Broken Clock Spring

The clock spring is a circular disk-like component with coils that come in different sizes, depending on the manufacturer. The coil spring, or helical spring, is a shock absorber that also maintains the force between the contacting surfaces. The clock spring keeps components like the airbag, steering wheel, airbag module, and horn stay connected to the wiring whilst the steering wheel is turning – you can imagine how crucial this component is for your car’s function. It allows you to turn your wheel in circular motions while the wiring keeps the other components connected.

Vehicle Coil Spring

The vehicle coil spring supports the vehicle frame and maximizes the friction between the road surface and the wheels. Electric conductor tape is wound up inside the clock spring, inside a plastic housing. As the steering wheel is turned, the conductive ribbon in the clock spring coils and uncoils to allow an electrical contact within the electrical systems. The load-carrying specs for the coil spring depend on the shape, wire diameter, and spacing. Overall, the vehicle coil spring provides more comfort for the passenger and easier handling for the driver. The actual characteristics of the clock spring vary according to the materials used in the design. However, they all have a high tensile strength.

Helical Spring

Helical springs are named for the helical-shaped coiled wire which is used for compression and tensile loads. These springs are square, circular, or rectangular in shape. The spring comes as either a tension helical spring or a compression helical spring. These springs are simple in design; therefore, they can be assembled with ease with many ranges. The spring rates are constant and performance is generally predictable.

What Does a Clock Spring Do?

While you turn your wheel, there are coils of wires within the clock spring that need to maintain an electric connection for components like the airbag, airbag module, and steering wheel to function. These coils need to wind and unwind whilst maintaining this electrical connection.

Because of the clock spring, regardless of how much you want to turn your steering wheel and in what direction, the wiring will always be able to supply an electrical connection to the airbag components, radio, car horn, steering wheel, buttons on the steering wheel and other components.

It’s common to think that the clock spring allows your wheel to return back to the center, but this isn’t the job of the clock spring. It’s the job of the vehicle’s caster angle and not the clock spring – this helps your wheels and steering go back to a central position when you let go of the wheel. Since most vehicles have a positive caster angle when you turn your steering wheel, the positive caster angle forces the front tires to return to a neutral position and point straight ahead. The steering wheel is affected by this centering force because it’s connected directly to the tires. If the clock spring was able to neutralize your steering wheel, the sheer strength it’d need in order to overcome to force of most vehicles steering assemblies.

Where Is The Clock Spring Located In The Car?

In your vehicle’s lifetime, the chances of you seeing the clock spring are very small because it’s behind the steering wheel on the steering column. This allows its wiring to connect to components like the airbag and supply a current to them so that it can function even if you’re turning the wheel. Almost every car has the clock spring behind the steering wheel, but some cars don’t. If your car doesn’t have an airbag, a horn, steering wheel controls, then it won’t have a clock spring. But if it didn’t have any of this, then it probably won’t be allowed on the road.

How Do You Break A Clock Spring?

When the clock spring is malfunctioning, the tires become misaligned with excessive wear. The vehicle may bounce on uneven and rough roads. Stabilizing capacities are affected which results in excessive wobbling and sway. Although the clock spring is designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, that is not always the case.

You may notice that you have symptoms of a bad clock spring but you have no idea how it broke. There are a few situations that can occur which will end up in your clock spring breaking. You may have noticed that you’ve just brought your car back from the dealership and you’re noticing symptoms of a bad clock spring – in this case, you might be wondering how the clock spring broke. Here are the primary causes of a broken clock spring:

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Wear and tear – As a vehicle is continuously driven, it accumulates miles and some of the parts eventually wear out. This is also the case with the clock spring. Worn-out circuit bands on the clock spring will send a soft-code error to the airbag control module, which activates the airbag light. When the steering wheel is turned, the pressure is received by the internal wiring. If the car is dr4iven often, with a lot of turning the steering wheel back and forth, the clock spring can fail within the first 80,000 miles. The replacement of clock springs can be do-it-yourself job or you can take it to the repair garage.

Repairs – Oftentimes, when the vehicle is being repaired, the clock spring becomes damaged. This is especially true when the steering system, the rack, and pinion, or the airbag system is being repaired. The clock spring and the steering system are closely associated. Modern vehicles have steering wheel adjusters and accessories to go along with navigation. In rack-and-pinion steering systems, the steering wheel is attached to the steering column. The column connects to a rack that connects the two front tires together. The intermediate steering wheel shaft attaches the rack system to the steering wheel. The steering column and the rack are connected by a pinion. Any of these parts may become worn out, affecting other parts of the system.

Electrical problems – When there are problems with the electrical system, the clock spring may malfunction or stop working completely.

When Replacing Rack and Pinion – if you’ve taken your car to the dealership and the steering wheel/column was not held stationary while the rack and pinion was replaced. This can result in the steering wheel (and thus also the clockspring) to turn beyond the normal range and cause damage to the clockspring. Although this wasn’t intended by the mechanic, it’s a side effect of them not doing their job properly which is to hold the steering wheel in place while replacing the rack and pinion.

If you’re in a situation where your car has a broken rack and pinion along with worn-out control arms, it’s safe to say that the clock spring was due to fail and the unavoidable action of replacing the rack or pinion pushed the clock spring over the edge.

You Treat Your Car Like Shit – If you fail to look after components in your car, it can lead to several components failing which can cause your clock spring to break. Maintaining your vehicle is a crucial process that needs to be done by every car owner and it prevents you from experiencing a lot of problems. Failure to look after just one component can cause a knock-on effect and this can be felt in other areas of the 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.

Broken Clock Spring Symptoms

If you notice any signs that your clock spring is broken, then you need to address the problem quickly as a bad clock spring is no joke. It can affect your vehicle’s performance a lot; the main things being a damaged airbag, controls on steering, a horn that’s not working, etc. Even if these features stay working, you may notice that your cruise control stops working along with your horn. If you’re in a situation where your horn doesn’t work, or your airbag won’t deploy, then you’re putting your life at risk and you need to get to the dealership asap.

Another downside of a bad clock spring is that some cars need the steering wheel angle for traction or stability control. If your car no longer has a functioning clock spring, it’ll leave key functions unattended and it’ll prevent them from working as they should. You need to make sure that you avoid all these situations when you’re driving your car on the road.

The clock spring has an important job. So, when the clock spring is broken, warnings are sent electronically. Also, certain components will not function properly. If you believe your clock spring is broken, here are a few symptoms to look for:

Airbag light activated – The airbag lights on the dash are indicators of problems. The Airbag, Supplement Restraint System (SRS), or the Airbag illustration on the dash activates to let the driver know that a safety component is activated, deactivated, or having problems. The airbag light is supposed to come on for a moment when the vehicle is turned on, beeping, or in a change of status. The clock spring maintains continuity between the electrical wiring in the vehicle and the driver’s airbag. The circuit bands for the clock spring are very fragile. Also, the airbag light could also come on after the fact, which means the vehicle has been in an accident, even if the airbags didn’t deploy.

Driver airbag will not deploy – The airbags should deploy from some part of the dash to protect the driver during a crash. When the airbag will not deploy, it is a common sign of trouble with the clock spring.

ESP/ETS/TCS light activated – The electronic stability program (ESP), the electronic traction support (ETS) and the traction control stability lights come on to let you know there is trouble. If any combination of these lights activate, it’s time to check the clock spring.

Horn will not work – The horn is another part of the warning system. When the horn will not blow, it could mean several things. It could be a broken horn relay, a blown fuse, a bad switch inside the steering wheel, a corroded ground or broken wire, and last but not least, a broken clock spring.

Cruise control switch will not work – Some vehicles may also have cruise control which depends on the VSS

Controls on the steering wheel will not work – Older cars were simple when there was nothing but turn signals and a horn associated with the steering wheel. Newer cars have more sophisticated steering systems where the steering wheel has its own set of controls on the face of the steering wheel. When these controls don’t work, it is a good idea to check the clock spring.

Rubbing noises when turning the steering wheel – The steering wheel should always turn quietly and with ease. The wheel should also return to its natural position without any coaxing. When turning the steering wheel, if you hear rubbing noises, the clock spring may be gone out.

Electrical sparking and smoke – If your clock spring is bad, this can cause a short circuit between the steering column and the steering wheel. In rare cases, you’ll notice smoke and sparks coming out of the steering wheels. This will be the clearest indication to you that there’s something wrong with the clock spring. If you notice that there’s smoke and sparks coming from your wheel, then you should switch off your car.

Blown FusesIf your clock spring is bad, this can cause fuses to blow while you’re driving. If you notice that electronics around your car are not working, pick a test light and test the fuses. You can find a test light (view on Amazon) near the fuse box that’s inside your engine bay or on the side of your dashboard. If you notice that electrics aren’t working after testing, you’ll need to replace the clock spring so that you no longer have blown fuses and your electronics around the car will start working again.

Electronic throttle warning light – If your clock spring is bad, it can interfere with the electrical signals coming from the steering wheels button. Your car’s cruise control feature works alongside the electronic throttle control and traction control systems. Because of the electronic signals sent from the steering wheel, it can cause the electronic throttle light to turn on. If you want to diagnose this, you can use an OBD-II scanner.

Clock Spring Replacement Cost

The cost to replace your clock spring can be between $100 and $800 depending on the mechanic you choose. A clock spring costs $50 to $300, and the labor costs $50 to $500. A reliable well-known mechanic will usually cost more than your 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 clock spring replacement is also determined by the car that you driving – the model, year, and make all affect the labor costs.

The design of the clock spring is also affected by the make and model of your car which will determine how easy the labor of the replacement will be. Since there are electronics that are in the way of the clock spring itself such as audio control, cruise control, and radio controls, horn, airbag, the wiring could be more complex which will cause the job to be higher since more work is needed.

In many car models, the clock spring is also integrated with the steering angle sensor, which has to be programmed and calibrated after the replacement. Because of how much labor this is, it can end up costing more as special diagnostics tools are often needed. However, luckily clock spring replacements are quite cheap on most car models, and you can expect a total replacement cost of $100 to $800.

If you want to save money on the clock spring replacement and do it yourself, down below are the steps you need to do so. The clock spring that you need to replace can be purchased for as little as $50 – that’s for a used clock spring. For a brand new clock spring, it could cost upwards of $300.

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.

The main reason why your clock spring would be expensive is that some car models come with the clock spring and steering wheel control module integrated into one another. If they were separate, then a clock spring replacement would be a lot cheaper. Even if everything else is working fine, the whole unit will need to be replaced just because they’re combined together.

Another common issue is that many models have clock springs with steering angle sensors built-in. Because of this, the angle sensors must be calibrated and programmed once the clock spring is replaced using special tools. Mechanics aren’t going to do this calibration for free which is another reason why the replacement is going to cost a lot. But if your car’s clock spring isn’t connected to other things which is a lot of cars, then the repair shouldn’t go above $200.

How Long Does It Take to Replace a Clock Spring?

If you want to replace the clock spring, it takes 1 to 2 hours from start to finish. If you were to procrastinate and do it over a few days, it could take 2 days with up to 1 hour each day. A dealership would be able to replace the clock spring in less than an hour, but because they tend to work on multiple cars at once, your car could be there for up to a week before they’d be able to give it back to you.

Can A Clock Spring Be Repaired?

A clock spring can be repaired but it’s not worth repairing as finding the individual parts are near impossible. It’s better to just replace the clock spring since it’ll save you more time and it’ll actually get done whereas with repairing, there’s a good chance you won’t find the clock spring wire for your specific car model.

Your clock spring going bad in the first place isn’t common which is why there are not many resources out there on repairing it. You should just replace the whole unit at your local dealership.

After a repair, there is no problem reusing a clock spring if you removed the clock spring correctly. If you’ve repaired your clock spring, you can reuse a clock spring once you’ve removed it correctly. Before you remove the clock spring, you need to make sure that the steering wheel is centered in the middle before you remove it. You also need to mark the position on the steering axle compared to the steering wheel before taking it out.

You might find a little locking mechanism comes out of your steering wheel when you remove it and this will cause your wheel not to rotate until you put it back in. However, many clock spring models don’t have this locking mechanic so it’s essential not to turn the steering once it’s removed.

What To Do About A Broken Clock Spring

If you think you have a clock spring problem, there are a few things you can do. First off, you should identify the problem to make sure it is the clock spring. Then, you can go about having the clock spring replaced. If you have a broken clock spring, here’s what to do:

Use OBD2 Scanner – You may have to use the OBD2 Scanner (view on Amazon) to reset the steering angle sensor. Vehicles with traction or stability control have clock springs with integrated steering angle sensors which determine the position of the wheel. The data from the control is used by the airbag system and the ESC/ESP/TCS system. At times, the speeding angle sensor needs to be reset.

To use the OBD2 scanner to detect the problem, connect the scanner to the computer port and read the trouble code for the warning light. Even if you cannot reset the light, the scanner will pinpoint the problem and help you dodge those high dealership repair prices.

Regular Inspection – Regular visual inspections of your clock spring can reveal problems that must be addressed. With the engine off, inspect the clock spring while the vehicle is on the ground as opposed to being suspended in the air.

Rebuild the clock spring – Some people are more mechanically inclined than others. Therefore, there are options for dealing with a bad clock spring. If the internals of your clock spring has 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 clock spring rebuilding kit to do it yourself. A little time and elbow grease can save you money.

Take your car to a repair shop – If you don’t have the OBD2 scanner, or you’re not so sure about fixing the clock spring yourself, take your car to an automotive repair shop as soon as possible. A stiff steering wheel means that the vehicle is in need of some type of maintenance. If your vehicle has not been serviced regularly, these types of problems can escalate into major problems which are more expensive to fix.

How To Reset A Clock Spring – 

  1. Start the engine.
  2. Let the engine idle for a bit.
  3. Turn the steering wheel to the right as much as possible.
  4. Turn the steering wheel to the left as much as possible.
  5. Repeat these steps a few times while your engine is running.
  6. Take a 50-feet drive to let the steering angle sensor reset. The ABS and stability control lights should come off if they came on because of the bad clock spring.

Replace the clock spring – No automobile parts last forever. Either they become damaged or simply wear down with age. If the clock spring is not working, you may need to replace it. If you are more mechanically inclined and have an OBD2 scanner, you can investigate the problem yourself. The replacement clock spring should cost no more than $50 to $300 depending on where you order it from. If you are not, the average cost for a certified professional to replace the clock spring ranges from $50 to $200. If you can do the job yourself, that is quite a bit of money that can be saved. If you want to replace the clock spring yourself, follow these steps:

Note: Before you replace the clock spring, you must disable the airbags first. If you don’t disable them, the airbag could deploy unexpectedly and cause harm.

  1. Park your vehicle in a safe, dry place.
  2. Turn the engine off.
  3. Open the hood and disconnect the battery. Wait at least 10 minutes before going to the next step. This will provide enough time for the charge to completely leave the airbags. (Try turning on the lights to make sure all of the charge is gone.)
  4. Lock the steering wheel.
  5. Check your owner’s manual to find out what else needs to be disconnected.
  6. Remove the clock spring: Remove the steering wheel bolt cover clips. Next, remove the SRS Airbag control module bolts. Now, remove the SRS Airbag control module from the steering wheel. Remove the nut that connects the steering wheel to the column. Once the steering wheel has been removed, you can access the clock spring and remove it.
  7. If the clock spring is melted or you can see damage, it must be replaced.

Clock Spring Repair

The new clock spring you buy will need to correspond to whether your car works on RHD or LHD. If it’s LHD, then you need to buy a clock spring assembly for this specifically, vice versa. The clock spring also needs to be compatible with your vehicle’s column as if it isn’t, it won’t work.

Preparations

  1. Turn off your car and remove the negative and positive battery cable after.
  2. Wait for 20 to 30 minutes. This is so that the car has time to the charge transferred to the airbag system.

Remove The Airbag

  1. Remove the bolts that keep the airbag attached under the steering wheel. This will separate the airbag from the wire harness.
  2. Keep the airbag face up so that you can locate the clock spring and remove it.

Locate The Clock Spring

  1. Remove the center bolt using a wrench.
  2. Highlight the location of the steering column and wheel using a pen. This’ll allow you to make sure that all of the components are aligned once you’ve replaced the wheel.
  3. Use a pen to highlight the locations of the steering column, and do the same with the wheel. This way, you’ll make sure all components remain aligned after replacing the wheel.
  4. Disconnect the steering wheel and remove the bolts that attach the box on the outside of the assembly. You may need a steering wheel puller to remove it.
  5. Take the outer box out after.
  6. Detach the wiring harness or the connectors.
  7. Locate the bad clock spring and replace it with the new one. Make sure to connect all the wires accordingly. Use your phone to take pictures of the wiring before removing the bad clock spring so that you can use it as a reference.

Put Everything Back in Place

  1. Put the steering wheel back without turning the wheel.
  2. Plug back the airbag and the wiring. You can use the pictures before as a reference.
  3. Place the cover over the wheel, and tighten the bolts and nuts to secure it.
  4. Reconnect the negative and positive battery cables.

How To Test A Clock Spring

If you’re receiving an airbag light and you’ve decoded it with your scanner, you might find that there’s a problem with your clock spring. If you want to test the clock spring, you’ll need to test the continuity.

To test your clock springs continuity:

  1. Disconnect battery (wait several minutes)
  2. Pull airbag and steering wheel
  3. Remove the plastic covers around the steering column stalks
  4. Follow the wires from the clock spring into the dash and locate the airbag connector – green/blue and green/red wires.
  5. Disconnect the under-dash airbag connector.

The airbag-side of the under-dash connector has spring-loaded shorting bars, so when the connector is unplugged the two pins are connected. This is implemented so that if the voltage only gets to one of the pins, it’ll short to the other rather than your airbag being triggered. This is a safety feature that’ll prevent your airbag from being deployed when it’s not needed.

Because the under-dash airbag connector is shorted when disconnected, you can check both legs of the clock spring for continuity by checking the resistance across the two sockets in the yellow connector that plugs into the airbag. Make sure that your multimeter (view on Amazon) is set for continuity so that you can check the resistance the clock spring legs give you. There should be continuity from one socket in the yellow connector, through the clock spring, across the shorted under-dash airbag connector, back through the clock spring, and finally to the other yellow connector socket.

If there’s no continuity, this means that your clock spring is bad. Once you know that the clock spring is bad, you can open it up and check for broken wires near the connector. If you can connect these wires, then go ahead. If not, you’ll need to order a new clock spring (view on Amazon) and go to the dealership to get it repaired.

Prevention of Bad Clock Spring

Clock springs 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 clock spring. If you already have a vehicle that is having problems with the clock spring, 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 clock spring’s condition? If you perform the inspection yourself, make sure to check all of the components in the clock spring.

2. Keep It Clean

The clock spring is comprised of many small parts. Make sure those parts in your steering system are clean and lubricated. The clock spring 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 clock spring examined.

3. Don’t Drive

If you have discovered that your clock spring is been damaged, don’t drive. Arrange for other modes of transportation until the clock spring is repaired and you can drive safely. If you cannot stop the vehicle or steer it, don’t drive it.

How Long Does A Clock Spring Last?

You should be aware that clock springs rarely become bad but even if they eventually do, how long would this take? Your clock spring should last as long as your car but if it doesn’t it does tend to break around 80,000 miles. This is because the back and forth movement can cause the clock spring to go bad.

Can You Drive A Car With A Broken Clock Spring?

The clock spring houses the wiring for the airbag system and the horn. These two systems are very important for safety. Driving a car with a broken clock spring may put you at risk. It may cause difficulty spinning the steering wheel and damage other parts of the car. You should not continue driving with a broken clock spring as this puts you at risk.

Since the clock spring can affect components like the horn, airbag, you can drive your car with a broken clock spring, but you’ll put yourself at great risk. The bad clock spring could also make it difficult to spin your steering wheel and it could damage other parts of your car. The clock spring is extremely important for safety so you need to get it replaced before trying to drive again.

Drive Safely

Driving with a broken clock spring is very dangerous as the behavior of the steering wheel changes drastically. Also, a prolonged problem with the clock spring will eventually cause damage to other parts. Thus, it is not safe to drive with a broken clock spring. Get it repaired and get back on the road safely.