Dear Car Talk:
No one seems to be able to figure this out: The steering wheel of my 2002 Ford Escape makes a loud rubbing sound whenever I turn it left or right. This sound only happens whenever I'm driving around on a hot day. Lately, the sound has gotten worse. My mechanic thinks there are plastic parts that must be expanding when it gets hot. No one can replicate this rubbing sound if it's a cool day, so what gives? The mechanic can't figure it out, and, understandably, he doesn't just want to drive it around on a hot day until he hears the noise.
I guess I'll have to make a direct bee-line to the mechanic as soon as I hear the rubbing sound, provided someone is even around at the time to check it on the spot. -- Laura
Oh, we've heard this noise lots of times, Laura. And we've never been able to figure out what causes it, either.
Your mechanic could be right. When the steering column's upper bearing wears out on this car, it can cause the plastic on the back of the steering wheel to rub against the plastic cowling at the top of the steering column. That can make a rubbing noise, especially when it's hot and everything expands.
Less likely, but also possible, is that your multifunction switch (that stalk that controls the directionals and headlights) is loose, and is rubbing against the steering wheel.
While the noise is probably not dangerous, I'd feel better if you had your mechanic hear it and confirm that. So next time it starts making the noise, drive over there and block the exit of their garage. That'll guarantee that someone will be instantly available to listen to it.
If your mechanic hears it and confirms that it's nothing dangerous, then, as an experiment, buy yourself a can of silicone spray. You'll also need a large apron of some kind. Maybe you can walk out with one after your next set of dental X-rays.
Then, next time you hear the noise, pull over, don the apron, and spray a shot of silicone in the space where the steering wheel meets the steering column. Leave the apron on for the rest of your drive, so the silicone doesn't drip all over your powder-blue pants suit.
If the noise goes away immediately, then you've at least identified the location. And, if you're lucky, it may stay gone for a while -- a girl can hope.
If the silicone does nothing or the noise comes back right away and it's really driving you nuts (which we can tell it is, Laura), then you ask your mechanic to dig in and investigate more. Unfortunately, figuring out exactly what it is will likely involve removing the steering wheel and poking around the steering column. And that runs into money.
And once you take the steering wheel off, it can be hard to reproduce the noise, because the parts may not be rubbing anymore. So try the silicone spray first. A couple of cans a year may be a lot cheaper than steering column surgery.
Maybe combine that with turning up the radio, Laura! Good luck.