Does your car suddenly jerk to the left and right without you moving it in that direction, and do you want to know what’s causing it? You’ve come to the right place, for we have researched this question and have the answer for you.
Sudden jerking to one side is a sign of loose bearings in the rack and pinion gears. Tires that are out of alignment will also cause your car to shake. Loose or worn wheel bearings are also a source of steering wheel vibration or jerking.
Learn more about the rack and pinion in your car and how it helps you control your car in the succeeding sections. We will also talk about the other causes of this problem and other steering wheel issues that you could encounter.
What is the rack and pinion in my car?
The rack and pinion are a set of linear and rotary gears. The pinion is a rotary gear that rotates when you rotate the steering wheel. A rack, on the other hand, is a linear gear that receives the rotary movement from the pinion and converts it into a linear movement to turn the wheels of your car.
A hydraulic piston is installed along the tie rod where the rack gear is located. Turning the steering wheel in one direction would open a valve that will force hydraulic fluid into one side of the piston. The introduction of the hydraulic fluid helps push the wheels to turn towards the direction that you’re steering, making it easier to control your wheels.
That is the basic principle of how power steering works in your car.
Loose Rack And Pinion Bearings
Bearings keep the rack and pinion gears moving smoothly when you turn your car. They also keep them in a steady position.
Worn or loose bearings will cause the rack and pinion gears to move freely on their own. This will cause your car to jerk from side to side, especially if the road is uneven or slippery.
The jerking comes from the loose wheels dragging each other when the barest road imperfection jerks them in one direction.
You can check this problem by raising the front wheels. Next, try to shake the front wheels in and out of the wheel well. There should be no movement in the wheels when you try to move them.
Any movement in the wheels, even just a little, will multiply when your car runs at a high speed.
It is important to fix this issue immediately because this instability can damage the suspension, the drivetrain, and even the transmission.
Bring your car to a professional mechanic to inspect the steering assembly and replace any worn bearings and parts.
Why tire alignment is important?
We often overlook the alignment and health of our tires. Most of the time, we only get a tire inspection when we replace them. However, a good way to maintain the health of your wheels is to bring your car to a mechanic or tire center to check the alignment every 10,000 miles.
Tire alignment ensures the even wear of your tires. It also helps prevent unnecessary wear on the suspension, brakes, and steering mechanism. Misaligned tires can cause your car to involuntarily move in one direction or cause the steering wheel to vibrate.
What causes bad wheel alignment?
Bad driving habits, road conditions, and weather are the most common causes of wheel misalignment. In addition to this, the following situations can cause your wheels to lose alignment.
Driving Over Potholes At High Speeds
You expose your car to uneven force when you drive over potholes. The intensity of that force increases proportionately with the speed of your vehicle when it hits the pothole. The tire and suspension will absorb most of the force of the impact.
However, the amount of force that the suspension and wheels can absorb is finite. Thus, any excess force can cause the wheel to misalign.
Hitting Road Debris Or The Curb
This situation is similar to hitting potholes at high speed. Hitting road debris or the curb at a high speed will produce a large opposing force that can push the wheel out of alignment.
Minor collisions that send an opposing force directly on the wheel assembly can misalign it. Thus, it is a good idea to check the wheel alignment right after a minor collision and to align them if necessary.
Car manufacturers design the suspension of vehicles to absorb forces within a specific height. If the height of the vehicle increases without any modification in the suspension, then the suspension will not be able to function to specs. This can cause vehicle misalignment.
What does a wheel bearing do?
Wheel bearings are responsible for allowing the wheels to turn smoothly.
Without the wheel bearings, the braking system, steering, and suspension will not work properly.
The wheel bearings in modern cars are hermetically sealed. This means that the components inside, including the grease, are inaccessible.
There is no maintenance to be done, no schedule for adding or replacing lubrication, and no replacement schedules.
However, wheel bearings are especially vulnerable to driving over potholes are a high speed, hitting curbs, driving over road debris, speed bumps, or minor collisions—almost everything on the list before this section.
How long do wheel bearings last?
Wheel bearings can last anywhere from 75,000 to 150,000 miles. If you do not drive aggressively, the wheel bearings can last even longer than that, up to the service life of your car.
How to know that you need to replace your wheel bearings?
The most common symptom of a failing wheel bearing is strange noises from the affected wheels. You will start to hear a humming noise, squealing, growling, and even a clicking noise coming from your wheels. Worn wheel bearings will rub and produce different noises.
Locate the source of the noise, and you will be able to identify which wheel has a failing bearing.
A wobbling wheel can make your car hard to control.
A mechanic can check the tires on your car for any play on the wheels. Normally, there should be no wheel movement when you shake the tires in and out of the wheel well. Movement can be caused by a problem in the tire hub assembly.
A mechanic can verify this problem and fix it for you.
The ABS light will turn on in some car models if the wheel bearings fail. In some cases, the wobble on the wheel can cause the speed sensor on the ABS to stop working, triggering the ABS light.
Vibration On The Steering Wheel
Bad wheel bearing can cause the steering wheel to vibrate. The intensity of the vibration will increase proportionally to the speed of the vehicle.
However, worn suspension and uneven tires can also cause this.
Vehicle Is Pulling To One Side
Another symptom of wheel bearing trouble is when your car starts to pull to one side when you step on the brakes. The car will start to pull towards the side that has worn bearings.
Replacing Worn Wheel Bearings
Getting to the bearing can be easy for those who have experience working on their brakes. The wheel bearing is located under the brake rotor.
However, the challenge of replacing the wheel bearings is removing the worn part. A special tool is necessary for removing and replacing the part. Without the special tool, the replacement bearing may not be properly installed.
Keep in mind that one of the factors that affect the service life of a new wheel bearing is whether it was properly installed or not. Improper installation of the new wheel bearing can take away years from its service life. This includes properly torquing the screws that secure the new bearing.
If you do not have the tools to remove and install a wheel bearing, your best option is to bring your car to a mechanic and have the mechanic replace the wheel bearing for you.
Orion Motor Tech 23-piece FWD bearing replacement installation and removal kit are available on Amazon through this link.
Other Causes Of Steering Wheel Problems
Worn Steering Gear
A worn steering gear can cause your steering wheel to become less responsive. This means that your car will not immediately turn in one direction when you turn your steering wheel. This can be dangerous and make your car prone to accidents.
A worn steering gear can also cause your car to pull to one side. Worn steering gear with a lack of lubrication can cause this symptom.
Failing Power Steering
A failing power steering system can make your steering wheel feel harder. You will notice that you need more force to turn the wheel.
Another symptom of a power steering problem is when your steering wheel slips when you try to hold it steady while turning.
Check the power steering fluid. If it is low, refill it to the maximum level. Check it once more after a few days.
If the steering fluid is less than full again, then there is a leak. Bring your car to a mechanic to locate and fix the leak.
Genuine Honda Power Steering Fluid is available on Amazon through this link.
There are a few reasons why your car would pull to one side while driving.
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Steering Wheel Not Returning To Center—What Could Be Wrong?
Steering Wheel Shakes Then Goes Away—What Could Be Wrong?
Wednesday 24th of May 2023
I have a 2001 Nissan Pathfinder 4wd. The other day we pulled the vehicle off the road to fish and ran over a 2x4 with est 30 screws in it. Had to drive it on rim to tire shop .25m away. Car got jacked aup accidentally on trailing arm vs frame. When noticed, instead of lowering slowly car was just dropped...while still having back drivers tire on rim. Car was drove 11 miles home with bent arm. Replaced following day. But car has started to almost jerk or fishtail when pressing the gas sharply or letting go while driving. Now car was drove for round a week or another half before replacing all 4 with new ones. But car is still jerking. But it seems to only be the back end and it only does it with sharp acceleration or deceleration and only one jerk each time not multiple ones.