You may have wondered how all the electronic components in the steering wheel can communicate with the car, even when turning the steering wheel several times in each direction.
This is the purpose of the clock spring! The clock spring is also quite hidden, so most people are not very familiar with it.
If you have looked at the steering wheel on a modern car, you probably got surprised by all the functions. Unfortunately, this also means many functions that could fail, like when the clock spring fails and becomes faulty.
In this article, we will discuss the most common symptoms of a bad clock spring, as well as the cost of replacing it. Let’s begin with looking at the signs you should look for!
Symptoms Of A Bad Clock Spring
The most common symptoms of a bad or failing clock spring are an airbag light on your dashboard and problems with the buttons and horn on the steering wheel. You may also notice a steering wheel symbol on your dashboard or a traction control light.
Here down below is a more detailed list of the signs of a bad or failing clock spring to look for:
1. Airbag Warning Light
Even if your car does not have a lot of fancy functions, one thing it most likely has is an airbag inside the steering wheel.
The airbag is a susceptible system, and the slightest fault will light up the airbag warning light. This is because even the slightest error in the airbag system can cause them to deploy, or in the worst case, not deploy at all in case of an accident.
This is why an airbag or srs light is the most common sign of a faulty clock spring, especially if the light occurred when you were turning the steering wheel.
RELATED: SRS / Airbag Light On – Meaning, Causes & How to Reset
In many car models, you have a lot of buttons on the steering wheel, like the cruise control or the radio volume buttons. If you have noticed that some of these buttons or all of them stopped worked completely, there is a huge chance that something is broken inside of the clock spring unit.
Try to press these buttons at the same time as you turn the steering wheel. If they work in a special position of the steering wheel, there is definitely a problem with the clock spring.
3. Horn or other functions won’t work
The horn is something you probably don’t use every day. If you want to use the horn, but no sound comes out when you push the button, it may be caused by a faulty clock spring.
Also, in this situation, you can try to turn the steering wheel while holding the horn button. If you can hear an intermittent sound, you definitely have to replace the clock spring.
4. Steering wheel or traction control warning light
You might not know that the cruise control is working together with both the traction control system and the electronic throttle control system.
This also means that if the connection to the cruise control buttons in the steering wheel becomes bad, it can also cause the traction control warning light or the electronic throttle warning light to light up. To determine if it is the clock spring causing these lights to light up, you have to check the trouble codes with an OBD2 scanner.
RELATED: Traction Control System (TCS) Light – Meaning, Function & Causes
5. Airbags Won’t Deploy
In the absolutely worst case, if you ignore the airbag light, your airbags might not deploy in case of an accident. This is, of course, something you never want to experience, but it can be the reality if you ignore the airbag light.
Therefore it is super important to get the issue fixed when the airbag or srs light appears on your dashboard because as long as the airbag light is on – your airbag will not deploy.
The function of a clock spring
The clock spring’s function is to send electronic signals from the steering wheel buttons to the control modules in the car. It is also responsible for sending the signal to the airbag in the steering wheel if an accident occurs.
The clock spring is a very long wire or string twisted many times around the inside of the clock spring unit, making it able to turn the steering wheel without it getting damaged.
This is also why it is essential to either reset both the steering wheel and the clock spring to the middle before installing it. If you remove the clock spring and install it in the wrong position – you will snap it off when turning the steering wheel. This is a widespread issue.
Clock Spring location
The clock spring is located behind the steering wheel, often integrated with the unit where the turn signal lever is installed.
To reach or even see the clock spring, you have to remove both the steering wheel and the covers around the steering wheel axle. Remember always to mark the steering wheel before you remove it to make sure you install it in the same position as before.
Can You Re-use a Clock Spring?
After a repair, there is no problem reusing a clock spring if you removed the clock spring correctly.
In most car models, you need to make sure the steering wheel is in the middle when you remove it. You should also mark the position on the steering axle compared to the steering wheel.
Many clock springs have a little locking mechanism that will come out when the steering wheel is removed, and this will cause it not to rotate until you install it again. However, many clock spring models do not have this function, and in this case, it is essential not to turn it once removed.
If you lost the counts of the clock spring turns, you can calculate it by turning it max to both directions and then calculate the middle, and make sure the steering wheel is positioned in the middle also.
Clock Spring replacement cost
The average clock spring replacement cost is between $100 and $800, depending on the car model and labor costs. A clock spring costs $50 to $500, and the labor costs $50 to $300.
The big difference in the price is because some car models have the clock spring integrated with some control modules for the steering wheel. This is very stupid – it makes any repairs very costly, because you have to replace the whole unit.
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. This can cause the labor work to become expensive because you often need special diagnostic tools.
However, clock spring replacements are luckily quite cheap on most car models, and you can expect a total replacement cost of $100 to $200.
You do also want to ensure there are no recalls on the clock spring, which could mean that you can get a replacement for free. For example, Hyundai and Volkswagen recalled the clock spring on some models.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you drive with a broken clock spring?
While you most likely can drive with a broken clock spring, it’s definitely not recommended. If your clock spring is broken, it means that the connection between your steering wheel and your airbag has been lost. This is extremely dangerous, as it means that your airbag will not deploy in the event of an accident.
Can a Clock Spring Be Repaired?
The clock spring is not worth repairing. You could probably replace the wire or clock spring inside of it, but I cannot see it being worth the struggle. Finding just a clock spring wire for your specific car model is most likely not possible either.
It is not very common that the clock spring will go bad in the first place, and often, they are pretty affordable, so replacing the whole unit is the much better option.
How do I reset my clock spring?
If you turned the clock spring by mistake when it was not installed in the car, you will need to reset it. To reset it, you have to turn it fully to the right, then fully turn it to the left and count the revolutions. Then, turn it exactly halfway. For example, if you counted a total of 5 turns, you need to turn it back 2.5 turns to find the center. Then you need to align the steering wheel in the center, and then you can install it.
How do you test a clock spring?
To test a clock spring, you need a diagnostic computer. With the diagnostic computer, you can see if you can communicate with the electronics in the car’s steering wheel. Do not use a multimeter to test the clock spring if the airbag is connected, as this may cause it to deploy if you are unlucky.
If you notice that your car stereo volume increases or decreases or has a flashing warning light only when you turn the steering wheel, this is a strong sign that there is a problem with the clock spring.
Due to the fact that airbags do not deploy in an accident if the airbag light is on your dashboard, a bad clock spring can be a serious safety hazard and should not be ignored.
If you are experiencing any of these issues, it is important to have your vehicle checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.