Based on your comment about the steering wheel not returning, (I assume you mean while the car is moving), I would suspect binding upper strut mounts. That is not exactly a safety problem in itself, but poor steering wheel return can sure be irritating. Along with that, binding mounts will cause a banging or crunching noise when turning the steering wheel when the car is standing still. To find this, the car must be sitting with the weight on the wheels. Put your fingertips on the top of the coil spring, then have a helper turn the steering wheel. You should feel the spring turn smoothly along with the rest of the strut assembly. If you see the tire turn, but the top of the spring waits, then pops free and turns quickly, the upper mount needs to be replaced. Worn, broken, or missing ball bearings cause the binding. Those mounts are holding up the weight of the car while allowing free movement of the steering system. The binding also causes failure of the steering system to return to center on its own.
Tight ball joints can cause steering wheel return problems too, but are much less common, and usually don't cause a noise.
Thursday, March 4th, 2010 AT 3:51 PM