspension components, it can cause vibrations and/or strange noises when you turn the steering wheel.
1. Bad strut bearings
The strut bearings are located in the strut mounts. Some come as a separate part and others are integrated into the strut mounts.
The strut mounts connect the suspension struts to the vehicle. They insulate noises and absorb vibrations from the road and the suspension system.
Some strut bearings are very simple, while others are built as a plate. They allow the front shocks and coils to rotate as the steering is being turned. Over time, strut bearings wear out, get rusted, and sometimes the bearings’ seals break, causing debris to enter the bearings.
All these problems cause the bearings to fail; when they fail, the struts and coils will continue to rotate, but the rotation won’t be smooth at all and most of the time it will cause vibrations.
In many cases, the vibrations pass to the coils, causing an annoying bonging noise. In other cases, the noise can be heard from the inside of the vehicle as a clunking noise, and you could even feel your steering wheel vibrating as you turn it. It’s important to know that most of the time (not to say always), that these noises can be heard only when the vehicle is stopped and you are turning the steering wheel.
If you suspect that your car has one or both strut bearings damaged, you can try to turn your steering wheel fast left and right; in most cases, if they are damaged, you will feel a strong knocking coming from the front end of your car.
Replacing a strut bearing is as hard as replacing a front strut; the job is pretty much the same. It’s always convenient to install new strut mounts and bearings when you replace your front struts. Doing this is a good preventive maintenance practice that will help you to save time and money in the long run whether you choose to take your car to your local garage or if you are a DIYer.
2. Bad control arm ball joints
Ball joints are spherical bearings that connect the control arms to the steering knuckles while they act as a pivot between the wheels and the suspension of the vehicle.
Ball joints’ moving parts are factory lubricated and protected by a sealed case keeping the lubricant inside and external harmful elements outside. These parts are maintenance free but although they are well lubricated they are worn out. Also, when a seal gets broken or damaged, the lubricant or grease will leak, which will prevent the moving parts from working smoothly and will make friction between parts stronger.
Excessive wear or poor lubrication of the ball joints usually generates clunking or squeaking noises and possibly vibrations when you turn the wheel. So if you hear clunking or squeaking noises when you are turning and you feel the noise coming from the bottom of the car, near the wheel hubs, you may have a bad ball joint. Note that the noises and vibrations coming from bad ball joints get louder as the ball joints become more worn out.
Ball joints are an important part of your car’s steering and suspension system and keeping them in good working conditions is very important for your own safety and the safety of others on the road. That’s why you should have them replaced as soon as possible if they are failing.
If you have some time and patience, you can inspect your vehicle’s suspension joints by yourself. You just have to jack up your car, take the front wheels off (you can inspect one side at a time), and check for grease/lubricant leaking from them and inspect the rubber boot for cracks and damage.
If you don’t see any signs of damage, you could try one more thing, but this requires the ball joint’s shaft to be unlinked from the steering knuckle. In that way, you can move the shaft with your hand to check how stiff it is: it should be hard to move it with your hand; if you can move and rotate it too easily it means that the part is worn out and you need to replace it.
It’s important to mention that, depending on the design of the vehicle’s suspension, it may have one ball joint per side or two -an upper ball joint and a lower ball joint-. Upper ball joints can’t be replaced without replacing the whole control arm. The good news is that upper ball joints bear less stress than lower joints, which makes them harder to get damaged.
If you are unsure about how to check your car’s ball joints properly or you don’t have a good jack and tools, you should have your suspension checked by a professional. They will be able to check the whole suspension of your car and find other problems that might be dangerous.
3. Worn out control arm bushings
Bushes are used to connect mechanical moving parts while they absorb noise and vibration.
Bushings can be solid or aired and are made of special rubber or polyurethane.
As they wear and/or dry out they allow more movement than they should. When they have deteriorated, the extra movement is so big that it may cause clunking or rattling noises under several driving conditions. One of these conditions is when wheels are being turned. These noises come with other symptoms such as poor handling, loose steering, and hard bumping noises while the car is being driven on bumpy surfaces.
You can check your car’s bushings for wear, cracks, exposure to lubricants, and other signs of damage. Dried-out bushings are hard to identify for an untrained person; a good hint that a bushing is dried-out is that it’s cracked and feels harder than it should.
If you feel that you have identified a dried-out bushing, a simple test to check if that’s the one is to lubricate it with silicone or lithium-based grease. These products don’t harm the bushings as do oil derivatives. If the noise disappears after lubrication, you have found the bad bush.
Replacing control arm bushings can be quite tricky. In most cases, a press is needed to do the job and there is a risk to damage the new bushing when it’s being installed in the control arm. That’s why it’s better to take the car to a shop to have this job done.
Steering Component Problems
Most recent car models in the market come fitted with some kind of steering aid. Electric and electrohydraulic steering aids are more common these days but there are still a lot of models using hydraulic power steering systems. If your car is making strange noises or when you turn and the suspension is not the problem, then it’s time to check your steering system.
1. Bad steering tie rod ends
Steering tie rod ends connect the steering rack to the steering knuckles. They transmit the steering wheel movements through the steering rack to the steering knuckle, which makes the car wheels turn. These parts have a ball joint at their ends and they can fail in the same way as the control arm ball joints. Both the steering tie rod ends and the control arm’s ball joints should be checked for damage and be replaced if necessary.
2. Low or bad power steering fluid
Hydraulic power steerings use a pump to raise the pressure of the power steering fluid. To keep it simple, let’s say that the pressurized steering fluid applies an extra force on the steering gear, making the vehicle lighter to steer.
If you hear growling or whining sounds when your car engine is on and the front wheels are out from their center position, it’s a sign that your power steering fluid level is low.
The noise will increase when you are turning the steering wheel, and your steering will get stiffer. If you have had this problem before, you will identify it quickly; it’s a very particular noise.
A quick solution to this problem is to top your power steering fluid. After that, turn the wheels a few times to let the air out of the circuit and the noise should disappear. If the noise doesn’t stop, check the fluid level again. If it remains low you will have to check for leaks in your system. If the fluid level is ok and the noise persists, it’s a symptom of a more serious problem in your car’s power steering system.
Running your car with low power steering fluid can be really harmful to your vehicle. The power steering fluid also works as the lubricant for the steering pump and all the components of your vehicle’s power steering system. You should frequently check your power steering fluid level, try to keep it always within your car manufacturer’s recommended levels and check it as soon as you hear noises that may indicate that the level is low. This will help you to keep your car’s power steering healthy and it will help you to avoid having to spend a lot of money on repairs.
3. Damaged power steering pump
If you hear loud groaning noises and your power steering fluid level is good, there is a big chance that your power steering pump is failing. Power steering pumps, like every other component of a vehicle, wear out.
Lack of lubrication will cause premature wear, that’s why it’s important to avoid driving your car with low power steering fluid for long periods of time.
Old hydraulic fluid becomes less efficient as a lubricant and can be contaminated. If you never changed your hydraulic fluid in more than 50k miles, the last resource before replacing your power steering pump could be to change it and use some additive to make it more efficient. This is a long shot because in most cases the damage is already done in your power steering pump.
It’s better to take your car to your local garage to have your power steering checked; a professional mechanic can evaluate if it’s worth replacing the hydraulic fluid rather than replacing the power steering pump.
4. Worn out power steering belt
If you hear a squealing noise when you turn, take a look at the belt that turns your power steering’s pulley. If the pulley is bad it will tend to slip and screech.
Replace or have your car’s accessory or serpentine belts replaced as soon as they start to make noises. This will help you to always keep your car in good driving conditions.
5. Steering column problems
If you hear a knocking or clunking sound when you start or when you stop turning your steering wheel you feel the noise coming from inside the car, you may have a steering column problem. Some models with electrical aided steering systems are known for having problems at the steering intermediate shaft. If you own a car with an electrically aided steering, you should check with your dealer if there is a factory recall for your unit; if your unit is on the list it’s probable that you will get the repair job for free.
Other Possible Causes
There are other issues that can cause noises when you are turning that may be simpler than the ones listed above, but that are worth mentioning.
1. The steering wheel is rubbing against something
If the sound comes from the inside of the car and sounds like the steering wheel is rubbing against something, it’s because it probably is.
In some models, the steering wheel housing is deformed due to time, sun, and heat exposure and expands slightly, making it rub against the back of the steering wheel. You can try to adjust the steering wheel in a different position to check if the sound goes away, but in some models, the steering wheel housing moves along with the steering wheel, so modifying the steering wheel position won’t help.
You can make a visual inspection to check if there is enough free space between the back of your steering wheel and its housing. If they are rubbing against each other, you have a few choices:
- If the sound is bearable you can just let it be. The materials will wear down and the noise is going to eventually disappear.
- If you want to make the sound go away right away, you want a cheap solution and you are sure that the part making the noise is not visible, you can remove the steering wheel assembly and sand it slightly.
- The tidiest and easiest way to eliminate the noise is to remove the deformed steering wheel case and replace it with a new one.
2. The tires squeak while driving in a parking lot
There are times when you will hear squeaking noises while you are driving over certain surfaces like an enclosed parking lot, for example. If your tires are in good condition you don’t have anything to worry about; it’s completely normal. Most parking lot floors are covered with rubbery paints that, combined with the rubber of your tires, tend to produce squeals.
There are countless reasons why your car steering can squeak when turning. The most dangerous and important reasons are covered in the list above.
Suspension and steering are complex systems. There are mechanics and shops that specialize only in steering and suspension.
That’s why a final suggestion would be that it’s good to take your car to the shop having an idea about how these systems work. If you have an idea about what may be causing the noise in your car, it would help the mechanic to understand your problem better and save him some time.