My car steering is making a weird noise.
December 4, 2009 1:26 PM   Subscribe

When turning corners in either direction my car makes a loud humming/vibrating noise. It is not a sharp or neccessarily grinding noise. Any guesses as to what it may be? Can I pretend nothing is going on and ignore it longer? I have a Volvo AWD wagon '01.
posted by greensalsa to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Have you checked the power steering fluid level?
posted by TheOtherGuy at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2009

Does this happen when (1) while you're turning the steering wheel, or (2) when the car is proceeding through the turn?

(1) might be a powersteering problem
(2) might be a CV Joint problem

Either way, don't ignore it and get thee to a mechanic.
posted by randomstriker at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2009

Could also be your wheel bearings
posted by COD at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Odd, but check the plastic lining in your wheel wells; I had a similar noise, and it turned out that the lining had popped loose on one side and was dragging on the tire when I turned.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

if it's not clicking/grinding, I'd say power steering unit is the place to start. Is it harder to turn than it used to be?
posted by davejay at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2009

oh yeah, wheel bearings and physical contact between wheels and wheel fairings are also great suggestions.
posted by davejay at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2009

You have not told us all you know, so I am going to make some assumptions. You have not had new tires put on the vehicle lately. You have not had brake work done lately. The noise that you describe is the same at virtually every speed when the vehicle is moving but does not occur when the steering wheel is turned from side to side when the vehicle is standing still.

If all of the above is true, I believe it is the CV Joints as mentioned by randomstriker. As he says, don't ignore it and get thee to a mechanic.

If any of the above is not true, let us know.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2009

If CV joints fail, you will be stranded. You could visually inspect to see if the boots on the CV joints are torn, they sit right next to the front wheels. When they tear, dirt gets in there and destroys the joint.
posted by bprater at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2009

Bane of my 'effing existence, or at least as it extends to the car. It's the bushings on the control arms and tie-rods. You basically need new ones. I drove in NYC for years and needed new ones/alignment almost yearly. Achilles heel of the car. There's some talk about using V90 parts, as they are more durable. But there's a very god chance that is what it is - hie thee to a mechanic.
I read these two forums for answers about my really OK but occaisionally maddening Volvo wagon
posted by From Bklyn at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2009

Ask the Tappet brothers, Klik and Klak. They live for this type of stuff.
posted by diode at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2009

It happens when my car is proceeding through the turn, but not from just turning the wheel. It is a bit harder to turn than it used to be--a bit resistant. No new tires or brakes done recently.

Thanks for the great feedback. The Volvo advice helps a lot. This is my first Volvo and it has several Volvo-common problems that I didn't have with my old Honda. I guess I'll call the mechanic and give up the notion that ignoring it will fix it.
posted by greensalsa at 3:07 PM on December 4, 2009

Ok, so your Volvo is AWD, that means that there are three differentials in your car. A differential allows torque to be applied to the wheels while still allowing them to rotate at different speeds. For instance, whenever you make a turn, the wheels have to travel different distances. The inner wheel travels a shorter distance than the outer wheel, so that means the inner wheel turns slower and the outer wheel turns faster. Therefore, the front wheels have a differential between them, the rear wheels have a differential, and since all four wheels turn at different speeds, there's also a center differential.* Look in your owners manual and see if there's a scheduled service for any part of the all-wheel drive system. If they're not on a maintenance schedule, get them checked for leaks.

I've seen differentials make all sorts of weird noises and shudders when they're low on fluid or worn out. The rear diff on Honda CRVs is prone to growling, and Audi center differentials develop a strange shudder. Some center diffs lock up and make it really hard to make tight turns, like an old truck stuck in 4X4 mode.
A center differential does a lot of work and I'd guess that yours is starting to get old and cranky.

The other option is that one or more wheel bearings have deteriorated. Driving straight, they might not make as much noise as when the vehicle weight transfers side-to-side during a turn and the bearing loads and unloads, causing the noise to change.

I wouldn't ignore this, either way.

*Front and rear wheel drive cars have a single differential, in the front or rear respectively.
posted by Jon-o at 6:39 PM on December 4, 2009

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