Have you heard clicking sounds or experienced unusual play or locking in your steering wheel while driving your motor vehicle? Well, you may have a bad steering coupling (could refer to a “rag joint” or “U joint”). No need to lose hope. This article will provide all the information that you need to handle a bad steering coupling problem.
What Does A Steering Coupler Do?
A steering coupler consists of a cylindrical rubber bushing and it allows movement to be transferred from the steering wheel to the steering rack. The axis of the cylindrical bushing is perpendicular to the axis of the steering system which means that when the steering wheel system is rotated, the cylindrical bushing is rotated. The steering wheel coupler also has an inner sleeve that is connected to the input and output shafts of the steering while the outer sleeve is connected to the other shafts.
If you’ve noticed that you steering coupler is becoming bad, it’s because over time the central rubber body loses it’s elasticity which means that the steering coupler won’t be able to transmit the movement of the steering wheels to the steering rack. If you’ve noticed that the steering coupler is bad, then you’ll need to replace it to prevent any further problems with your steering system.
Is A Bad Steering Coupler Dangerous?
If you car has a bad steering coupler, it is not safe to drive as it could give way while you’re driving. A bad steering coupler making it harder for you to have control of your vehicle while you’re driving. It also makes it harder to react to other people on the road.
A severely worn steering coupler can seize up or bind suddenly whilst you’re turning your wheel which is why it could be incredibly dangerous. If your wheel seizes up while you’re steering on the road, it could end up in a potential crash. You may even notice that your steering is vibrating excessively.
A loose steering can also make it hard to determine the position of the front wheels accurately. Having little control over your wheels and driving with a non-responsive steering system can be dangerous during rush hour when highways are packed with vehicles.
Steering Coupler Replacement
If you’ve got the correct parts to replace your steering wheel shaft coupler, then you can use the steps below to perform the repair.
- Turn your car wheel slightly to the left and right to expose the two screw for the lower steering shaft cover piece.
- Remove the two screws that have been exposed. Remove the third screw that’s located near the bottom.
- Disconnected the negative battery cable. You’ll need to ove the driver seat all the way to the back.
- Remove the small panel cover on the left of the bottom dash cover to access two screws. Once you’ve removed the small panel cover, remove the two screws.
- Pull the lower dash cover off once the two screws are removed. You’ll also find a number of plugs to disconnect here, including popping out the onboard diagnostics port.
- Remove the top of the steering shaft cover and it’s lower half.
- Remove the lower steel bracket. It has four 10 mm bolts and one nut.
- Remove the heater vent extension. It has one screw.
- Before dropping the steering shaft, be sure you have all applicable electrical plugs removed. This includes all the steering column plugs, a few to the fuse panel, and a few to the EPS unit. Have some zip ties handy and loosely tie back the steering wheel wiring assembly out of the way. Also, this is where you’ll need an pair of hands. You can now start dropping the steering shaft and disconnect the plug. It helps if you have an extra pair of hands when it comes to disconnecting the plug.
- The steering shaft will be held in place with two nuts and two bolts. Once you drop the steering shaft down, tie it back to the steel bracket at the right side of the area.
- Before you remove the EPS, there are three Torx screws to remove. The once at the back will be the most difficult which is why a small mirror and flashlight will really help you out. Whilst you’re here, you can also clean out any mess that has built up overtime.
- With your replacement coupling, put it to the motor side as it’s easier to rotate the motor slightly when it comes to rejoining the two parts. You can tighten the Torx screws using a small ratchet with an extension.
- When putting the steering wheel shaft back together, you’ll notice the small steel hook that needs to go into the slot.
- Once everything is connected again and all the plugs are connected, you’ll need to reinstall everything that you disconnected such as the heater vent. steering cover pieces, lower dash cover pieces, and steel bracket.
- Reconnect the negative battery cable and start up the battery. Use the power steering assist to turn the wheel to reinstall the last two screws. You shouldn’t receive any codes or require any reprogramming. The only thing you’ll need to do is reset your clock and radio presets. After replacing your steering wheel coupler, you’ll notice that steering is smooth again and you shouldn’t be noticing any of the symptoms that you noticed earlier.
Symptoms of Bad Steering Coupling
The purpose of the coupling is to connect rotating parts to allow torque and rotary motion. Bad steering couplings decrease the handling or maneuverability of the vehicle. When traveling at higher speeds and in challenging road conditions, the deficiencies caused by a bad steering coupling become even riskier. Here are some signs of what may be happening as you drive a vehicle with a bad steering coupling:
1. Bind and Locking
A bad steering coupling can cause the steer wheel to lock up or bind when you turn the steering wheel. The steering wheel is hard to manage which makes it unsafe to drive. The steering wheel will lock up more and more over time. Binding and locking is usually one of the last symptoms when the steering coupling is going bad.
2. Difficulty Steering
The highly efficient steering coupling is supposed to promote a feeling of excellence in steering and handling of the motor vehicle. A steering system with a bad steering coupling is difficult to maneuver. Your steering wheel becomes less responsive and harder to manage as may it may jerk or shimmy, caused by the road wheel vibration on the suspension and tires.. The steering wheel may be difficult to turn side-to-side and to maintain a straight course while driving. Also, the steering wheel may not return to its original position without assisting it
3. Excessive Vibration
One purpose of the steering column coupling is the isolation of vibration and noise from the steering gear. However, another problem that arises with bad steering couplings is excessive vibration. The entire vehicle may be vibrating. Although the steering coupling is designed to dampen or absorb vibration, a bad steering coupling will not prevent the excessive vibrations. When the steering coupling fails, the driver can experience fatigue and cause steering problems.
4. Excessive Play
The steering coupling provides a few degrees of flexibility for the steering shaft. However, excessive play occurs when the steering wheel turns more than an inch or so without the tires rotating. This may occur due to a deterioration of the rubber component in the steering coupling. When the steering wheel exhibits excessive play, or is “loose”, this is a sign that the steering coupling is failing. The steering wheel may move before it is maneuvered. A nibble, or slight rotational movement, may occur when driving on smooth roads.
5. Clunking Noises
You may hear knocking or clunking noises while driving at slow speeds with a bad steering coupling. You may also hear screeching or squealing noises while you drive. These noises should be addressed to avoid more damage to the steering system.
6. Steering Wheel Tilt Malfunction
If your vehicle has a power steering, you’ll ntocei that it has a tilt function that lets you alter the angle of the steering wheel. This can help you position the wheel at the best angle so that you can drive comfortably. If the steering wheel tilt malfunction happens, it’s likely because your steering wheel column is bad. A malfunction will mean that you wheel isn’t abe to stay in place and the replacement cost would be higher than if the tilt was positioned correctly.
7. Dirty Steering System
A dirty steering wheel is a symptom of a bad steering wheel coupler. You need to have your steering system checked periodically according to the manual or your specific car, just like regular routine maintenance on your car. Overtime, dirt and debris can build up within your steering system and it could have a negative impact on your steering system and could cause sticky wheel turn. If you want to know if your steering system is bad, and you want to determine how much you’ll need to pay, then you can have your steering wheel coupler inspected.
8. Steering Wheel Uncentered
Another symptom os a bad steering wheel coupler is the steering wheel not being center on the column of your car. If you turn your steering wheel, it’s supposed to return to the center without having any issues. The power steering includes this ability to recenter the steering wheel and it’s a sign that you steering wheel coupler is bad. If the steering wheel column is damaged, then the ability for your wheel to go back to the center is blocked and you’ll need to replace the steering wheel column to fix this.
Causes of Bad Steering Coupling
Optimal steering column designs include high rigidity and high precision. The steering system is designed to give the driver road feel while helping to maintain the appropriate contact with the road. The steering coupling manages the movement between the steering wheel and the steering rack. An inner sleeve connects the coupling to the shafts. The rubber bushing in the steering coupling begins to wear over time, losing some of its elasticity. Here are a few things that can cause a steering coupling to go bad:
The steering coupling (View on Amazon) is designed with a rubber cylindrical bushing with an axis that is close to perpendicular to the steering system axis of rotation. The design is purposed for the coupling to last an acceptable lifetime. The rubber portion of the coupling is subject to wear and tear and eventually loses elasticity causing the steering coupling to fail. The rubber may eventually come apart altogether. It is especially common for an overworked steering coupling to wear out over time. The coupling prematurely wears out after long periods of extensive use. When the steering coupling is pushed to operate beyond the manufacturer specifications, it’s likely to become problematic.
2. Misaligned Shafts
Poor joint alignment is common headache for many vehicle owners. Couplings in perfect alignment is always the goal; however, oftentimes the installation falls short. Steering coupling become limited due to misalignment, which occurs in the form of angular displacement or offset. When the coupling is not situated properly within the steering system, malfunction can result even when the coupling is brand new. The misalignment causes an increase in loads which exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications for the coupling.
Lack of maintenance accelerates the wear and tear on any of the parts on your vehicle. Steering coupling work best when they are clean. When a vehicle has not been inspected in a long time, the coupling may go bad because it is not clean, in which case slop is found around the rubber. Galvanic corrosion can cause the steering coupling to become unremovable without a lot of muscle or high level expertise.
4. Lack of lubricant
Lubrication allows for a smooth operation between the parts under your hood. Most couplings should be lubricated at least once a year. Vehicles that are driven frequently or driven in challenging operating conditions should be checked regularly for sufficient lubrication. Sludge or slop contamination decreases the lubricant flow and coupling flexibility. Lack of lubrication or lubricant contamination can also cause failed seals, which is another sign of a bad steering coupling.
5. Improper Installation
Of course, for the steering coupling to work properly, it must be properly installed. Choosing the correct coupling and installing it correctly can mitigate many potential long term problems, such as excessive torque loading. The steering coupling can also become stuck between the rack and the steering column.
6. No Maintenance
One of the main reasons why your steering wheel coupler is bad is because of you failing to maintain your vehicle often. Failing to maintain your vehicle often can result in failures and in this situation it’s your steering wheel that has been affected. Maintaining and looking after your vehicle is something that you need to do regularly unless you’re going to experience a lot of symptoms in your car.
If you want to avoid steering problems or other issues and save $100s of dollars that you’ll spend at the auto repair shop, you’ll need to service your vehicle often – you can use our mechanic-rated Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual to do this. It’s basically what mechanics use to go through your vehicle to check if there are any problems that need fixing. As soon as they notice the most minor problem, they’ll ask you to fork out some money even though it’s a problem you can fix yourself in minutes – the manual will teach you how to maintain your vehicle every few thousand miles and it’ll teach you how to fix minor problems that mechanics will ask you to pay for; saving you money in the long run.
A lot of our readers have the Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual printed on their garage wall and 92% of them haven’t visited the auto repair shop in the last year because they know what to do to avoid problems. All it takes is giving your vehicle a little attention every few thousand miles and you’ll never spend money at the workshop again.
How Long Does It Take to Replace a Steering Coupler?
If you want to replace the steering coupler, it takes 2 to 3 hours from start to finish. If you were to procratinate and do it over a few days, it could take 2 days with up to 2 hours each day. A dealership would be able to replace the steering coupler in less than an hour, but because they tend to work on multiple cars at once, you car could be there for up to a week before they’d be able to give it back to you.
Steering Wheel Coupler Replacement Cost
The cost to replace your steering coupler can be between $450 to $1400 depending on the mechanic you choose. A reliable well known mechanic will usually cost more than you local mechanic. You should look at all the mechanics in our area and determine which one is the cheapest and is the most trustworthy. The price of the steering wheel coupler replacement is also determined by the car that you driving – the model, year and make all affect the labour costs.
The design of the steering wheel column design is also affected by the make and model of your car which will determine how easy the labour of the replacement will be. There are controls that are in the way of the steering wheel itself such as audio control, cruise control, and radio controls, then the wiring could be more complex which will cause the job to be higher since more work is needed.
I’ve samples of the the averages prices of a steering column replacement costs for popular makes and models on the market today just to give you some idea of how much you’ll need to spend. For you average car, like a Honda Accord, it’ll cost about $800 for a steering wheel coupler replacement. To replace the steering wheel coupler on a larger vehicle such as a van or a caravan, it’ll cost about $675. For the middle of the road vehicle such as a Honda Civic and the Chrysler Town and Country, it’ll cost between $850 and $950 respectively.
If you want to save money on the steering wheel coupler replacement and do it yourself, down below are the steps you need to do so. The steering wheel column that you need to replace can be purchased for as little as $100 – that’s for a used column. For a brand new column, it could cost upwards of $250.
If you decide to go with a mechanic since you don’t have the correct tools to perform the replacement yourself, then you should speak to some mechanics in your area. You’ll be able to get good quotes from some over the phone but if you can, go to them in person to make sure that they can actually deliver on the quote that they stated. If you’ve only been able to get one quote for the replacement, you should check with other dealerships in your area to check if you can get other competitive prices.
If you’re doing the replacement by yourself so you don’t have to spend as much on the replacement, then you should look for parts at a local scrap yard if you’re really looking to get low prices. Before you decide to go to a scrapyard, make sure that it’s specifically for car parts so that you don’t waste your time.
Solutions for Bad Steering Couplings
Vehicles with bad steering couplings are not safe to drive as the unit can give way while you are driving. Bad steering couplings will make it difficult to maintain control of the vehicle or to react to other motorists on the road. If you believe you have a problem in your steering system, call someone to have a look. Once your coupling has been diagnosed as worn out, the coupling may need to be replaced.
1. Regular Inspection
Regular visual inspections of your steering system can reveal problems that must be addressed. With the engine off, inspect the steering system while the vehicle is on the ground as opposed to suspended in the air. Have someone turn the steering wheel from left to right until you can feel resistance. If there is lots of movement in the upper shaft and little or no movement in the lower, the steering coupling is likely the problem. This is one way to confirm that the coupling is worn.
2. Replace the Steering Coupling
When the steering coupling is worn out or shows signs of cracking, it should be replaced. Located in back of the steering box, the steering coupling may be removed by loosening the clamps on the coupling sides and sliding the steering column back. The steering coupling must be placed exactly as the original was mounted. If the original steering box is changed out, the coupling may not work. Replacement couplings are generally cheap. However, if you are not mechanically inclined, it’s best to have a certified professional perform the replacement.
3. Rebuild the Steering Coupling
Some people are more mechanically inclined than others. Therefore, there are options for dealing with a bad steering coupling. If the internals of your steering coupling have worn out, and you don’t want to replace it, rebuild the old one. For those with the appropriate skills, take a shortcut and use a steering coupling rebuilding kit to do it yourself. A little time and elbow grease can save you money.
4. Reduce the Load
The lifetime of the steering coupling is extended when the workload is significantly reduced. The factory-installed coupling is meant to last for the life of the car, yet this not always the case. The workload is reduced by a minimization of shock loadings. If you only own one vehicle or share a vehicle with someone else, it may not be possible to reduce the load. In this case, the steering coupling should be rebuilt or replaced.
5. Proper Alignment
Proper alignment of the steering coupling is of dire importance. When replacing other parts in the steering system, the steering coupling should be marked prior to removal so that the replacement will be exact. If the coupling is not restored to the same position, the position of the steering wheel will be altered.
Prevention of Bad Steering Joint
Steering coupling will go bad from time to time. Even so, there are only a few things that you can do to avoid ending up with a bad steering coupling. If you already have a vehicle that is having problems with the coupling, it’s best to seek professional help or replace it. However, if you have not yet experienced any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you can begin with preventive maintenance following these steps:
1. Engage in Preventive Maintenance
Have your vehicle inspected by a professional so that you have a clear picture of your steering coupling’s condition? If you perform the inspection yourself, make sure to check all of the components in the steering shaft.
2. Keep It Clean
The steering coupling is comprised of many small parts. Make sure those parts in your steering system are clean and lubricated. The steering coupling can become corroded which is guaranteed to cause malfunction. Take your vehicle to an automotive shop for scheduled oil change maintenance and mention that you would like to have the steering system examined.
3. Be Aware
When you drive, pay attention to any noises and the amount of play in the steering wheel. Be cognizant of whether the steering wheel is operating and positioned correctly. Be aware of an increase in vibration or irregular movement while the engine is running. If you notice something irregular, have it checked out as soon as possible.
4. Don’t Drive
If you have discovered that your steering coupling has been damaged, don’t drive. Arrange for other modes of transportation until the coupling is repaired and you can drive safely. If you cannot stop the vehicle or steer it, don’t drive it.