Your vehicle’s steering and suspension system serves many important functions. It cushions you from bumps and uneven street surfaces. It prevents important underside components from making contact with the road. And, last by not least, it allows you to direct your car or truck where you want it to go.
To accomplish these things, it makes use of a number of different parts. Most modern cars feature a rack and pinion steering system. When the wheel is turned it rotates a pinion gear that makes contact with the steering rack, making it go left or right. This motion is transferred through tie rods to the spindles, which turn the wheels in the direction you want to go (trucks and SUVs often have a somewhat more complicated setup known as recirculating-ball steering).
In a power-assisted rack and pinion system, a cylinder attached to the rack contains hydraulic fluid that puts pressure on one side of it or the other. This makes the vehicle easier to steer. Meanwhile, the vehicle’s frame, struts, and tires support it and make for an even, comfortable driving experience.
All of these components are designed to work well together for years. Over time they can start to break down, however, causing a variety of problems that can compromise your ride quality and even your safety. Let’s take a look at some of the more common warning signs of steering and suspension issues.
Symptoms of Common Steering and Suspension System Issues
Vehicle pulls to one side while driving – tires with different levels of tread wear or inflation can cause this. It may also indicate that you need an alignment, or that your steering and suspension components have become worn and need replacing.
Continued bouncing after hitting a bump or a pothole – your vehicle will go up or down when you hit a high or low spot in the road, but it should immediately return to smooth driving. If it doesn’t, the most likely cause is worn shocks or struts, or in some cases a damaged leaf spring.
Steering seems to slip as you hold the wheel in a turned position – low steering fluid, a loose steering pump belt, or worn or damaged steering rack components can cause this.
Steering wheel takes a great deal of effort to turn – this can be caused by a power steering pump going bad, a leaking steering rack, or low power steering fluid.
Steering wheel bounces up and down while traveling at highway speeds or when braking – this can be caused by a number of different things. Your wheels may be out of balance. Your tires could be unevenly worn or incorrectly inflated. You could even have loose wheel bolts or problems with your brake rotors.
Steering wheel “wander” – if you notice your vehicle swaying from one side to the other when you turn the wheel, you might have bad strut bearings or tie rods. Broken steering rack mounts or worn ball joints also cause this problem.
Knocking or clunking when hitting bumps or cracks in the road – this may be a sign that your shocks or struts need to be replaced. It can also indicate bad ball joints or strut bearings.