Strange noises from your car’s undercarriage are always unsettling. One sound you might hear, indicating there’s a problem, is a popping noise while turning.
What does the sound mean, and what should you do about it? Let’s find out.
What Causes a Popping Noise When Turning? Five Common Causes
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as to why your car might be making a popping noise while turning. A wide range of problems can cause the issue, including (but not limited to) the following:
Worn Constant Velocity (CV) Joints
Vehicles with a front-wheel drive-bias layout have constant velocity (CV) axles that transfer rotational force (produced by the engine) from the transaxle to the front wheels.
Each CV axle has an inner and outer CV joint. The joints allow the CV axle shaft to move up and down as the vehicle travels over bumps. Also, the outer joints pivot to allow the front wheels to turn.
Worn outer CV joints can make a clicking, popping, or snapping sound when the vehicle is cornering and accelerating.
Binding Upper Strut Mounts
Some vehicles have front strut assemblies. The strut assemblies act as shock absorbers to dampen oscillations from the car’s suspension springs and (on most applications) provide a pivot point for the steering system.
Each strut assembly has a mount with a bearing that allows the unit to pivot. When the strut mount starts to wear out, you might start to hear a clunking or popping noise when turning the steering wheel.
Steering Gear Problems
There are two primary types of steering gears: steering racks and steering boxes. Both serve the same purpose of transferring input from the steering wheel (and the steering column) to the steering linkage and wheels.
If the internal components within the steering gear are worn out, you might hear a popping or clunking noise when turning the steering wheel.
Steering Column Issues
The steering column transfers driver input from the steering wheel to the steering gear. A coupling assembly (either a joint type or flexible design) connects the steering column to the steering gear. The steering column contains a shaft that rotates on support bearings.
Issues within the steering column or coupling assembly can potentially lead to a popping noise while turning.
Worn-out Ball Joint or Tie Rods
Ball joints and tie rods are an integral part of the steering and suspension system. The ball joints allow the steering knuckles, which are attached to the wheel/tire assemblies, to pivot when you turn the steering wheel. As for the tie rods, they transfer motion from the steering gear to the steering knuckles.
Each tie rod and ball joint has a ball-type socket with a stud that fits into the corresponding part of the steering system. It’s possible for the joints to create a clunking or popping noise when they wear out.
FAQ About Front-End Popping Noise When Turning
As was mentioned, there are many different issues that could cause a popping sound when turning. You (or your mechanic) will need to do some troubleshooting to determine the root cause of the problem.
Diagnosing a popping noise while turning can be difficult. Professionals can often use their years of experience to narrow down the list of possible causes.
But if you’re a DIYer trying to troubleshoot the problem yourself, there are a few avenues you can take. First, if the sound happens while the vehicle is stationary, you can have an assistant turn the steering wheel back and forth while you look underneath the vehicle for the source of the noise.
If the noise only happens while driving, you can try to pinpoint the sound using a type of electronic stethoscope, often referred to as chassis ears. Such tools come with microphones that you can place at suspect locations throughout the vehicle to help pinpoint the noise while driving.
You might also consider using a GoPro camera. The camera can be mounted to a suspect area on the vehicle. Then you can take a recording while driving and review the footage afterward to see if you can spot the source of the popping noise.
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic.