Your car’s steering wheel is the key to maneuvering on the road, into parking spaces and more. However, it doesn’t do its job alone. In fact, it’s only one part of many in the steering system. The steering column is a crucial component – and it’s much more than just a collection of plastic pieces used to protect the intermediate shaft.
Your car’s steering column includes a number of different components. It provides a mounting location for the steering wheel, as well as the universal joint necessary to let the wheel turn freely in any direction. The column also attaches to the intermediate shaft (a series of tightly fitting splines keeps the two mated together). This way, when you turn the steering wheel, the steering column turns, turning the intermediate shaft, and then activating the steering gear to turn the wheels.
Other components in the steering column include the tilt and telescope mechanism that lets you adjust the steering wheel to your preferred position, as well as the ignition housing. Obviously, it’s a critical piece for your car. You use the steering column every time you drive, but it’s not subject to the same type of wear and tear as other components.
In fact, your car’s steering column should last for the life of the vehicle. With that being said, if you drive very frequently, particularly on curvy roads, you’ll put more wear and tear on it than someone who primarily drives on the interstate, or drives very little.
The most common problems with steering columns, other than damage to the plastic cladding, is wear to the universal joint, which can make it start to bind. This will make it hard to turn the steering wheel, and you may not have a full range of motion. The splines connecting the steering column to the intermediate shaft will also wear over time, creating a “loose” feeling in the wheel.
Given the critical nature of the steering column, it’s vital to know a few symptoms of impending failure. These include:
- The steering wheel does not turn as far as it should
- The steering wheel binds midway through a turn
- The steering wheel feels “loose”
- You hear a clunking when turning the wheel
- Turning the wheel makes a squealing or creaking noise
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, you may need to look at replacing your steering column. Have a certified mechanic inspect the steering column and other components of your car to see what repairs need to be made.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How Long Does a Steering Column Last? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.