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The steering column is a vital part of a car’s steering system. It transmits the steering input from the steering wheel to the steering gear, which turns the wheels and changes the vehicle’s direction.

Like other parts of your vehicle, the steering column can deteriorate with use, but usually it won’t. The steering column usually lasts the life of the vehicle with no problems at all, particularly if the vehicle has been driven mostly on the highway.

However, if the steering column is in bad shape, repair or replacement is necessary. Having little control over your vehicle is a massive safety hazard, so it’s imperative to have it serviced at the first sign of failure.

Common Failing Steering Column Symptoms

There are several issues that arise when you’re dealing with a failing steering column. Most of these are steering difficulties, such as rough or loose steering, a misaligned steering wheel, and steering wheel noises.

Difficulty in Steering

A bad steering column is to blame if you’re having difficulty turning your steering wheel.

The lower shaft between the fixed column and the steering gear typically has two universal joints on a replaceable shaft. In the same way U-joints fail on a driveshaft, one or more of the needle bearing caps can dry out and cause a hard-then-easy feel when you’re rotating the steering wheel during a turn.

universal joint in the steering column visible
You can see the universal joint in the steering column pictured. The end of the column nearest the camera connects to the steering gear that actually turns the wheels. Steering columns are made to collapse during a collision. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Loose Steering

Loose steering, or steering free play, is when the steering wheel turns, yet the car is unresponsive. A bad steering column could be the issue, especially for older vehicles that have gone through general wear and tear.

It’s also one of the most dangerous symptoms of a faulty steering column since you’ll find it difficult to make hard turns–limiting your vehicle’s movement. When experiencing free play, it’s recommended to leave your car at home and have a mechanic check it.

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Binding Steering Wheel

A steering wheel that feels heavy when you reach a certain angle is referred to as a steering wheel bind. This is often due to the universal joint located in your column wearing out.

Misaligned Steering Wheel

A fully operational steering wheel should return to a centered position easily. If the steering wheel is misaligned during its neutral state, it’s a problem that needs addressing.

Typically a misaligned steering wheel will be an alignment issue. But the reason the steering wheel tries to return to center on its own when everything is adjusted right and nothing is binding, is because of the caster angle. When you turn the wheels one way or another, it slightly raises the car body in the front. When the wheels are at center, the car body in the front is at its lowest, so gravity helps to center the steering wheel automatically.

Typically a misaligned steering wheel will be an alignment issue. But the reason the steering wheel tries to return to center on its own when everything is adjusted right and nothing is binding, is because of the caster angle.

– Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Different factors may cause misalignment, and while it’s not as dangerous as rough and loose steering, you should address a misaligned steering wheel as soon as possible. Note that a non-rack and pinion steering gear is adjustable and can easily be adjusted too tight, which makes for a stiff spot right in the center of the steering wheel travel.

Grinding and Clicking Noises

Once you feel resistance and hear grinding or clicking noises when turning, then you might have issues within your steering column. It can stem from a number of things, but the noises generally come from a damaged needle bearing in your steering column.

This could mean the bearing is corroding or there’s built-up grime and dirt. Both cases, however, require a thorough inspection.

Tilt Steering Difficulties

The tilt steering system allows for adjustable steering wheels for the driver to tilt, raise, or lower the steering wheel to a comfortable position. Once it’s moved, the wheel should lock in place until you readjust it again. If it doesn’t lock and the wheel remains mobile, it might indicate a damaged component in the steering column.

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What Are the Functions of the Steering Column?

The steering column is a device connected to the steering wheel intended to transmit input, allowing you to turn your vehicle and change directions. Besides steering, the column has secondary functions in certain scenarios:

  • Absorb energy produced during impact on any frontal collision
  • Provides mounting for different steering wheel components
  • Offers height and/or length adjustment for the driver

The anti-theft device, or steering lock, is also fitted to the steering column below the steering wheel. So a damaged column could compromise the security of your vehicle.

What Is the Lifespan of a Steering Column?

Ideally, the steering column should last as long as your vehicle. Even if it’s one of the most used parts of your car, it’s built to last unless accidents or malfunctions happen.

Can I Drive My Car With a Broken Steering Column?

Your ability to drive your car with a broken steering column depends on the severity of the damage. Minor damages usually result in shaky steering wheels or difficulty turning, while extreme cases eliminate control over your car.

However, you should have an expert look at your steering column regardless of the extremity of the damage, as it’s inadvisable to drive with a broken one. Its effects can be dangerous to you, passengers, drivers, and pedestrians.

How Do You Inspect a Steering Column?

A way to inspect your steering column is by turning the steering wheel and checking if it’s wobbly or makes any strange noise. If it does either one, then there’s an issue within your steering column that needs addressing.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Steering Column?

The average price of repairing a steering column is around $1,000. The final price depends on the part that needs replacing and the labor fee of the auto body shop. Some parts go for as low as $290 or as high as $950, while the labor fee is somewhere between $300 to $600.

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How Long Does It Take To Repair a Steering Column?

car steering column repair
Most damages require professional help, so it’s recommended to have an expert take a look.

Repairing the steering column will take one to two hours on average. If the damage is severe, it could take three or more hours.

Can I Repair a Steering Column Myself?

Most damages require professional help, so it’s recommended to have an expert take a look. However, some steering column repairs are easy, especially if you’re dealing with minor issues, so it’s possible to do the repairs yourself if you have the necessary tools.

Closing Thoughts

Repairing or preventing further damage to the steering column is important to ensure safety while driving. Driving with little mobility, especially when turning, is reckless and could lead to irreversible damage.

It’s recommended to seek professional help when necessary, as there are dangers involved in attempting complex repairs at home. And as much as possible, having a mechanic look at the issues at home is paramount.

Where to Get a New Steering Column for Your Ride

The steering column is a vital part of the steering system, so don’t ignore the signs that it needs a replacement. Good thing it’s easy to find a new steering column that’s designed specifically for your daily driver at CarParts.com.

It only takes a few minutes to shop for an OE-grade steering column, thanks to our vehicle selector, search filters, and detailed fitment information. We have a wide selection of top-notch steering columns sourced from the best brands in the industry. What’s more, our parts come with a low price guarantee, so you won’t have to break the bank.

We have warehouses across the US to ensure fast and efficient shipping. You can expect your steering column replacement delivered straight to your doorsteps in as fast as a few days. All our products also come with a lifetime replacement, so you’re sure to get the best value for your money.

Take a look at our selection now and enjoy the best deals on our steering column replacements!

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com 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 CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

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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