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  • Your vehicle’s steering shaft, also known as its intermediate steering shaft, plays an important role, connecting the steering gear to the steering column.
  • Symptoms of a bad steering shaft include rough wheel turns, irregular steering wheel positions, and grinding or clicking sounds when you turn.
  • Steering fluid issues, a worn steering rack, and a faulty serpentine belt might lead to a bad steering shaft.
  • It’s best not to drive with a bad steering shaft because the lack of control might lead to an accident.

Your vehicle’s intermediate steering shaft connects the steering gear pinion to the lower end of the steering column.

car short driveshaft image
The steering shaft is basically a short driveshaft of sorts with one (see photo) or 2 u-joints, but it doesn’t spin endlessly like the driveline’s driveshaft. However, sometimes the u-joints in the intermediate steering shaft will become dry and stiff like regular driveline u-joints. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Symptoms of a Bad Steering Shaft

There are a number of symptoms associated with a bad steering shaft. Any one of these issues can alert you that something’s wrong, and that you need to have your vehicle assessed as soon as possible.

See also  Important Things to Know Before Getting a Rack and Pinion Replacement

Rough Wheel Turns

Most modern vehicles have power steering so that the steering feels smooth and easy, whatever the vehicle and the driver’s physical build are.

But driving won’t feel very smooth if there’s something wrong with the u-joints on the ends of the intermediate steering shaft (see Illustration).

illustration of a steering shaft u joint and intermediate steering shaft
Diagram showing steering shaft u-joints and intermediate steering shaft | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Irregular Steering Wheel Positions and Grip

In a power steering system, the steering wheel will always return to the center position because of the caster settings. When you turn the wheels, normal positive caster settings will cause the front of the vehicle to lift very slightly so that the lowest it sits is right in the center.

Gravity and caster angles make the steering wheel naturally return to the center after a turn; this is where it wants to be if everything is normal. If the u-joints in the intermediate shaft are dry and stiff, it may not easily return to the center. Other issues, like dry ball joints can cause this as well.

See also  Important Things to Know Before Getting a Rack and Pinion Replacement

Grinding or Clicking Sounds When Turning

If you start hearing grinding or clicking sounds at the base of the steering column when turning, it’s yet another sign that your steering shaft might have issues. It’s best to ask a trusted mechanic to check your steering shaft as soon as you notice these strange noises when you steer.

Uneven Effort Turning the Steering Wheel

If there are serious issues with the u-joints in your steering shaft, the steering wheel might require uneven effort while turning the wheel during parking lot maneuvers. It might feel tight-then-loose-then-tight again while rotating the steering wheel.

Can a Worn Steering Rack be a Cause of a Bad Steering Shaft?

The steering shaft is directly connected to the steering rack and relies on it to function properly. If it takes more effort to steer the vehicle for any reason at all, the u-joints on each end of the intermediate shaft may wear out prematurely so that the steering doesn’t feel right even after the hard steering issue is resolved.

See also  Important Things to Know Before Getting a Rack and Pinion Replacement

Can You Drive with a Bad Steering Shaft?

It’s best to avoid driving with a bad steering shaft, especially if the steering wheel is hanging limp. If your steering fails while driving, it could spell disaster. Now that you’re familiar with the symptoms of a bad steering shaft, you’ll know when to seek help from a trusted mechanic.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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