Knocking When Turning at Low Speed – Causes & Best Fixes

Turning your steering wheel and hearing knocking noises can be alarming. While some knocking sounds when turning at low speeds may be harmless, others can indicate serious issues that need attention.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore all the possible causes of knocking when turning at low speeds. We’ll cover common problems like bad ball joints, tie rods, steering racks, and more.

You’ll also learn how to diagnose the knocking, determine if it’s safe to drive and find solutions to stop the knocking for good. Let’s get started!

Common Causes of Knocking When Turning at Low Speeds

There are a few common car components that can cause knocking noises when turning at low speeds if they become damaged or worn out. Here are some of the most likely culprits:

1. Worn Tie Rod Ends

Your tie rods connect your steering system to the wheels, helping transfer motion to make turns. The ends have ball joints that can wear out over time. Damaged tie rod ends can make clunking or knocking noises when turning the steering wheel at slow speeds.

2. Bad Control Arm Ball Joints

Ball joints connect your vehicle’s control arms to the steering knuckles. As tie rod ends, the ball joints wear down with use and can cause knocking noises during turns when loose or worn down. Lower control arm ball joints generally wear faster as they handle more strain.

3. Faulty Sway Bar Links

Sway (stabilizer) bar links connect your sway bars to the control arms. Their ball joints wear over time and can also click or clunk when turning the wheel if the joints become too loose.

4. Worn Strut Mounts

Strut mounts connect the struts to the vehicle frame. If the rubber deteriorates, the mount can move excessively and knock when turning the steering wheel.

5. Damaged Power Steering Rack

The steering rack connects your steering wheel to the front wheels. If the rack and pinion gears become damaged from wear or leaks, it can cause clunking sounds during turns.

6. Bad Wheel Bearings

Wheel bearings allow your wheels to spin freely. But worn bearings can click or clunk when putting stress on them by turning the steering wheel.

7. CV Joint Failure

CV axle joints connect your wheels to the transmission and can wear down over time. Damaged CV joints may click or pop when turning.

8. Loose Steering Column

The steering column connects the steering wheel to the steering gear. If connections come loose, it can cause clunks when turning the steering wheel.

9. Low Power Steering Fluid

Insufficient power steering fluid can lead to pump cavitation, causing knocking noises from the power steering system when turning.

10. Bad Intermediate Steering Shaft

This shaft connects sections of the steering system. If the joints become worn, it can cause a clunking or popping noise when turning the steering wheel.

Other Causes of Knocking When Turning the Steering Wheel

In addition to worn steering and suspension components, some other issues can also lead to knocking noises when turning at low speeds:

  • Contaminated power steering fluid: Dirty fluid with debris can damage the power steering pump, causing knocking from low fluid pressure.
  • Loose or damaged steering gear: The steering rack gears or recirculating ball gears can clunk if damaged or have too much play.
  • Bad steering gearbox mounts: Like strut mounts, deteriorated steering gear mounts can clunk over bumps and turns.
  • Damaged steering coupler: The coupler allows flex between steering components. If cracked or loose, it can click when turning.
  • Engine problems: Issues like worn pistons or crankshaft bearings can cause engine knocking when turning.
  • Loose exhaust components: Heat expansion and contraction can loosen exhaust parts, leading to rattling or knocking when steering.
  • Bad belts/accessories: Faulty components like power steering belts and pulleys can make noises when bearings wear or parts are misaligned.

Diagnosing the Source of Knocking Noises When Turning

Locating exactly where knocking noises come from when turning at low speeds takes some investigation. Here are some tips:

  • Replicate the noise at different speeds – The source may be more apparent at lower or higher speeds.
  • Listen from different locations – Stand outside the car or have someone else turn the wheel while you listen.
  • Check vibration – Feel any vibrations in the steering wheel that match the knocking.
  • Turn in both directions – Noise from one side points to that side’s components.
  • Visual inspection – Look for any loose or damaged parts around the wheels, steering, and suspension.the 
  • Test components – Have an assistant turn the wheel as you check tie rods, ball joints, engine mounts, etc. by hand for excessive play.
  • Review service history – Look for any previous issues noted with steering or suspension.

Getting up on a lift and having someone turn the wheel while you listen and feel for play-in components is an effective way to zero in on the problem. But if the cause isn’t obvious, a test drive with an experienced technician can help pin it down.

Dangers of Driving with Knocking When Turning at Low Speed

While you may be tempted to just live with minor knocking noises when turning, it’s risky to continue driving without having the cause inspected. Driving with worn steering and suspension components can potentially lead to several safety issues:

  • Loss of steering control: Severely worn parts like tie rods can fail while driving if left unfixed. This may lead to a loss of steering control.
  • Difficulty turning: Excessive looseness in steering components makes the vehicle harder to steer reliably.
  • Uneven tire wear: Bad wheel bearings or ball joints that have too much play cause improper wheel alignments that accelerate tire wear.
  • Vehicle wandering: Loose components will allow wheels to flutter and cause the vehicle to wander unpredictably.
  • Wheel collapse: If ball joints completely fail, the wheel can detach or collapse from the control arm.
  • Harder braking: Knocking sounds from the wheels indicate braking performance may suffer from uneven wear.

The bottom line is that worn steering and suspension parts reduce critical vehicle control and safety margins. So you should have any persistent knocking noise when turning inspected right away.

How to Stop Knocking Noises When Turning the Steering Wheel

The solution you need to stop knocking noises when steering depends on the cause. Here are some common repairs:

  • Tie rods – Replace worn tie rod ends. Both inner and outer tie rods may need replacing.
  • Ball joints – Replace any loose, cracked, or damaged ball joints throughout the suspension. Use grease fittings regularly.
  • Control arms – If the ball joint is not replaceable separately, replace the full control arm.
  • Stabilizer links – Replace sloppy stabilizer bar links causing knocking during turns.
  • Power steering rack – A damaged steering rack needs to be replaced fully. Check fluid level regularly.
  • Wheel bearings – Replace severely worn or damaged wheel bearings making noise during turns.
  • Strut mounts – Inspect and replace any deteriorated, torn, or cracked strut mounts.
  • CV joints – Replace any clicking CV joints and examine torn CV boots. Grease fittings when servicing.
  • Intermediate shaft – Replace the intermediate steering shaft if the joints are excessively worn.
  • Power steering fluid – Top up the power steering fluid if low. Flushing contaminated fluid can quiet knocking.
  • Alignment – Get an alignment done after any major steering or suspension repairs.

Regularly inspecting steering and suspension components once they near higher mileage goes a long way to prevent steering noises and potentially dangerous failures. But if you already have persistent knocking noises from the wheels during turns, don’t delay getting it checked and repaired properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my car make a knocking sound at low speeds?

The most common causes of knocking noises at low speeds are worn steering and suspension components. Bad ball joints, tie rods, control arms, struts, and other parts can click and clunk when turning at low speeds before they completely fail.

Why do I hear a knocking sound when turning?

A knocking, clunking, or clicking noise when turning almost always indicates an issue with the steering and front suspension parts. Problems like degraded tie rod ends, faulty sway bar links, loose wheel bearings, bad strut mounts, and worn ball joints can make noise when turning before failure.

Can low-power steering fluid cause knocking?

Yes, low-power steering fluid can allow air pockets to form in the system, causing a knock or clunk when turning the wheel. Topping up the fluid level may quiet the knocking noise if that was the cause.

Why does my steering wheel make a popping sound when I turn at low speed?

If your steering wheel makes more of a popping noise when turned, this often points to worn universal joints in the steering column itself. But ball joints and bushings can also clunk and pop from wear during turns.

Does rod knock go away with rpm?

Rod knock caused by worn piston rod bearings will usually get quieter with higher RPM, unlike valvetrain noises which rise with RPM. So if the knocking lessens when revving the engine higher, worn bearings could be the cause.

How do you fix knocking?

To properly fix knocking noises when turning or accelerating, you need to determine the cause – whether it’s worn steering/suspension parts, engine bearing wear, or something else. Replacing the specific worn components, like ball joints or tie rods, is the proper fix.

Conclusion

Hearing knocking, clunking, or popping noises when turning your steering wheel at low speeds can be a worrying sign. While some minor noises may come from harmless loose components, persistent knocking likely means you have worn parts needing repair.

Catching and correcting issues like deteriorated tie rods, ball joints, wheel bearings, and other critical steering and suspension components before failure gives you much better control and prevents accidents. If the diagnosis isn’t obvious yourself, have a professional identify the cause so you can get it fixed properly. But don’t ignore consistent knocking noises – get it inspected right away for your safety.

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