There are a few things that can cause play in the front end.
First, I have to say Docfixit is a long time expert at diagnostics and his advice is golden. He will never steer you wrong.
I am going to give you my knowledge of what can cause play in the front end and you can follow up on checking them out.
The wheel bearing will generally make noise, especially when going around a turn, when they are bad. They tend to last the lifetime of a car, but you do have a lot of miles on it, so it could be bad.
The suspension has a few items that get loose with wear and tear.
If the loose play is in every direction, it is hard to say with the wheel on. You might want to remove the wheel to check the following suspension components;
Tie rods ends, inner and outer. These are at the ends of the steering rack.
The upper and lower ball joints. These are at the top and bottom of the steering knuckle, where the wheel bearing is. The lower ball joint tends to fail first.
Torsion arms and/or bushings. These come from the front of the sub frame and are bolted to the lower control arm. They have bushings in the front that can go bad but the bolts/nuts that hold them on can get loose.
Bushings are at every pivot point, more or less, to take up some of the shock and give the car a smoother ride. They are rubber and will fail over time. If they get bad enough, it will cause play in entire assemblies, such as the knuckle and control arm, and will affect handling.
When you remove the wheel, you can push and pull the suspension and grab the wheel hub to see if it moves in and out to check the wheel bearings.
If the wheel bearing is bad enough to have that much play, the car will handle irratically and you would hear it. It is a safety isssue though. If you find you can move the wheel hub, this is the part that the wheel attaches to, then replacign the bearing is necassary. With any loose components an alignment is possible but it is not worth doing as it will be out of alignment as soon as you move the car.
I hope this information helps.
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Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 AT 7:30 PM