You expect your car to just do what you ask without complaint, but lately, it doesn’t seem to like going around turns. The car seems okay just cruising down the road, but changing direction doesn’t go as smoothly as before. Maybe you noticed it while parallel parking, or maybe it shows up when you're moving around a curved exit ramp, but it’s unnerving and it makes you wonder whether your car is safe to drive or if it is going to head off on a tangent some day.
You’re right to be concerned. When your car is in a turn, the front end components and tires are under more stress than when you are driving straight. So if the car isn’t turning smoothly, something is no longer equal to its task. You need to figure out what’s wrong and have it corrected as soon as possible.
Part 1 of 1: Diagnosing a car that shudders when turning
- Jack and jack stands
- Light source
- Safety glasses
- Tire pressure gauge
Step 1: Visually inspect the tires. Before you do anything else, walk around the car and take a good look at the tires. There might be an obvious bulge or defect in one of the tires and it could be waiting to burst.
Get down on your hands and knees and look at the inside of the tires as well. While you are at it, check the tire pressures. You might see something obvious right out and it may just be that the next step is a trip to the tire store.
Step 2: Check the power steering. Now that you’ve made sure your tires have no obvious defects, it’s time to do a little troubleshooting. We’ll take another look at the tires later.
Sometimes the power steering will cause a shudder in the steering wheel when it is under a load.
Turn the steering wheel while the car is stationary, looking for the shuddering you have experienced. If your problem is in the power steering, it will occur while you are stopped as well as while you are in motion.
If you notice the shuddering, or if there is a moaning sound, locate the power steering fluid reservoir and top off the fluid. I
f the fluid is low, topping it off might not make the problem go away immediately, you might have to cycle the steering back and forth a few times before it starts to behave correctly again.
If the fluid was low enough to cause a problem, there is a leak somewhere in the system that will need to be corrected. Leaking fluid can damage other components as well as being a fire hazard.
Step 3: Low speed maneuvering. If you decide that you only experience the problem when the car is in motion, take the car out and put it through a few tests. A large empty parking lot may be helpful.
Notice the patterns in the symptom. Does the shudder occur at slow (parking) speed? Is there there a clunking noise associated with it? If either is the case, you may be experiencing a problem with a CV (constant velocity) joint.
If the steering wheel moves slightly back and forth in your hands while the car is turning slowly, you might also have a bent wheel. These usually show a problem in straight line motion as well, but not always.
Step 4: Turning at speed. If your symptom doesn’t show up at slow speeds, take the car out on the highway and find some long sweeping turns, both right and left, that you can take at speed sufficient to induce just a little bit of side force.
If the shudder is more pronounced in left turns, it is associated with a problem on the right front. If the shudder is more pronounced in the right turns, the problem is associated with the left front. The problem might exist in tires, tie rods, or other steering linkage components.
Step 5: Inspect the front end. Make sure the car is in Park, or in first gear if it is a manual, set the brake, and put wheel chocks under the rear wheels. Jack the front of the car and place it on good jack stands.
Working underneath a car is potentially one of the most dangerous things a home mechanic will do, so you don’t want to take any chance that the car can shift and fall on you while you’re working underneath.
With the wheels off the ground, you can inspect the wheels again. Turn the front wheels and observe whether they spin true or if there is a wavy motion that indicates a bent wheel or a warped tire. Check the tire tread for cupping or uneven wear Have a friend rock the steering wheel back and forth slightly while you look for any free motion in the tie rods or other components. Anything that shows any obvious looseness has to be replaced.
Step 6: Check the steering damper. Some cars use a hydraulic damper to absorb shock and vibration in the steering. It looks just like a telescoping shock absorber laying on its side. Check it for leaks and for good solid mounting.
You can check its operation by unbolting one end and compressing and extending it all the way. You should feel consistent resistance through the range of its travel. If there are any “dead” spots in its action, the steering damper should be replaced.
Interpreting the condition of front end components requires experience. Home mechanics can spot the obvious problems, but there can be subtle issues that will escape the notice of untrained eyes. If you have gone through these steps and have not been able to determine the source of your trouble, or you think the inspection of steering parts is a little too important to handle without training, contact a trained professional to sort out the trouble and replace the faulty components for you.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Troubleshoot a Car That Shudders When Turning and was authored by John Hege.