What Is That Rubbing Noise My Steering Wheel Keeps Making?

by | Nov 11, 2020

Your steering wheel making a rubbing noise while driving is not normal, we can all agree on that.

What we can’t agree on is what is a “rubbing” noise exactly? To do that, we will need to dig a little bit deeper and better define what the “rubbing” noise actually sounds like in order to figure out what is wrong with your steering wheel.

Your steering wheel making a rubbing noise could be as simple as it needing a touch of WD-40 Silicon spray, but as complicated as potentially needing a new steering column.

Luckily is more likely to be the former than the latter, so don’t worry.

Today, we will take a deep dive into all the bumps, knocks, and random grinding noises your steering wheel might make. We will explain the cause of each, and give you an estimate for what you should expect to pay for each at the repair shop.

Sound fair? Let’s dive in before your steering wheel falls off. (Just kidding, it probably won’t fall off).

How Does The Steering System Work?

If your car is newer than 1980 or so, it probably has a rack and pinion which is often supported by a power steering system. This allows you to quickly and easily turn your steering wheel.

First used by BMW in the 1930s, the rack and pinion started to see use in US models in the mid-1970s, with more complete acceptance by the end of the 1980s.

Dramatically oversimplifying the internal mechanics, the rack and pinion translate your turning of the steering wheel (rotational motion) into the motion needed to turn the wheels (lateral motion). It also makes it easier to turn the wheel.

The Rack-and-pinion steering is the most common type of steering on cars, small trucks and SUVs. A rack-and-pinion gear set is enclosed in a metal tube, with each end of the rack sticking out from the tube.

You can see this demonstrated on the diagram comparing a parallelogram steering system (which is commonly used by trucks).

The rack and pinion system can wear over time as the gears are frequently engaged while driving and steering, although it’s generally a pretty hardy system. That said, it is frequently exposed to varying temperatures and everything that gets splashed underneath your car.

As you might imagine, this can cause problems as we will talk about in a minute.

The causes of damage vary. It’s possible for road debris to damage internal bushings and cause a leak. It’s also equally possible for the fluid to become contaminated which allows grit into the gears that cause damage.

Your steering system also works together with your suspension, which can be a the cause of the rubbing sound as well.

How Your Suspension System Works

Your car’s suspension system is critically important to your safety on the road, because without it you are going to feel like you are driving a bouncy castle on wheels. While that might sound fun, it’s only fun if you can stomach the fact that your car is on it’s way to a date with the mechanic, while flirting with a big repair bill.

Your suspension is made up of springs and shock absorbers that keep your car from bouncing after it hits a road bump. Most modern vehicles use a variation of an independent suspension system, which means that all wheels or at least the front pair are attached to the car’s body independently.

Consequently, the movement of one wheel doesn’t influence the movements of the other so that they handle different forces better. In other words, it allows you to handle roads that are uneven without compromising the suspension (looking at you, Rhode Island).

Luxury vehicles typically make use of air suspension systems instead of steel coil springs. These use pressurized air in inflated bellows that generally speaking give your car a “cushier” ride.

Almost like you’re riding on air. We’ll take puns for 600 please, Mr. Trebeck.

Now, even if your car has the latest and greatest suspension system, some components will also wear out over time which can cause your steering wheel to make the rubbing noise you are worried about.

Now that you have a bit of background on the two primary systems that can cause the rubbing noise, let’s take a look under the hood and work through the common causes.

The Different Types Of Sounds

You might not be a mechanic, but you can sure as hell listen like one. To get us closer to the cause of your rubbing sound, you are going to need to use your ears.

Understanding what type of sound your steering wheel will help us narrow it down to a list of components. Pay close attention to the type of sound your car is making.

The Speed You Hear The Sound At Is Also Important

Are you driving 15mph below the speed limit, or are you driving so fast that you could make Lightning McQueen blush?

Either way, you are also going to want to consider the speed you are driving when you hear the noise. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

This applies to your car too, to the point where we can rewrite that statement to say “different speeds for different problems”.

1: Bad Power Steering Rack

Component Group: Steering

Noise It Makes: Grinding, typically at low speeds

Cost To Repair: $100-$1,200+

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

As we mentioned before, your steering rack is generally pretty hardy, but sometimes a part of it (or even the entire rack itself) can go bad. Generally, when someone complains their car is making a grinding noise when turning, this is the cause. The severity of the grinding should give you an indication of how bad the issue is.

A light grinding may indicate that your power steering fluid is contaminated, while a heavy grinding may indicate that your rack and pinion gear has slipped out entirely.

If you catch the issue early enough, you won’t have to replace the entire power steering rack. Sometimes it can be as simple as replacing the steering wheel bearing, which generally costs only a few hundred with parts and labor. However, if you ignore the issue you could be facing down a potentially pricy repair.

2: Worn Out Struts/Shocks

Component Group: Suspension

Noise It Makes: Knocking/clunking sound, combined with a very bouncy ride. Can be worse when turning over bumps.

Cost To Repair (shocks): $250-$600+

Cost To Repair (struts): $450-$900+

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

Your suspension is built to last for a long time, as under normal driving conditions, you can expect to get 100,000 miles or more out of them.

One of the first signs that your struts/shocks are going bad is a noise coming from your steering wheel. Typically this is described as a clunking or knocking sound that gets louder as the problem gets worse.

3: Bad Ball Joints

Component Group: Suspension

Noise It Makes: Squeaking / steering wheel rumbling

Cost To Repair: $400-$700

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

Ball joints enable the control arms and steering knuckles to keep a vehicle moving, but in order to perform their function ball joints have to be lubricated. When they dry out (which is common), they stop moving freely in the steering knuckle which can cause a squeaking sound.

As the problem gets worse, your bad ball joints can lead to your steering wheel vibrating/rumbling when turning as the ball joint makes contact with the steering knuckle.

This problem is potentially serious, and we reccomend you take your car to the mechanic to get it fixed.

4: Bad Jounce Bushings

Component Group: Suspension

Noise It Makes: Creaking sound, similar to an old hinge on a door

Cost To Repair: $100-$300

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

Your front struts have a jounce bushing to act as a cushion from road bumps and vibration. These joints also help make your driving experience more pleasant by reducing said vibration and the noise from the movement of your joints.

These joints will sometimes need lubrication. When turning the steering wheel you may notice a creaking sound which can be an indicator it’s time to get your jounce bushings looked at, and possibly lubricated.

5: Bad Control Arms

Component Group: Suspension

Noise It Makes: Vibration in steering wheel during the early stages which progresses to clunking as it gets worse.

Cost To Repair: $100-$300

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

One of the first signs you have bad control arms is your steering wheel vibrating. When the bushings or ball joints in the control arm wear out, it can cause your wheel to move back and forth which causes vibrations you can feel in the steering wheel.

Generally these virations will increase during acceleration and then smooth out as you hit your top driving speed.

Over time this can progress to a clunking noise as the bushings or joints loosen further, which can cause them to knock when turning or driving over rough terrain. This noise will get worse as wear increases until it eventually breaks.

Your control arms are critically important to your suspension as they link your car’s wheels to the chassis. Without them, your wheels will quite literally fall off.

6: Worn Steering Shaft Joint

Component Group: Steering

Noise It Makes: Popping or clunking noise when turning

Cost To Repair: $200-$450

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

The steering u-joint is an important part of your steering system that transfers the steering force from the steering wheel to the steering rack.

The daily wear and tear on this joint over time can cause it to develop issues with moving properly. Although you likely won’t notice it at first, over time as the steering u-joint wears you will notice some stiffness in the steering wheel which can translate into rubbing noises as the problem gets worse.

You may also notice the steering wandering as the problem gets worse.

7: Bad Tie Rods

Component Group: Steering

Noise It Makes: Vibration and shaking in the steering wheel, clunking and rattling when turning at low speeds

Cost To Repair: $100-$200+

Covered By Our Vehicle Service Plans: Yes

When your tie rods go bad, the symptom you’re most likely to experience first is a vibration or shaking sensation in your steering wheel.

You may also hear associated clunking and rattling noises, especially when turning the vehicle at low speeds. These sounds are caused by tie rods that are starting to wear out.

As they wear, they can start to come loose and rattle around at the joints and linkages. If the rubber boot that protects the tie rod’s lubricated joint gets torn, sand and dirt will begin to make their way into the joint, displacing the lubricant and leading to a grinding sensation when you steer. These symptoms are a sure sign that it’s time to have your tie rods inspected and probably replaced.

Need Help Fixing These Repairs?

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As you probably noticed, Protect My Car covers all the major repairs listed here for your suspension and steering wheel.

In fact, suspension repairs are some of the most common repairs you’ll deal with on a regular basis, due in part to the declining quality of US roads.

Luckily, most of the suspension repairs that could cause your steering wheel to make a rubbing noise don’t break the bank, but if you are worried about how you are going to pay for your repair, Protect My Car can help.

For less that the cost of a cup of coffee each day, you can get coverage for:

  • Steering
  • Suspension
  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • A/C and Heating
  • Navigation and Electronics
  • …and so much more.

When you walk into the repair shop with a coverage plan from PMC, you can rest assured that you will never pay for these repairs listed here. You pay a $100 deductible, just like insurance and we pay the rest.

Does that sound like a fair deal to you?

If it does, just fill out the form below for a free quote, and see how great it can be to never have to pay for car repairs ever again.

Get A Free Quote

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