Ever noticed a peculiar popping sound while taking a turn in your car? At first, it might seem insignificant. You might even brush it off, blaming it on a stray pebble or minor road imperfection interfering with your tires’ smooth motion. However, as this noise persists and intensifies, it’s hard to ignore the glaring truth – this popping sound when you’re turning indicates something is amiss with your vehicle.
Hearing a pop sound when you make a turn in your car can signal certain issues. The primary suspects are usually problems with the CV joints, a weary suspension, or issues in the steering system. However, if the origin of the popping noise can be traced to a different part of the vehicle, it could indicate something more severe, such as an issue with the rear differential.
To troubleshoot why your car is making a popping noise when turning, we’ll need to consider the driving conditions when you hear the noise, where the noise seems to be coming from, and some of the more common mechanical components that may be on the brink of failure.
7 Exact Situations That Can Cause Popping Noise When Turning
The situations and driving conditions that cause your car to make a popping noise when turning and where the noise seems to be coming from will help you zero in on what mechanical other faults are at play.
1. The Car Makes a Popping Sound When Turning at Low Speeds
If your car is making a crunching or popping noise when turning at low speed-it could be that the lower control arm is striking the steering knuckle. In such a case, the noise and vibration would be more pronounced in tight turns. The popping sound is often caused by movement between the steering gear’s threaded bolts and the inboard frame rail of the steering gear.
2. Car Makes a Single Pop When Turning
A single pop when turning can be a sign that your car has a bad VC joint. This is more likely to happen when you turn sharply in one direction. At this stage of the problem, it might be that the CV boot has started to fail. It’s a protective piece of plastic that keeps dirt and road debris from getting in while also helping to maintain proper lubrication inside the CV joint itself.
Another possibility here is that you have a bad strut or strut mount. The suspension system is under increased stress when turning. Especially when turning at high speed. The problem then shows up the loudest if there’s a loss of hydraulic fluid or a loose mounting bolt during high-stress turns.
3. Car Makes a Popping Noise Only When Turning Left or Right
If your car is making a popping or grinding noise only when you turn left or only when you turn right, it could be telling you that the CV joints are bad. At this point, the protective boot has likely failed completely, the lubrication has broken down in the joint, and you might even have road debris messing with the proper function of the CV axle as it starts to rotate.
The side you hear the noise from will tell you which CV joint is in trouble. You’re more likely to hear it when you’re taking slow, sharp turns, as this places the most stress on the CV joint. The bad CV joint is likely making popping and grinding noises at higher speeds, but they’re harder to notice as they get lost in the ambient road noise.
Another possibility here is that you have worn-out tie rods or ball joints. This, too, could cause a popping noise with a “Clunking” vibration when you turn left or right.
4. Car Makes a Popping Noise When Turning & Steering Vibrates
If your steering column vibrates at the same time your car makes a popping noise when turning, it could be a problem with the steering rack/steering gear or a bearing in the steering column itself. In a scenario like this, you might also notice that the steering feels loose and has more play.
As the problem degrades, you might have to make minor steering wheel turns just to keep the car driving in a straight line. This can be a serious road safety issue; the steering system could fail if it’s not corrected.
5. The Car Makes a Popping and grinding Noise in the Back
Popping and grinding noises that sound like they’re coming from the car’s rear end could be a problem with the rear differential. You’ll notice this more when making tight turns; the back end might even shutter.
Sometimes, when the pinion bearings inside the rear differential start going out, the interrupted performance that causes the wheels to not spin smoothly will cause a tire to chirp or squeal momentarily. This is essentially the tire’s rubber skidding for a fraction of a second when the wheel can’t keep up with the road speed. The longer you let a problem like this go, the more expensive the rear differential repair bill will be.
6. Car Makes a Popping Noise When Turning & Braking
Several things could cause a popping noise when turning and braking simultaneously. The most obvious is bad CV joints. However, a brake caliper problem or loose brake pads could also be afoot.
The loose pads can jump when you brake, causing intermittent contact with the brake rotor. In a case like this, you would also experience a noticeable increase in your car’s braking distance. You might also notice the car pulling to one side every time you brake.
7 Common Reasons for Popping Noises While Turning Your Car
Once you have a good idea of what’s causing the popping noise when you turn, you can focus on what you can do to fix it. Sometimes, there’s a quick fix available, though you’re usually looking at a more serious repair job from a professional mechanic.
1. The Lower Control Arm Contacting the Steering Knuckle
A popping noise from the control arm contacting the steering knuckle when you turn can usually be traced back to the bushings wearing out. If you can get at it, take a look at the inboard frame rail where the steering gear is attached. Look to see if there’s contact with the bolt threads. The bushings will likely go out if you see signs of wear and contact.
How to Fix Lower Control Arm Contact
If the bushings are starting to go out, the contact with the steering knuckle is minimal. You might be able to get away with a quick fix of coating the control arm’s contact points with a glaze of automotive-grade grease.
Though this is only a short-term fix, it will buy you some time to save up for a more major repair.
If the control arm appears to be causing damage to the steering knuckle, and you’ve noticed play or moments where the steering seems to lock up for a split second, you’ll need a mechanic’s help.
This is generally outside the range of what a DIY mechanic can do with basic tools, as the mechanic might need to replace both the lower control arm and the steering knuckle.
The parts cost for both will run you between $450 to $600.
The mechanic’s labor cost will add another $150 to $225 to the final repair cost of $600 to $825.
2. Bad CV Joints
Bad CV joints are one of the most common causes of popping and clicking sounds when turning and braking. CV stands for “Constant Velocity,” as these joints are responsible for transferring the rotational force produced by the engine from the transaxle to the front wheels.
Every CV axle has an inner and outer CV joint. This configuration allows the CV axle shaft to move smoothly up and down when the car goes over bumps, potholes, and other road obstacles. At the same time, the outer CV joint pivots allow the front wheels to turn smoothly.
If the CV boot fails, the joint can lose the lubrication the parts need to work smoothly. It can also allow road grime, peddles, and other debris to interfere with the joint. However, it’s also possible for a CV joint to wear out over time.
How to Diagnose a Bad CV Joint
You can usually spot a CV joint problem with a simple visual inspection. Just jack up the car and block it off. Then, look at where the axle joints the wheel. There should be a rubber corrugated CV boot. The boot has failed if it has rips, tears, or cracks, or you see signs of grease. Chances are good the CV joint itself is also compromised to the point that it needs to be replaced.
How to Fix Bad CV Joints
In the past, the way to fix a bad CV joint was to replace the joint and fit a new boot. Though today, the wise-money move is to buy a whole transaxle with a CV boot. Then, do a complete replacement. With most models, this is cheaper in the long and short term than replacing the boot, especially since there’s a good chance the transaxle has been through a lot, and if it doesn’t have a problem now, it very likely could in the future.
Replacing the transaxle might push the limits of what the average DIY mechanic can handle. However, if you’ve tackled something like this before, it can save you a little money to replace your own CV joint and transaxle.
The parts cost for a new CV joint with transaxle runs between $85 to $175. If you plan to do the job yourself, you can expect it to eat an entire Saturday afternoon.
If you have a mechanic handle the CV joint replacement, it will add another $150 to $200 to the final repair bill of $250 to $400.
3. Bad Strut Mounts
Problems with the front strut assembly can also cause your car to make a popping or clunking noise when turning. The strut essentially acts as a shock absorber to help dampen the transfer of force from the car’s suspension springs. This also provides a smooth pivot point for the steering system.
Within each strut mount, a special bearing keeps this pivoting motion smooth. As the strut mount suffers wear and tear, the clunking or popping noise will worsen when you turn the steering wheel. Yet it might be completely quiet when driving down a smooth stretch of open road.
How to Diagnose a Bad Strut Mount
If you suspect a bad strut mount is the root cause of the popping sound, you should start by looking at the rubber mount where it meets the body of the car. Usually, all the play caused by a bad mount or bearing will cause the rubber to tear or look deteriorated. If the rubber degraded, it’s possible that road grime got in, fouling the bearing and causing it to fail prematurely.
You might also be able to pop the hood to check how the strut mount looks on the other side of the frame. If you shake the car up and down and you see the mount moving, or it clunks when you do so, it’s further confirmation that the strut mount has worn out.
In some cases, you might also notice minor alignment issues with the steering. Left unchecked it can even start to affect treadwear on the tires. At the same time, the suspension system will also seem rough, and the car’s steering might be jerky at times.
How to Fix a Bad Strut Mount
If it’s just the strut mount that’s bad, and the strut itself doesn’t show any signs of damage, you might be able to replace the mount itself. However, this calls for pulling out the entire strut assembly. The nuts-and-bolts part of this is relatively easy. However, reinstalling the strut assembly requires compressing the springs via special spring compressors. If you don’t have them, or it’s outside your comfort zone, there’s no shame in bringing the car to a mechanic.
The part cost to replace just a bad strut mount ranges between $55 to $100. Doing it yourself can eat up the bulk of a Saturday afternoon but could save you a lot of money in labor costs.
If you have a mechanic replace the strut mount and reinstall the strut, it could add another $125 to $150 to the final repair bill.
4. A Steering Gear or Steering Rack Problem
A problem with the steering gear or the steering rack is also another common cause of popping and clicking noises when turning. Steering racks are more common in modern cars, though both racks and steering gears serve the same purpose in directly translating the steering wheel’s rotational motion into the wheels’ linear motion. It works in tandem with the steering linkage as you turn.
How to Diagnose a Steering Gear or Steering Rack Problem
The earliest signs of a steering rack or steering gear problem start out as a popping or clicking noise when you turn. Other signs of a bad steering gear or rack can include things like grinding noises, the steering momentarily locking up, hard suspension, and other handling problems.
If you’ve noticed symptoms like this, you should perform a visual inspection under the car. Take a look at the rack and pinon components. Look for signs of leakage or degraded rubber in the boot, and check to ensure the anchor bolt is seated rock-solid.
You can then connect a pressure gauge to the high-pressure line on the pinon. If it’s under 1,000 PSI, you likely have a bad pinion or a bad pinion seal.
How to Fix a Bad Steering Rack
If the steering has been wandering right to the left, it might be that the anchor bolt is loose. If it’s just a matter of the fastener, and there isn’t any rust causing it to play loose, you might be able to get away with tightening the anchor bolt down.
Otherwise, you’re likely looking at replacing the rack and pinion. The nuts and bolts part of a job like this is something a capable DIY mechanic can do on their own. However, it can take a lot of time, and if you get stuck, the car will be undrivable for getting it to the mechanic.
The part cost for a new rack and pinon can range from $125 to $400. However, some high-end models might cost over $500.
The labor cost to have a mechanic handle the repair can add another $250 to $400 to the final repair bill.
5. Steering Column Issues
A problem with the steering column can sometimes be mistaken for a rack or steering gear problem when the car makes a popping noise when cornering with a grinding vibration in the steering wheel. In a case like this, it’s often a problem in the steering column assembly’s U-joints or a problem with the shaft bearing.
How to Diagnose a Steering Column Problem
If the steering column assembly or bearing is bad, you’ll often notice the steering wheel feeling overly tight, especially at low-speed turns. The tightness and the popping will be proportional to each other. You’ll get more popping the tighter the turn at slow speeds. You’ll probably also notice some play in the wheel that stops with a thud or a clunk.
If someone is sitting outside the car with the hood popped, have another person turn the wheel. Look at the U-joints that connect the steering shaft near the firewall.
How to Fix a Steering Column Problem
If the popping sound you hear and feel when you turn is due to a failing steering column, replacing the entire steering shaft with its U-Joints is the easiest answer.
6. Bad Tie Rods and Ball Joints
Excessive wear within the ball and socket of a tie rod´s outer end can cause popping and clunking when you turn the wheels. Ball joints and tie rods work in tandem with the steering system and suspension to allow the steering knuckles attached to the wheels to pivot when as you turn the steering wheel.
Every tie rod has its own ball joint with a ball and socket. There’s also a heavy-duty stud that fits into the secures it to the steering system. As these components continue to wear out, the popping noise can worsen into clunking.
At this point, it’s a severe safety risk as the tie rod could break. If it does, you’ll completely lose steering control, and the wheel itself could come off while you’re traveling at a dangerous speed!
How to Diagnose Bad Tie Rods and Ball Joints
Popping and clunking noises when turning are just two audible symptoms of bad tie rods and/or ball joints. You’ll likely also notice a lot of play in the steering and alignment issues, which might lead to excessive uneven tire wear.
You can use the following steps to get a better idea of just how bad the tie rods and ball joints are.
If the tie rods and ball joints are in good condition, they should be rock-solid, and you shouldn’t be able to move the wheel more than a few millimeters. If the wheel moves an inch or more, making clunking noises or feeling loose when manipulated, you likely have bad tie rods and ball joints causing the popping noise.
How to Fix Bad Tie Rods and Ball Joints
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for bad tie rods and ball joints. If you have play in the wheel when you jack it up, and the car makes a popping or clunking noise when you turn a corner, the entire tie rod and ball joint assembly will need to be replaced. This usually also means replacing the entire control arm. You might also need to replace some suspension system components.
There’s an obvious temptation to try to tackle a job like this yourself. Yes, if you are capable of it, you can save an enormous amount of money in labor time. However, you’ll likely also be tempted to skimp on things like replacing the suspension components, which could come back to haunt you later when you need to pay a mechanic to update the suspension a few months later.
If you feel you can replace your ball joints, tie rods, and other affected/rusty components, it will save you money. However, if you feel it’s out of your depth or there’s a lot of rust in the way, the wise move, in the long run, might just be to take it to a mechanic. It’s usually wise to do both front tie rods, even if the other one isn’t yet giving you trouble.
The parts cost for just new tie rods and ball joints can range from $75 to $150.
The labor cost to have a mechanic install it can range wildly depending on how much rust there is and if other components like the control arm and the suspension system need total replacement.
If it’s just the tie rods and ball joints, the basic labor cost will add another $120 to $200 to the final repair bill.
7. A Problem with the Rear Differential
If you hear a popping, grinding, or repetitive clunking noise coming from the back wheels, chances are good you have a problem with the rear differential. In a case like this, it’s usually a problem with backlash in the normally tight pinion gears or worn-out differential-case bearings.
The rear differential plays a critical role in coordinating the different rotational speeds of the back tires. When you turn a corner, the inside rear tire is moving much slower than the front one, which has to travel a greater difference. When something goes wrong inside the rear differential, the two wheels no longer work together smoothly.
How to Diagnose a Bad Rear Differential
A bad rear differential will also affect handling and popping, grinding, or clunking noise in the back end when you turn a corner. You might even hear one of the tires chirp as it skids, trying to catch up.
Take a look under the car at the rear differential. It’s that big pumpkin-looking thing in the middle of the rear axle. If the differential seal has a leak or a bad gasket, it could be losing fluid, causing excess friction, and making the gear grind and pop. You’ll notice this early on when you turn, but eventually, the rear differential will start humming and grinding at any speed, even when driving straight.
It’s possible to inspect your rear differential physically. However, it will require lifting the car and removing the rear differential housing, which will also require you to change the rear differential fluid completely. From a nuts-and-bolts standpoint, this isn’t all that hard, but it can be a challenge for a layman to do correctly. So, if it’s beyond your comfort zone, it might be best to leave it to a mechanic.
Otherwise, you can inspect the gears inside your rear differential with the following steps.
Look at the fluid for small metal pieces, indicating grinding or damaged gears.
If there are any pits, gouging, or excessive wear on one or more pinion gear teeth, you will likely have found the cause of the rear popping noise when you turn.
How to Fix a Bad Pinon Gear in a Rear Differential
Pinion problems, worn gears, and bearings in a rear differential are usually outside what a DIY mechanic can handle independently. It requires a lot of special tools, such as a hydraulic shop press, and if you get something wrong, it could cause unnecessary severe damage to other rear differential and axle components. So, it’s probably best to take it to a mechanic. They can thoroughly inspect all the rear differential components and replace pinion bearings, gears, and other compromised components in a fraction of the time.
The part cost for a replacement pinion bearing is relatively cheap, ranging from $75 to $175.
The labor cost will set you back the most, as you can expect the mechanic to add another $185 to $275 to the final repair bill.
Though you should note that these estimates are just for a pinion problem, there will likely be other issues in the differential, and the additional cost to replace the differential fluid can add another $100 or more to the final repair bill.
Frequently Asked Questions
What To Do If Popping Noise When Turning the Car?
If your car is making a popping noise when you turn, you might be able to drive it for a little while without causing any serious damage. The cause, conditions, and other symptoms that are also going on will tell you if you need to park the car and have it towed.
Signs of a more severe problem that requires you to stop driving include:
Can a Bad Bearing Cause a Popping Noise When Turning?
A bad wheel bearing in the front or rear axle bearing can certainly make a popping noise when you turn. However, the noise of a bad bearing will continue as you accelerate. You’ll even hear it when you’re driving straight forward, getting higher in pitch the faster you go until it finally vanishes into the ambient road noise. So, it’s not a problem that you would only notice when turning.
Don’t Ignore Popping Noises
Anytime your car is making a popping noise when turning, it’s a sign of a serious problem that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Many times, it’s a problem with one of the CV joints. This is a reasonably affordable fix that you can do on your own for a parts cost of less than $200.
If you’re also hearing a clunking sound with the popping noise, and the steering has a lot of play in it, then there’s a real concern that the control arm is hitting the steering knuckle or the steering system itself has a major fault.
A visual inspection of the steering shaft will help eliminate it as a possible cause or confirm that you need to keep digging deeper. Visually inspecting and pressure testing the rack and pinion, as well as its anchor bolt, is also relatively easy and will help give you a better idea of what needs to be replaced or repaired.
While you’re at it, check the tie rods and ball joints. If they have a lot of play and/or the suspension system looks like it’s giving out, you’ll need to replace them.
If the popping noise comes from the rear end, and you’ve been hearing other noises or barking tires when you go around a corner, you might have a rear differential problem. While you can visually confirm this by opening the housing and replacing the fluid, it’s usually a job beyond what a DIY mechanic can truly handle.
Jason Farrell is a certified master technician, the editor of Mechanic’s Diary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Automotive Technology from Pittsburg State University. With nearly 18 prior years of experience in the automotive field, he has extensive knowledge about Domestic, European, and other foreign makes and models of cars and light trucks. Jason’s experience working as a technician and service manager at dealerships, gave him the experience and know-how of most aspects of inspection, diagnosis, and repair from engine and drivability to electrical, HVAC, brakes, steering and suspension and everything in between.