Have you ever experienced that moment of frustration when you hear an unexpected popping sound while turning your vehicle’s steering wheel at a slow speed? It’s a common occurrence that can leave drivers puzzled and concerned about the underlying cause.
In this blog post, you’ll explore the reasons behind the popping sound phenomenon in car, providing you with real-life examples and practical tips to address it. By the end, you’ll possess the knowledge and confidence to tackle this problem head-on.
So, why there is a popping sound when turning steering wheel at low speed? One possible reason for the popping sound when turning steering wheel at low speed is a worn-out or damaged CV joint. Over time, the protective boot covering the CV joint may become torn or cracked, leading to the entry of dirt and debris, which can result in wear and tear. Other causes of popping sound when turning at low speed include worn-out suspension components (ball joints, bushing and tie rods), bad away bar links, low power steering fluid and bad strut bearings. Prompt inspection and maintenance by a professional can help resolve these issues and ensure smoother and safer driving.
Bonus Read: Steering wheel not turning to center after turn
Table of Contents
Causes Of Popping Sound When Turning Steering Wheel At Slow Speed
Here are the causes of the popping sound when turning steering wheel at low speed:
1. Damaged CV Joints
CV joints are designed to flex and move with the suspension system to enable the transmission of power from the engine to the wheels at a constant velocity, regardless of the angle at which the wheels are turned. This is particularly important for vehicles with front-wheel drive, as the wheels not only steer but also drive the vehicle.
CV joints are typically found at the ends of the front axle shafts and are responsible for transmitting torque while allowing for flexibility and smooth rotation.
CV joints are made of bearings that are covered by a rubber boot. The boot protects the joint from dirt, water, and debris. Inside the boot, there is grease that lubricates the joint and reduces friction.
There are two CV joints in a vehicle:
- Inner CV joint: Connects the axle shaft to the transmission
- Outer CV Joint: Connects the axle shaft to the wheel hub
When the CV joints become damaged, they can no longer rotate smoothly and transmit power efficiently. As a result, they may produce a popping noise when the steering wheel is turned at low speeds.
This noise is caused by the irregular movement of the damaged joints, which can create a sudden release of pressure or a “pop” sound as the joint tries to compensate for the lack of smooth rotation.
When an outer CV joint malfunctions, it generates an audible clicking sound. On the other hand, when an inner CV joint experiences a failure, it emits either a clunking or grinding noise. I have outlined these details in my comprehensive guide regarding the potential transmission damage caused by a faulty CV joint. Nevertheless, it is advisable to inspect both CV joints, as determining the exact nature of the noise can often be challenging.
How CV joint becomes bad?
CV joints can make noise when they are damaged or worn out. This can happen for several reasons, such as:
- The boot is torn or cracked, allowing grease to leak out, and dirt and moisture to get in.
- The grease is contaminated or dried out, causing metal-to-metal contact and friction.
- The ball bearings or rollers are loose or broken, causing play and vibration.
- The cage or housing of bearings is cracked or deformed, causing misalignment and binding.
When you’re taking off the CV joint rubber boot and bearing, make sure to give those splines on the CV shaft/axle a good look too. Why? Well, worn splines can create some play in the CV joint, causing those annoying clicking sounds to pop up. So, it’s important to inspect everything thoroughly to avoid any unexpected surprises.
To remove the CV axle, you can watch the following video:
2. Bad Strut Bearings
Strut bearings are located at the top of the strut assembly, inside a metal or plastic housing called the strut mount. The strut mount also contains a rubber bushing that acts as a cushion and a vibration isolator. The strut mount is attached to the vehicle body by three or four bolts.
Strut bearings have several important functions. Firstly, they provide a pivot point for the strut assembly, allowing it to move up and down as your vehicle encounters bumps and uneven road surfaces.
Secondly, strut bearings help reduce noise, vibrations, and harshness by acting as a cushion between the strut assembly and the vehicle’s body. Lastly, strut mount bearings allow the steering system to function smoothly by allowing the strut assembly to rotate when the steering wheel is turned.
When strut bearings become worn or damaged, they lose their ability to rotate smoothly. This can result in a popping or creaking noise when you turn the steering wheel at low speeds.
The popping noise occurs due to the increased friction between the strut bearing and other components, such as the strut mount or the spring seat.
Moreover, when strut bearings start to wear out or become damaged, they can lose their ability to properly absorb shocks and vibrations. This can result in increased friction and uneven movement between the strut assembly and the vehicle’s body.
As you turn the steering wheel at low speeds, the strut bearings are subjected to additional stress and pressure. The worn-out or damaged bearings are unable to handle this stress effectively, leading to a popping noise.
Furthermore, if the mounting plate of the strut bearing is not properly tightened, it will also cause clunking and popping noises when turning at low speed.
Common Causes of Strut Bearing Failure
Over time, strut bearings can deteriorate due to various factors. Some common causes of strut bearing failure include:
- Wear and Tear: As with any mechanical component, continuous use and exposure to the elements can cause the rubber insulator to degrade and the metal bearing to wear down. This can result in increased friction and reduced performance.
- Lack of Lubrication: Strut bearings require proper lubrication to function optimally. If the lubricant dries up or becomes contaminated, it can lead to increased friction and accelerated wear and tear.
- Environmental Factors: Harsh weather conditions, such as extreme temperatures or excessive moisture, can accelerate the deterioration of strut bearings. Corrosion and rust can weaken the components, compromising their functionality.
Here is what a bad strut bearing looks like:
3. Damaged Sway Bar Links
When you turn the steering wheel, the weight of your vehicle shifts to one side. This weight transfer can cause the vehicle to lean or roll, which can affect stability and handling.
Here is where the sway bar comes into play. They help to distribute the weight evenly between the left and right sides of the vehicle, minimizing body roll and keeping it more stable during turns.
You can read my guide on sway bar vs strut bar to learn more.
Sway bar links connect the sway bar to the control arms, aiding in the vehicle’s stability.
Positioned vertically beneath the vehicle, these links pass through the horizontal sway bar to connect it with the lower control arm. Two sway bar links are typically present, with one on the left side and another on the right side.
When these sway bar links become damaged or worn out, they can cause a variety of issues.
One common symptom is a clunking or knocking sound when turning the steering wheel at low speeds. This can be due to excessive play or movement in the damaged sway bar links, which can create a knocking noise as the vehicle’s weight shifts during turns.
How to inspect sway bar links?
To test your sway bar links visually, you need to raise your car on a jack or a lift and look under it. You should be able to see the sway bar running across the width of your car and connecting to the control arms with the help of the sway bar links.
You should check for any signs of damage, wear, or corrosion on the sway bar links. Look for any cracks, breaks, bends, or rust on the metal parts.
Also, look for any tears, cracks, or leaks on the rubber bushings or boots that cover the ball joints.
Furthermore, you can grab the sway bar link and try to move it up and down or side to side. If there is any play or movement, the sway bar link may be bad.
4. Worn-out Bushings and Ball Joints of Tie Rods and Suspension Components
Bushings are small rubber or polyurethane components that provide a cushion between the various metal parts of the suspension system. They help to absorb vibrations, reduce noise, and provide flexibility for smooth steering.
Ball joints, on the other hand, are pivot points that connect the suspension components to the steering knuckles.
They allow for the articulation and movement of the suspension, enabling the wheels to turn and absorb shocks from the road surface. Both bushings and ball joints play crucial roles in maintaining the stability and control of the vehicle.
Over time, the bushings in the tie rods and suspension components i.e. control arms can wear out due to the constant stress and strain they endure.
When these bushings become worn, they lose their ability to properly absorb vibrations and provide the necessary flexibility for smooth steering.
Furthermore, worn ball joints can produce clunking or knocking sounds when you turn the steering wheel. This noise occurs due to the excessive play or movement in the joints, resulting in an unstable connection between the suspension components and the wheels.
5. Bad Steering Rack Bushing
Steering rack bushings are small rubber or polyurethane components that provide a cushioning effect between the steering rack and the chassis of the vehicle. They are designed to absorb vibrations and reduce noise, ensuring a smooth and quiet steering experience.
When the bushings are worn or damaged, they lose their ability to effectively absorb vibrations, causing the steering rack to move more than it should. This excessive movement can result in a popping noise when the steering wheel is turned at low speeds.
6. Bad Steering Rack Boot
Just like the CV joint boot, the steering rack also has a rubber boot. It encloses the steering rack and prevents dirt, water, and other contaminants from entering the steering system. The boot is typically secured at both ends with clamps to create a sealed environment for the steering rack.
Without the steering rack boot, the steering rack would be exposed to these contaminants, leading to premature wear and potential failure.
When the steering rack boot becomes damaged or worn out, it loses its ability to provide adequate protection to the steering rack.
As a result, dirt, water, and other contaminants can make their way into the steering rack, causing it to become contaminated.
This contamination can lead to the development of uneven wear on the steering rack components, resulting in a popping noise when turning the steering wheel at low speeds.
Signs of a bad steering rack boot
There are several signs that can indicate a damaged or worn steering rack boot. These include:
- Visible damage: Inspect the steering rack boot for any visible cracks, tears, or holes. If you notice any damage, it is a clear indication that the boot needs to be replaced.
- Grease on the boot or surrounding components: If you notice grease on the steering rack boot or surrounding components, it suggests that the boot has been compromised and is no longer effectively sealing the steering rack.
- Unusual noises: A popping or clicking noise when turning the steering wheel at low speeds is a common symptom of a bad steering rack boot. This noise is caused by uneven wear and contamination of the steering rack components.
7. Problem With Steering Pump or Low Power Steering Fluid
If your vehicle has a hydraulically-powered steering wheel, it has a steering pump that pushes the steering fluid to provide power to the steering system while taking a turn.
The steering pump is mechanically driven by the engine via a serpentine belt. When engine speed increases, the steering pump also runs at a higher speed so that it provides power to the steering fluid to help you take a turn at high speeds.
The steering fluid applies a hydraulic force to the steering wheel, due to which it turns easily and you don’t have to apply too much force with your hands. Moreover, this power steering fluid also acts as a lubricant.
If the power steering fluid level is too low, there may not be enough pressure in the system to lubricate and cushion the moving parts. As a result, you may hear a popping or clicking sound as the metal components rub against each other or hit air pockets in the fluid.
Another possible cause of the popping noise when turning the steering wheel at low speed is air in the power steering system. Air can enter the system if there is a leak, if the fluid level is too low, or if you have recently replaced or serviced any part of the system.
Air can cause bubbles or foam in the fluid, which can reduce its effectiveness and create noise. To fix this problem, you need to bleed the air out of the system by turning the steering wheel from lock to lock several times with the engine running. You may also need to add more fluid if necessary.
8. Binding in Plastic Shroud Cover of Steering Wheel
The plastic shroud cover is designed to protect the internal components of the steering wheel, such as the wiring and the airbag module. It also provides a sleek and aesthetically pleasing appearance to the steering wheel.
One of the primary reasons for binding in the plastic shroud cover is its loose or damaged state. Over time, the cover may become loose due to wear and tear or improper installation.
Additionally, it can get damaged from accidental impacts or exposure to extreme temperatures. When the cover is loose or damaged, it can rub against other components of the steering system, leading to friction and popping noise.
Another cause of binding can be misalignment between the plastic shroud cover and the steering wheel assembly. If the cover is not properly aligned and sits at an angle, it can create uneven contact with other parts, resulting in binding and noise when the steering wheel is turned.
How to fix?
One of my friends fixed this issue by removing the shroud cover and remounting it. The popping noise went away. You can remove the shroud cover using a screwdriver or pry tool.
f you find any debris on the plastic shroud cover, you should clean it using a soft cloth and mild soap. You should also wipe off any grease or dust from the steering column and the upper shroud.
After reading through this detailed post, I hope you feel more enlightened about what could be causing the popping noise when turning your steering wheel at slow speeds.
You might have learnt that how wear and damage to parts like the CV joints, strut bearings and sway bar links can lead to popping noise.
If you have any questions, you can ask in the comment section. I will try to reply with detailed explanation.