While disconcerting that your steering wheel jerks violently from side-to-side, the solution is an easier fix than you might think
If you’ve come across this blog post, chances are you came back to your car with a dead battery, got a jump-start from a friendly passerby or jumped it yourself, and made it less than a mile before your steering wheel started jerking on its own with no input from you.
According to some helpful car guys on Reddit’s /r/MechanicAdvice subreddit, a jerking steering wheel after a jump start probably means your car is equipped with electric power steering (as opposed to the older hydraulic power steering) which requires a steady amount of electric power from your car’s battery.
Reddit user @entotheenth says,
“Electric power steering is trying to assist but drawing so much power that is dropping battery voltage too much so it’s stopping the drive current, which raises battery voltage, so it tries again.”
Here are a two videos showing what you probably are experiencing.
If you’re not sure if your car has electrical power steering or not, google the “year+make+model” and “electric power steering.” Alternatively, you can just ask google, “Does my 2016 Honda Civic have electric power steering?” and Google most likely will come up with an answer.
A jerking steering wheel is only a symptom to a larger electrical issue. According to Reddit user @sum_mexican,
“This is typical for Mazdas that have dead batteries. I’ve dealt with my fair share of them working at a dealership, the power steering is electric so that’s what’s causing your steering wheel to jerk like that. If you can, get a voltage meter and check the battery, it should be reading over 12.5 volts. If you can’t then take your battery to get tested, it’s always a good idea to double-check things.“
If you have a fairly new car, a good battery, and you don’t suspect something amiss in your electrical system, you can drive around for at least 15 minutes as your alternator charges up your battery. With enough charge, your electric power steering system should return to normal (no more jerking.)
But, if your dead battery is because your car’s been sitting for months without starting up, the battery’s several years old, or you’ve been coming back to a dead battery often, you need to do some poking and testing around to determine if you need a new battery, if your alternator’s OK, or if there’s a current draw somewhere draining your battery after you shut your car off.
Typically, you’ll either need to drive around a bit for your battery to charge or you’ll need a new battery. If not, a bit of diagnosing from a trained mechanic should find the problem.
Either way, don’t worry, it’s not to serious, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.