3 Reasons Why Play In Steering Wheel

When the steering wheel of your vehicle feels loose, that does not mean it is easier to turn it. A loose steering wheel shows an issue with a gear, or one socket, or the suspension is bad. It will be more difficult to turn the tires in your intended direction if the steering wheel is loose.

My steering wheel feels loose! What should I do?

So, you recently got into a fender bender, and you are not at fault at all! Really, you’re not! Don’t worry; we believe you. Fender bender accidents happen to everybody. The accident happened a few days ago. Luckily, everyone is fine and your vehicle is fine too. You are currently driving it right now. 

Out of nowhere, while you’re in the middle of turning the steering wheel to the left, you hear a loud click. Now the steering wheel is loose and your vehicle is not turning. What’s going on?

A loose steering wheel is not good. You need your steering wheel to be taut. There should be some resistance, but not too much resistance. A loose steering wheel will make it harder to turn the wheels of your vehicle.

If a steering wheel suddenly becomes loose, then there are three potential issues causing this to happen. Those issues are a loose or broken pitman arm, the tired rod not in the socket, or a bad suspension.

Sometimes, the steering wheel will not suddenly become loose. It could build up over weeks and weeks and the steering wheel will gradually become looser and looser. 

Signs of steering wheel issues

One way to know if the steering wheel has a gear loose is if the steering wheel shakes a lot, especially when you’re driving at high speeds.

A final way to check if the issue is the steering wheel is to watch the tires as you move the steering wheel. The tires should react almost immediately to any turning by the steering wheel. 

If you move your steering wheel 1 1/2in and the tires do not move, then that is a sign that the steering wheel is not as connected to the suspension as it once was.

Loose steering wheel Pitman arm

The purpose of the Pitman arm is to connect the steering wheel to the steering gear around the suspension. The Pitman arm connects to the output shaft. There is a pitman arm on each side of the vehicle. One pitman arm controls the front and back tire for the right side and the other pitman arm controls the front and back tire for the left side.

An obvious sign there is an issue with the Pitman arm is if the vehicle drifts waywardly while you are driving forward. All vehicles will shift slightly to the left or to the right, but if you correct the vehicle very often, it could be a loose pitman arm. 

Purchasing a new equipment arm shouldn’t cost more than $300 and that price for luxury vehicles. Overall, the cost of Labor and a new pitman arm will be around $250. If you have a luxury vehicle, then it could be up to $500.

An issue with the suspension

If the steering wheel is loose because there’s an issue with the suspension, then that means you have to deal with a worn-out ball joint. The ball joint is a part of the steering system that controls the wheels and has them turn right or left as the steering wheel moves right or left. 

If you notice a strange clunking sound whenever you turn your loose steering wheel, then the issues are a broken ball joint.

You will need a mechanic’s help to repair the ball joint and fix the suspension. A ball joint costs between $100 and $150 by themselves. The cost of labor and the price of the ball joint may equal up to $500 or more.

The tire rod is not in the socket

The tie rods in the steering system will eventually wear out and they will need to be replaced. How quickly they wear out depends on the type of driving that the driver does. 

If you do mostly city driving, then the tire rods can last up to 10 years. But if you love off-roading or speeding, then they can wear out in 5 to 7 years.

What does Play mean?

If you are not someone who experiences a lot of issues and problems with their steering wheel, then you may not understand what the word play means in this context. Obviously, it cannot have anything to do with the radio or aux player, as the play button is directly underneath the screen or part of the screen.

When you hear that a steering wheel has excessive play, it means that the steering wheel is extremely loose. Steering wheels should not be loose; you should need to use a bit of your strength to turn and maneuver the steering wheel. 

The steering wheel connects to the tires and the rigidness of the steering wheel reflects the response of the suspension. A loose steering wheel means it is much harder to turn your vehicle’s wheels and you will have to use more effort and more spins to turn the wheels in the direction you want to go.

Upgrade your steering wheel

Since you are taking your vehicle to the mechanic to have the steering wheel suspension or gear serviced, think about upgrading your steering wheel. 

You can ask the mechanic to replace your steering wheel with a steering wheel that looks cooler and has a better design. You can buy a steering wheel that has buttons on its face, so it’s easier to control the radio or your cell phone when it is playing Spotify. 


If you’re in an accident, the steering wheel may suddenly become loose. But as a vehicle gets older and older, some gears and parts of the steering wheel may corrode and the steering wheel will become looser gradually. When a steering wheel is experiencing excessive play, which is a term meaning the steering wheel is loose, turn the wheel farther than normal to turn left or right. Also, when you travel at high speeds, the wheel will shake violently.