Steering wheels are an essential driving component. You need your steering wheel to make turns and steady your car. You use your steering wheel each time you get in your vehicle and drive somewhere. However, have you ever wondered what you would do if your steering wheel stopped working?
That creates a severe problem. If you notice that your steering wheel is getting loose, you can take steps to remedy that problem.
If your steering wheel comes off while you are driving, you’ll need to maintain tight control of the car until you can slow down and pull over at the nearest stop. There are two types of steering failure that can occur while you are driving:
- Total failure
- Loss of power steering
Since there isn’t much information available on the Internet today about steering wheels coming off while you are driving, we created this article to help you out.
Below we’ll discuss what you can do if your steering wheel comes off while you are driving, the causes of a loose steering wheel, and how you can approach this issue and prevent it from happening in the future.
Can a steering wheel come off?
Yes, unfortunately, your steering wheel can come off while you are driving and while you may least expect it. To understand how this happens, we need to explain the two types of steering failure you can experience. Those are:
- Total failure
- Loss of power steering
Loss of Power Steering
Experience a loss in power steering is more common than complete steering wheel failure. If your vehicle has power steering, you can experience failure because of a few reasons. The first is known as a slow leak in your hydraulic system.
If you have a slow leak, your steering wheel will still function as normal. However, you’ll start hearing a whining noise coming from your steering column. Along with this, you’ll experience a slow stiffening of the steering.
If you notice a leak in your power steering, you must take your car to a qualified mechanic. Have the problem fixed before you experience total steering failure, or your steering wheel may ultimately come off of the column.
If you are experiencing a fast leak, however, then you could wind up losing the ability to control your car. The loss of control occurs very quickly, unfortunately. If you experience a fast leak, you’ll know something is wrong fairly quickly.
For instance, the steering wheel will become stiff and heavy, and you’ll have a hard time turning the wheel. If you continue to turn the wheel too hard or too often, you could lose the steering wheel of your car.
If your vehicle becomes too difficult to turn or the steering wheel starts to come off, you need to keep a tight hold on it to keep your car controlled. If the steering wheel is still connected, you can slightly control your vehicle. Don’t brake too quickly in a panic.
Instead, slowly come to a stop. Remember, however, that steering your car becomes more difficult when you slow down.
So that’s why you’ll need to slow down gradually instead of performing a hard brake. You should also turn on your emergency lights. Once you’ve brought your car to a stop, you should call a towing company to seek some help. Keep in mind that if your hydraulic system fails, your brake system may also have issues. So, you may also feel some stiff brakes when you are trying to stop the car.
What to Do If Your Steering Wheel Falls Off?
If your steering wheel falls off, you’re experiencing a substantial mechanical failure. While this is rare, you will lose all ability to steer when the wheel comes unhinged. If you find yourself in this type of situation:
- Hit your hazards
- Bring your car to a slow, gradual stop
- Call for assistance
Once your car is stopped, you may need to call for assistance or seek assistance pushing the vehicle somewhere safe. Since you won’t be able to steer your vehicle off well to the side, you’ll need to get your vehicle out of harm’s way as soon as you are out of harm’s way. Call a towing company.
If your steering wheel falls off and you don’t have much traffic to deal with, then you can brake harder and faster. However, you’ll need to pump your brakes if the road has conditions such as:
Remember, without your steering wheel, you won’t be able to control your car if you start sliding.
If your steering wheel comes off and you are surrounded by a lot of traffic, like when you drive on a freeway, first turn on your hazard lights and start honking.
Also, make gestures with your hands. If it happens while you are driving at night, start turning your high beams on and off. After you’ve warned the other drivers around you, slow down as slowly as you possibly can so that the drivers around you don’t wind up crashing into you.
While doing that, perform the following:
- Downshift and brake as gradually as possible.
- Plan to bring your car to rest on the shoulder or by a divider.
- Wherever you can safely stop your vehicle at this point is where you should be braking.
- Move your car out of traffic and call a tow truck for help.
What Makes a Steering Wheel Come Loose?
One of the significant causes of steering system failure is over-turning, also referred to among mechanics as “free play.” If a steering wheel undergoes too much over-turning over time, that can make it very difficult to control your car. Eventually, the steering will feel loose, and then you may need to correct it consistently so the vehicle will drive straight.
A Loose Steering Component
You may also have a loose steering component causing your inability to turn. If that’s the case, you’ll:
- Hear a knocking noise whenever you go across a bump.
- Experience a loose feeling
- You may feel a shimmy in your wheel
- Your vehicle may tend to go from side to side
If you notice any of these issues, then you should get your steering checked out right away to avoid any significant problems. Ignoring these issues can create a tremendous amount of wear and tear on your car, including a lot of tire wear.
That means you’ll need to replace your tires, and ignoring the problem will cost you more in the long run. You may even wind up experiencing an accident that you could have avoided by simply handling the problem initially.
Reasons for Over-Turning
There are a few reasons why some drivers excessively over-turn their steering wheels when they drive. Two of the most common causes include:
- The steering wheel or gear itself is already loose, or
- There is looseness in a steering linkage socket
While there are many different kinds of vehicles today with a wide variety of steering system designs, most of them can be fit into one of three categories. Some of them include the following:
- A steering box or rack and pinion are attached to your steering wheel using the steering column.
- Linkages connect your steering box to your front wheels.
- Front suspension parts are used so the wheel assemblies can pivot while the joints hold the tires and help guide them while you drive.
The front end of your steering system connects to your steering box or rack and pinion, depending on the type of vehicle you drive, using several linkages. Those linkages are attached to both the steering box and the wheel assemblies.
So, your wheels will move whenever you move your steering wheel. However, if the linkages holding everything together start to wear down, they become weak. That means the steering will start feeling odd.
Wear and tear typically occur because of tooth contact. This problem occurs inside your steering gearbox, or rack and pinion, and can wear down and age or misalign as your car becomes older. Regardless, if that occurs, you’ll still wind up with loose steering.
Sometimes all you need is a simple steering adjustment to keep your car going. However, if your vehicle has a lot of miles on it, then you may need to replace the gearbox or rack and pinion.
Visual inspection by a mechanic can often help you resolve the following types of problems with your steering:
- Your chassis components or rack and pinion are worn.
- Your tie rod ends are worn out.
- Your control arm bushings need to be replaced.
- You need new ball joints or steering gear.
How Can You Tell if You Have a Steering Wheel Problem?
When it comes to steering wheel problems, there are several things you’ll notice before your steering wheel falls off or stops working. You should pay attention to the following warning signs. If you don’t, you may wind up getting into a car accident that your car insurance may not help you with, unfortunately. So, if you notice any of the below-listed warning signs, you should take your car to a mechanic to get it fixed.
- The Steering Wheel is Hard to Turn
- Slipping Steering Wheel
- Steering Wheel Vibrates
- Your Car Moves to One Side
- Screeching Noise
- Discolored or Foamy Power Steering Fluid
- Loose Steering Wheel
- Excessive Play on Steering Wheel
- Excessive Vibration on Steering Wheel While Turning
#1 The Steering Wheel is Hard to Turn
f your car has power steering (and most cars nowadays utilize this feature), then you more than likely have a problem with your vehicle. You can use the steps below to check on your power steering:
- Check your power steering fluid and make sure your fluid reservoir is as full as possible.
- If it currently isn’t full, then fill it up to the top.
Check your car’s power steering fluid again within another day or two after driving the vehicle. If you notice that your power steering fluid level has decreased, then you should start looking under your car to see if you have a fluid leak. There may be a leak in one of the following:
- Your hose
- Your steering pump
- Your steering rack
If you do have a leak, then take your car to a mechanic immediately.
#2: Slipping Steering Wheel
If your steering wheel slips when you try to turn it or hold it so it is in a turned position, then you probably have a deeper issue with your power steering. If your car isn’t leaking, and you are experiencing this, then you may have one of the problems below:
- Loose or worn steering belt
- Faulty pumps
- A worn-out steering rack mount
- Loose steering belts
If you suspect that your car is experiencing any one of these issues, take it to a mechanic.
#3 Steering Wheel Vibrates
If your steering wheel is often vibrating, then you may have another issue. You could have a wheel alignment concern, but a vibrating steering wheel also means that you probably have something wrong with your power steering.
This problem usually occurs when contaminants build up in your power steering system. When contaminants build up, they’ll start making the wheel vibrate when you turn the wheel.
To fix this problem, you’ll need to take your car to a mechanic and have them perform a power steering flush.
#4 Your Car Moves to One Side Often
If your car feels like it’s pulling to one side while you are driving, then you will most likely need to take your vehicle to a mechanic. If your car is doing that, you most likely have a problem with your steering gear.
That’s due to wear and tear. You can experience premature steering gear wear if your power steering fluid isn’t being maintained properly because then your car is lacking lubrication.
#5 Screeching Noise When Wheel Turns
Another common problem that many people experience when having power steering issues is a screeching noise whenever the wheel is turned. When this occurs, you typically have a worn-out power steering belt. Your power steering belt attaches to your engine and your power steering pump.
Sometimes your screeching noise is a sign that your power fluid steering levels are low. If they are, remember to refill them and check in a day or two to see if your power steering fluid has gone down again. If it has, then you’ll need to check around for power steering fluid leaks.
#6 Discolored or Foamy Power Steering Fluid
We’ve mentioned a few times to check and fill your power steering fluid. However, if you look at your power steering fluid and you notice that it is foamy or discolored, then you have another problem.
When the power steering fluid looks foamy or discolored, then you either have water or air in your power steering system. That means your fluid can’t lubricate your power steering correctly.
So, if that’s the case, you most likely need to take your car to a mechanic to undergo a power steering flush.
#7 Loose Steering Wheel
When you notice you have a loose steering wheel, then your steering racks and tie rods are most likely worn out. It’s not a good idea to keep driving your car with a loose steering wheel, however. Even if the steering wheel still works, you should take your vehicle to a mechanic to prevent any future problems or possible accidents.
If you don’t immediately address a loose steering wheel issue and take your car to a mechanic, you increase your chances of having your steering wheel fall off while you are driving, and that’s what we are trying to avoid here.
#8 Excessive Play on Steering Wheel
If you are experiencing excessive play with your steering wheel, then you probably have worn out your steering gear. Check to see how far you need to turn your steering wheel before your wheels turn.
If you have to turn your steering wheel over an inch before you notice your wheels turning, then you need to take your car to a mechanic to get your steering gear replaced.
#9 Excessive Vibration in Steering Wheel While Turning or Accelerating
If you are experiencing excessive vibration in your steering wheel while turning or accelerating, then you probably have to replace your tie rods. If you decide to ignore the problem and you keep driving the car regardless, eventually, your entire car will vibrate. That can create a total loss of steering or complete steering failure.
So, if you are having problems with excessive vibration in your steering wheel while turning or accelerating, you should take your car to a mechanic immediately.
Ignoring any one of these signs and continuing to drive your car will only create more problems for your vehicle later, like worn-out tires, for instance.