The car clock spring is one of the most important parts of the electrical system.
Ever wondered how it is possible to rotate a car steering wheel multiple times without harming the electricals?
The answer is that the clock spring takes care of everything. It is pretty concealed, so you may not know it even exists.
But if it fails, you’re in big trouble because the electrical connection to the steering wheel will be dead.
Join us as we explore the basics of the car clock spring and its roles, among other key details.
What is the Clock Spring?
It’s a flat-ribbon spiral cable on the steering wheel with exquisite retraction and expansion capacity to ensure normal circuit operation.
The clock spring’s features ensure that the motion of the circuit in no way affects the electrical system connecting to the steering wheel.
In its absence, the cables connected to the steering wheel would break down and cut the electrical supply.
The Function of the Clock Spring
A Car’s Steering Wheel.
The steering wheel has a non-stationary circuit system, given that it rotates 360 degrees multiple times.
A clock spring ensures that this motion is harmless to the electricals by retracting and expanding as per the steering wheel rotations.
Remember, like any other car part, the steering wheel needs to send electronic signals to the vehicle’s control modules.
The clock spring, a circuit with expansion and retraction capabilities, takes care of this action.
Further, it’s responsible for sending signals to the steering wheel’s airbags in case you’re in an accident.
Location of the Clock Spring
Accessing the car’s clock spring.
It’s usually between the steering wheel column and the steering wheel.
You can easily locate it by following the turn signal level positioning as they are in the same position.
But given that the steering wheel conceals it, it’s impossible to access the clock spring until you disassemble the cover.
Most importantly, ensure you reconnect everything as it were before to avoid affecting the electrical setup and functioning.
What Causes the Failure of a Clock Spring?
Car Steering Wheel Repair.
The main cause for a clock spring failure is tear and wear, meaning it will fail after some time.
Remember that any time you rotate the steering wheel, the clock spring’s ribbons shift their positions.
What can hasten the tear and wear of the clock spring is damage to the vehicle’s steering linkage.
It would lead to over-rotation of the steering wheel, and the clock spring bears the brunt of the increased activity.
Whenever the steering linkage no longer works, it means the turning of the steering wheel is not commensurate with the rotation of the wheels.
Hence, you will turn the steering when indefinitely trying to rotate the wheels; here, an over-rotation is inevitable.
Remember, there is an allowed maximum number of rotations beyond which the clock spring snaps.
So when you exceed the limit, the component is damaged, and you’ll have to replace it.
Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Clock Spring
Below are the signs that your clock spring is failing and that you need to fix it.
Airbag warning light
Airbag system warning.
Airbags in the steering wheel ensure that the driver is safe in case of an accident.
So important is this component to car safety that even its smallest failure turns on the airbag warning light.
It helps you fix the problem promptly to ensure the airbags don’t fail you when you need them most.
An airbag warning light is a primary indicator that something in the clock spring is amiss.
If the warning sign comes up after you turn the steering wheel, you can be sure the clock spring is the issue.
Dead Steering Wheel Buttons
Steering Wheel Buttons.
Most modern car models have buttons on the steering wheel for easy control of some of the common features.
For instance, the radio volume button is on the steering wheel in most cars.
So, what would you make of a sudden failure of the button while you’re driving?
There could be other causes, but the primary issue is probably the clock spring unit.
To verify the problem is underneath the steering wheel, try pressing the controls while turning it.
If you must set the steering wheel at a certain rotational angle for the buttons to function, then the clock spring is the problem.
Traction Control System Warning Light
Part of the buttons in the steering wheel is the cruise control. Notably, it works with electronic throttle control and the traction control system.
Therefore, when there’s an issue with the cruise control, the electronic throttle warning light will turn on.
Another indicator that something is amiss with the cruise control is the traction control warning light flashing.
And what supplies power and signal to the cruise control? The clock spring.
Therefore, when the two warning lights give a signal, it means there’s an underlying clock spring problem.
But don’t run to conclusions until you confirm that the clock spring is the issue by diagnosing it with the OBD2 scanner.
The trouble codes it outputs will indicate if the issues are true with the clock spring unit.
Pressing the car horn.
Again, the car’s horn is on the steering wheel, and the signal transmission from the button to the horn is via the slack spring.
So when you press it and get no sound, the problem is with the electrical circuit.
To verify this, press the horn button as you slowly turn the steering wheel.
If you get a sound signal, even if it’s not too loud, you can be certain the clock spring is the issue.
Airbag Fails to Deploy
Car airbags after an accident.
Earlier, we highlighted the importance of paying attention to the airbag warning light and fixing the issue immediately.
You will solve the issue fundamentally by dealing with the clock spring.
If you don’t, you risk getting hurt by the steering wheel when the airbags fail to launch.
Stiff Steering Wheel
Normally, the steering wheel should turn 360 degrees without resistance while driving.
So when it starts getting stiff, there’s a big problem underneath, which could be the clock spring unit.
A stiff steering wheel is a big recipe for accidents because it denies you absolute vehicle control.
So check the clock spring and fix the issue immediately to prevent accidents.
How Do You Test a Clock Spring’s Functionality
A digital multimeter.
- For this exercise, you only need a multimeter to test whether the electrical circuit is functional. Next, ensure the device is in Ohms settings to help measure the resistance when connecting the clock spring.
- Take the positive probe of the multimeter and place it on the part of the clock spring connecting to the airbag. Connect the negative probe to the power supply pins of the clock spring. Check the reading on the multimeter’s screen.
- Rotate the clock spring to mimic its motions when turning the steering wheel. Confirm that the resistance reading remains constant when you turn the clock spring through the motions. If it changes after each rotation, it is a faulty clock spring and must be replaced.
How to Fix a Broken Clock Spring
- Start by disconnecting the negative battery cable from the electrical system to prevent shock during the repair.
- Turn the steering wheels to a position where the wheels are straight and unscrew the screws holding it in position. Remove the steering wheel airbag to expose where the steering column trim joins the steering wheel.
- Mark this point using tape, as it will be important to reconnect the parts. Now remove the steering wheel with the help of a breaker bar, remove the bad clock spring, and replace it with a new one.
- Reconnect the parts back, then fix the negative battery terminal to its position. Confirm the airbag light is not flashing on as a confirmation that you have connected everything perfectly.
Clock Spring Replacement Cost
A mechanic repairing the steering wheel.
A qualified mechanic will charge you approximately $20 to fix a clock spring. But the cost can soar to $750 if other related parts need to be fixed.
Usually, the clock spring is affordable, retailing at approximately $130 and not more than $222.
But this will depend on the car model, so it can be even more. We advise having a professional mechanic replace you for a perfect job.
Ensure that your steering wheel buttons are top-notch by having the clock spring in good shape.
As we have seen, the component has a significant role in car controls and, most importantly, ensuring the airbags work.
So, its failure is not something you should take lightly.
Also, avoid driving a car with a dead clock spring because your airbags won’t react if you encounter an accident.
Thanks for your time, and we wish you the best of times with your car.