Bad Clock Spring Symptoms: Diagnoses and Fixes

Have you ever wondered how those buttons on the steering wheel communicate with the car computer even when you turn the wheel in any direction?

The clock spring collects the driver’s command when he presses these buttons and signals the car computer. The clock spring is hidden on the steering column to carry out a seamless operation. For this reason, most car owners, motorists, and amateur mechanics are unfamiliar with it.

You’ll see several buttons when you look at the steering wheel on some newer cars. The clock spring controls all these buttons. And this means many system components will be disabled when the clock spring fails.

Here, Rx mechanic expert teams will discuss the bad clock spring symptoms and how to diagnose and repair clock spring. You’ll also know the clock spring repair cost. But first, let’s discuss the signs you should watch out for.

what causes a clock spring to go bad

Bad Clock Spring Symptoms

The most prominent sign of a bad clock spring is the SRS warning light on the instrument cluster. Some other symptoms include malfunctioning horn and faulty steering wheel buttons. In some cars, the traction warning light will pop up on the dashboard.

Let’s explore these bad clock springs on jeeps and other vehicle models.

Unresponsive steering wheel buttons

Many newer car models have electronic component control buttons on the steering wheel. Examples of these buttons are cruise control buttons, radio volume buttons, phone dial buttons, etcetera.

If some or all of these buttons stop working, there’s a likelihood that something is broken in the clock spring unit or it is completely bad. The clock spring is the culprit if all the buttons are not working.

But if some are functioning correctly and others are not, try turning the steering wheel to any position while you press the buttons. If they work in some steering wheel position, inspect the clock spring.

Horn not working

The first and common sign of a bad clock spring is an unresponsive horn. This is because we blow the horn so often. Since the horn is also connected to the clock spring, it’ll stop working once the spring fails.

This should call for urgent attention to track and fix the root cause as soon as possible. The horn will not function even if you replace it with a new one until you repair or replace the clock spring.

Blown fuses

A bad clock spring may constantly cause blown fuses on one or more of the steering wheel control electronic component fuses. This primarily happens when live circuit wires move around, arcing off their grounded areas.

When live circuit wires start moving around and arcing off their ground surface, the metal strips on the corresponding fuses will be cut to prevent the key components from damaging.

Strange noise from the steering wheel

Sometimes, when a clock spring fails, it’ll cause strange noises from the steering wheel. But, you may wonder, what does a bad clock spring sound like? A bad clock spring will cause a grinding or rubbing noise.

This happens due to physical contact between some parts of the broken clock spring and the steering wheel column. With a broken clock spring in place, when you steer the wheel, the broken parts drag on the wheel column where it’s not supposed to.

Traction control warning light

The throttle control system, traction control system, and cruise control work in harmony. This implies that if the cruise control cable in the clock spring fails, the car computer will trigger the electronic throttle control and traction control warning light on the dashboard.

This may be a bit confusing to determine if a bad clock spring is a culprit when the electronic throttle and traction control light pops up on the dashboard. In any case, you track the root cause by scanning and pulling out the registered fault codes.

Illumination of airbag warning light

Even if you have an old model car with fewer or no functions on the steering wheel, the truth is it has an airbag. The airbag is a critical safety system. A tiny fault will cause the car computer to project the airbag light on the dashboard to notify the driver of an imminent issue with the system.

The reason is that any small impact can cause the airbag to deploy or not to deploy in case of an accident. So, if you ask, will airbags deploy with a bad clock spring? Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer because the airbag can deploy or will not deploy even if you have a crash.

This shows why it is essential to track the cause of the airbag light on the dashboard and fix it on time.

Smoke emitting from the steering wheel.

A bad clock spring may cause smoke to come from the steering wheel. This is an ugly situation. Once you start experiencing steam of smoke from the steering wheel, know that you have a bad clock spring.

I know you’ll be wondering, why the smoke? What’s causing it? The smoke steam occurs when the clock spring breaks, causing electric arching within the steering column unit. In the early stage, the smoke will be light and small. But as the arcing intensifies, the smoke will increase.

Can I drive with a bad clock spring? Driving with a bad clock spring, especially the one emitting smoke from the steering wheel, is very dangerous because it can result in other more significant problems. Depending on the severity, you may safely drive with it for a short period. In any case, this is not ideal and not recommended. Fix the problem as soon as possible.

How do you diagnose a clock spring?

Diagnosing a faulty airbag clock spring is simple and straight to the point. However, if you’re doing this for the first time, you may face some hustles in removing the clock spring from the steering column. We’ll explain how to do that in the next section. But let’s delve straight into how to test a clock spring.

  • Remove the clock spring from its position and place it on a table
  • Get your digital multimeter and set it on resistance reading
  • Test the two probes on the multimeter by touching them on each other
  • Test the clock spring connector for continuity. You should have the same or close to the same reading you recorded earlier.
  • Turn the clock spring while testing it. The reading should increase and decrease while turning it.

You have a bad clock spring if you do not get these results. Watch this YouTube video for visual clarification.

How to fix bad clock spring

Once a proper diagnosis proves you have a faulty clock spring, replacing the lousy components is the best option. You can also decide to repair the clock, depending on the cause of the problem. Here’s a simplified guide on repairing or replacing a bad clock spring.

  • Turn off the car and disconnect the negative and positive battery terminal
  • Leave the vehicle for 20 to 30 minutes to diminish the electric flow on the airbag.
  • Disconnect the wheel assembly
  • Disconnect the airbag sockets and unbolt the bolts holding the clock spring
  • Keep the airbag in a safe place. Don’t forget to face it up
  • Get the right socket and loosen the center bolt
  • Get a marker and mark where the wheel and steering column are facing
  • Remove the steering wheel.
  • Unplug the connectors and disconnect the wires
  • Take off the faulty clock spring and reinstall the new part
  • Connect the wiring harness
  • Reinstall the steering wheel and ensure its properly aligned
  • Reinstall the airbag and the wiring harness
  • Reinstall the steering wheel cover and tighten all the screws
  • Connect the battery terminals.

can a bad clock spring symptoms

FAQs:

Q: Does a bad clock spring make noise?

Yes. A rubbing, clicking, or grinding noise accompanies other signs of a lousy clock spring. The noise comes from the rubbing friction between a broken part of the clock spring and the steering column. When you steer the wheel, the broken part drags unintended areas, causing a strange noise from the steering wheel.

Q: Can you reset the clock spring?

There are two practical ways to reset a clock spring. The method is easy and doesn’t require any tools, while the second one requires a scanning machine. Let’s explore the first method.

  • Turn on the vehicle and leave it to run for some minutes.
  • Steer the wheel to the extreme left
  • Return it to the extreme right
  • Repeat step 2 and 3 three times
  • Test run the vehicle for around 20 to 30 minutes.

If you follow these steps religiously, the car computer should reset the clock spring and erase the traction control light and the electronic throttle warning light. However, if this reset process proves abortive, you’ll need a scanning machine to reset the clock spring. So plug the scan tool into the OBD port on your car and follow the procedure to reset the spring.

Q: What does the clock spring control?

The clock spring is a critical electronic rotary cable that allows the steering wheel to turn freely while receiving and transmitting commands to the car computer. It allows the vehicle horn, airbags, cruise control, stereo volume buttons, phone dial buttons, and other accessories to work properly while turning the steering wheel.

Since it controls several system functions, many system functionalities will stop working when it fails. This makes it essential to fix it as soon as possible. If auto manufacturers were to use regular wires to control all the system operations on the steering wheel, then car owners would be replacing the wires as they are doing an oil change. The reason is that the wires will be entangling more frequently than ever.

Q: What causes a clock spring to break?

Clock springs can fail due to normal wear over time or break when working on the steering column. It can also fail when removing rack and pinion gear, coupling, or gearbox. For instance, the wheel will spin freely if you don’t station it when removing the rack and pinion gear.

This will break the clock spring and project an airbag light on the dashboard. You may see other lights, like the traction control light. And the horn may become unresponsive.

Q: Can a clock spring be reused?

You can reuse a clock spring if you remove it correctly when working on the steering column. However, before removing it, you need to station the steering wheel in the middle and mark the positioning on the steering wheel and steering axle.

Some clock springs feature a locking mechanism that will lock when disconnected from the steering wheel. This will prevent it from spinning freely. If your car clock spring does not have this function, do not allow it to turn when you uninstall it.

Q: Can a Clock Spring Be Repaired?

While clock springs may be repairable in some cases, they are not worth it. You can replace the wires inside the clock spring, but it is a time-consuming task and may not be worth the intensive labor involved. Again, finding a clock spring wire for your specific vehicle model is likely impossible.

In any case, these components last very long and are affordable, too. So, the best option is to get a new one and replace it.

Q: What is another name for clock spring?

In car steering systems, clock springs are a rotary mechanism that allows the steering wheel to turn in any direction while enabling all the extra functions on the wheels to work properly. Let alone be aware of how important this component is; many mechanics and motorists do not know what the clock spring is. It is popularly known as spiral cable. Others call it clock spring.

Q: Do you need to replace the clock spring after the accident?

You don’t necessarily have to replace the clock spring after an accident. However, if you had an accident and the airbag in the steering wheel deployed, you may need to replace it. Sometimes, the old clock spring can still function properly after fixing the damaged parts and replacing the airbags.

Some airbag kits include the clock spring, while others don’t. I recommend you get the kit with a clock spring so you won’t stress yourself in looking for a separate clock spring. Again, replace the clock spring if it comes with the airbag kit.

Q: Clock Spring replacement cost

The replacement cost of a clock spring varies greatly. On average, you can budget around 100 to 700 dollars for both parts and the repair cost. The part will cost around $50 to $300, while the service charge will be around $50 to $400.

The difference in the replacement cost depends on the mechanic doing the repair and the car model. For example, clock springs on newer cars have a control feature that controls the buttons on the steering wheels. While on older vehicles, it only controls the horn.

Auto manufacturers integrate the clock spring with the steering angle sensor in some cars. In such cars, you have to calibrate and reprogram the car after replacing the clock spring. Of course, this means an extra service fee because the technician will use specialized diagnostic tools.

In any case, you can only spend $100 to $200 on most cars.

Final Words

The clock spring is a vital component placed on the steering column. It plays an essential role by granting electric flow access to the electrical connections as you turn the wheel to any position. In addition, all the buttons on the steering wheel are integrated into the clock spring. Therefore, once it fails, it’ll disrupt several system functions.

This article has listed the bad clock spring symptoms you should watch out for and how to diagnose and fix the problem. So, if you have a failed spiral cable, follow the instructions in this article and fix it. However, if you don’t trust your gut, contact an experienced service technician to replace the components.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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