Ford F-150/F-250: Why Is My Steering Loose?

Steering has a tight feel when all of the components are working properly. Any looseness that you notice in your F-150 or F-250's steering could mean losing control of your truck. This article offers a flow chart of diagnostic procedures.

By Karen Randall - November 12, 2014

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014) and the Ford F-250, F-350 Super Duty (2005-2014).

Steering looseness usually occurs in F-150s and F-250s due to some mechanical wear in the steering linkage. These include the steering shaft, the steering box, and the steering linkages consisting of the tie rods, ends, and damper. Occasionally, looseness can be traced to the suspension system components such as the control arms or ball joints.

Checking the system requires mainly visual inspection. This can be performed by viewing the system as someone turns the wheel left and right. Look for any abnormal flexing at the various joints. The engine is running during this test so make sure the vehicle is in park, the emergency brake is set, and the rear wheels are blocked. Perform the same test with the wheels elevated. Then turn the vehicle off so that you can test for movement in the individual components. Test the joints for looseness by grabbing and shaking the components. Use a pry bar as another way to expose sloppy connections. Visually look for worn parts, dry joints (lacking grease), leaking joints, and cracked rubber. Any of these signs can indicate a problem.

Step 1 - Make sure lug nuts are tight

Just use the tire iron in the trucks spare tire compartment to make sure they’re snug. Loose wheels can cause the feeling of unresponsive steering.

Figure 1. Tire with lug nut cap removed.

Step 2 - Check tie-rod ends and control arms

Examine the tie-rod ends for play. Examine control arm bushings for play and damage.

If bushings and suspension components are in good condition, proceed.

  • Figure 2. The is where the lower control arm connects to the truck's frame. Examine the bushing around the bolt for cracks and evidence of breakage.
  • Figure 3. The tie-rod end in this picture is in good condition. Torn rubber boots and rust are good indicators that a tie-rod end is bad.
  • Figure 4. Outlined above is the tie-rod end of an F-250. It connects to the steering knuckle just like the F-150, even though the surrounding parts look different.

Step 3 - Inspect your lower steering shaft

Have a second person turn the steering wheel while you watch the steering linkages under the hood.

  • If there’s play in the joints or if they are binding, replace them.
  • If they’re noisy, spray them with lithium grease/WD40.
    • Figure 5. This rusted shaft is your lower steering shaft. The joint that the screwdriver is pointing to can bind up over time as rust builds up.
    • Figure 6. It's wise to replace the old steering shaft with a newer one if it's old. They're a fairly long lived part, so if you replace it, it's unlikely you'll have to do so again.

Additional Information

Loose steering is generally caused by a joint wearing out somewhere in the steering linkage. This includes ball joints and control arms and all their associated bushings.

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