Clunking, rattling, creaking, knocking… these are not sounds you should hear when turning your car’s steering wheel.
In general, you shouldn’t hear any noises when turning, other than maybe a faint hum from the power steering pump when maneuvering at low speeds. Any other audibles indicate something needs your attention.
What causes a steering wheel to make noise when turning? If there’s a problem with the power steering system, like low hydraulic fluid or a bad pump, you may hear a whining sound when turning. Knocking or clunking noises suggest worn suspension components, like dried-out ball joints or bad bushings.
If “when I turn my steering wheel, it creaks” is one of your recent search terms, you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ll explore 10 common reasons your steering wheel might make noise when rotated.
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Common Reasons For Steering Wheel Noise When Turning
1. Power Steering Fluid Leak
Simply put, a car’s power steering system reduces the effort required to spin the steering wheel, especially at low speeds. Power steering fluid, a hydraulic fluid, is required for this system to function and helps keep the moving parts lubricated.
Power steering fluid doesn’t usually run out, so if the reservoir tank is low or empty, there may be a leak.
Most commonly, the various seals and gaskets can dry out, leak, and starve the system. Without lubrication, the power steering pump will likely make a whining noise when the steering wheel is turned.
For a full explanation of how to check your power steering fluid, be sure to read through our in-depth guide.
2. Worn Tie Rod Ends
Tie rods link each end of the steering rack to the steering knuckles of each wheel, allowing the wheels to pivot when the steering wheel is turned.
Regular wear and tear can cause tie rod ends to loosen, resulting in the steering wheel shaking or vibrating when driving.
You may also notice a knocking sound when turning the steering wheel as the tie rod ends rattle around at the joints. Some drivers describe the sound as a “clunking” or “creaking” when turning the steering wheel.
3. Clogged Power Steering Fluid Reservoir
As its name implies, a car’s power steering fluid reservoir is where the steering fluid is stored.
Before being pumped throughout the system, the hydraulic fluid passes through a filter to catch dirt and debris that might cause harm. Typically, the power steering fluid and filter should be changed about every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
If ignored, the filter may clog, restricting steering fluid flow. A clogged filter can lead to a loss of power steering, making the wheel difficult to turn at low speeds. Like a fluid leak, you may also hear a whining noise when turning the steering wheel.
4. Bad Suspension Bushings
Suspension bushings are basically rubber or polyurethane cushions that help absorb road bumps and reduce noise. One example is a jounce bushing, which sits atop the front struts to improve shock absorption and handling.
When turning the steering wheel, bushings will dry out and crack with time, resulting in groaning or creaking sounds. Other signs include vibrations felt through the steering wheel and clunking/rattling noises on rough roads or when hard braking.
5. Faulty Power Steering Rack
A steering rack is one of the main components of a modern rack-and-pinion steering system. The steering rack sits between the front wheels, connecting the steering column and intermediate shaft to each tie rod.
Steering racks are reliable and rarely need replacing. However, things like dirty steering fluid or a bad steering pump can cause damage and lead to premature failure.
One of the most common signs of a bad steering rack is the vehicle wandering from left or right when cruising at highway speeds. You may also hear clunking, clicking, or whining noises when turning the steering wheel, especially at low speeds.
6. Dried Out Ball Joints
Ball joints are essentially a bearing within a socket that serves as the main pivot point between the control arm and steering knuckle. For a closer look at ball joints, check out the video above from Chris Fix, where he saws one open and explains the internals.
Ball joints require lubrication for smooth operation. However, with age, this lubrication can deplete or become contaminated with dirt and other road grime, leading to failure.
Signs of bad ball joints include loose steering, uneven tire tread wear, and a clunking or rattling noise when turning the steering wheel.
7. Worn Out Shocks And Struts
Cars use shocks, struts, or both, to improve handling and ensure the tires maintain contact with the road. These suspension parts should last seven or eight years without issue under regular use.
Driving with worn shocks or struts is not recommended, as the car may sag or tip to one side, causing dangerous instability at highway speeds.
Your car may also excessively dive forward when braking or lean back when accelerating if the shocks or struts are bad. Clunking or whining sounds when turning the steering wheel have also been reported by drivers.
If your shocks or struts do fail, be sure to check out our previous article for a full breakdown on replacement costs.
8. Low Tire Pressure
Noise from the steering wheel can be from low tire pressure and not just issues with the suspension or power steering.
Tires are designed to withstand the physical forces at play when turning. However, underinflated tires are more likely to flex and lose shape as the sidewalls can’t hold up. Besides being a potential safety hazard, you may also hear squealing sounds when turning the steering wheel.
How do you tell when your tire pressure is too low? Check out our detailed tire pressure guide here.
9. Bad Power Steering Belt
The steering belt, or serpentine belt, transmits engine power to various engine components, including the power steering pump. Serpentine belts can take a lot of wear and tear but usually needs to be replaced between 60,000 and 100,000 miles.
A worn serpentine belt may slip when turning the steering wheel, often leading to a loud whining or squealing sound. If the belt breaks entirely, it won’t be able to run the vehicle’s alternator, cutting power to several engine components.
10. Faulty Power Steering Pump
While power steering pumps often last the lifetime of a car, dirty steering fluid, a worn steering belt, and more can lead to early failure.
Besides a whining noise when turning the steering wheel, power steering will also likely cut out, making it harder to maneuver the vehicle.
Your best bet is to avoid driving your car if the power steering pump fails, as not only can it cause more damage, but it can be dangerous as well.
Is Your Steering Wheel Making Noise When Turning? Here’s What To Do
If your vehicle makes squealing or whining noises when turning, the issue likely resides within the power steering system.
First, check that the power steering fluid level isn’t low and the filter isn’t clogged. You should also inspect the serpentine belt for visible cracks and to ensure it hasn’t broken. Most of these are maintenance items you can resolve in the parking lot of an auto-parts store.
Continued squealing may indicate a larger problem within the steering system, like a bad pump, a topic we’ve covered extensively in another article.
Clunking, grinding, knocking, and rattling noises when turning the steering wheel point to the suspension or rack-and-pinion steering system. Ignoring these sounds is not recommended, as failure within these systems can lead to hazardous driving situations.
You can easily inspect some suspension parts for damage, but as for replacement, a professional shop is the best answer for most.