What Causes Loose Steering or Too Much Play in the Steering Wheel on a Honda Civic?

by Craig Woodman
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The Honda Civic uses a rack-and-pinion type of steering gear, which attaches to the steering knuckle with two separate tie-rod assemblies to deliver steering forces to the front wheels. While this system is normally reliable, problems can occur, causing the steering to feel loose. Some self-evaluation can be completed by the technically savvy vehicle owner, but serious concerns may need to be evaluated and corrected by a professional technician.

Steering Gear Internal Components

Loose steering or play can be caused by an internal failure of the steering gear, or the rack-and-pinion unit. If the components inside are worn excessively, the input from the steering shaft may not be directly transmitted to the steering linkage and could cause play in the steering wheel. The steering rack is generally not serviced in the field and is usually replaced with a remanufactured or new unit. Observe movement of the steering shaft while a helper turns the wheel. If the input shaft to the steering gear is moving, but the tie-rods are not, suspect internal steering gear failure.

Tie-Rod Failure

Tie-rod failure can cause the steering to feel loose in a Honda Civic, which uses separate tie-rods for the left and right side that attach to the front-center of the steering gear. If the tie-rod is loose, it will allow movement of the assembly before it transmits the movement to the steering knuckle, causing the loose feeling. Check the tie rods for up and down movement by grasping them at the ends, pushing and pulling straight up and down. Any movement in the ball socket is a sign of failure. Also check the adjustment sleeve that joins the inner and outer tie rod together for loose bolts.

Steering Gear Mounting

The steering gear mounts to the unibody in the Honda Civic using two bolts that screw through the steering gear near the left and right end. If these bolts are loose, the entire gear may move when the steering wheel is turned before the tie rods move, causing looseness or play. Worn or deteriorated mounting cushions, or bushings, may cause the same concern.

Steering Column Checks

The steering column contains a steering shaft with a universal joint that attaches the steering wheel to the input shaft of the steering gear. The universal joint may be loose, or the steering column may not be bolted tightly to the vehicle. Check the universal joint for loose bolts, and check for play or movement in the joints. This may also be accompanied by a noise when you turn the steering wheel. The steering column mounts to the body of the vehicle with two mounting bolts and nuts at the base of the column, which should also be checked for tightness.

Other Factors

Any steering looseness or play is a serious matter, and the complete steering and suspension system should be inspected carefully when it's noticed. Other suspension components such as struts or ball joints and control arm bushings can cause the vehicle to feel loose. A loose wheel bearing may also be at fault.

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