Modern vehicles come with a plethora of sensors that are connected with a vehicle’s central computer or the PCM. One such sensor is the steering angle sensor which is responsible for keeping a check on the car’s stability and traction. This sensor is joined with a car’s stability technology which comes under various names.
Every manufacturer has a unique name for their vehicle’s stability technology but a different name doesn’t change the fact that the technology used by all manufacturers is basically the same.
What is a Steering Angle Sensor?
Modern vehicles are riddled with sensors that signal the vehicles onboard computer to take the necessary action regarding certain conditions. The steering angle sensor is one such sensor which is vital for a car and its performance. When you turn the steering wheel, you expect the wheels to turn in that particular direction. The steering angle sensor, as its name suggests, senses the steering’s angle. There are two major types of steering angle sensors: analogue and digital.
Both use different methods to detect the steering’s angle. The digital sensor, which is also the most widely found sensor in cars, uses a LED light to detect the wheel angle, the rate of turn another important information. The sensor then transfers this information to the ECU, which acts by adjusting in the way your car drives and steers. The stability system will be activated, if your car has one. Naturally, if the steering angle sensor goes wrong, your road presence will become dangerous and you will see a yellowish light illuminating in your dash.
Faulty Steering Angle Sensor Symptoms
Any sensor, may it be a steering angle sensor or any other, can wear out due to constant use. It is common knowledge that electronic components have a certain lifespan. Once the component reaches the end of its lifespan, it starts to lose its efficiency. However, every failing car part gives off signs that can alert you and prompt you to take quick action.
Check Engine Light or Traction Control Light Illuminates
Older cars had a sensor which was privy to the ECU. All ECU problems are signified by the Check Engine Light, so this light illuminating in your dashboard can signify any number of problems associated with the powertrain. You can only know of the problem once you use a code scanner and extract the proper error code for further diagnosis. However, in modern cars traction technology has been introduced. This is an entirely new technology and that’s why it gets a separate indicator in the form of a Traction Control Light. Therefore, if you see this light coming on in the dashboard, you might have a bad steering angle sensor.
Heavy Steering Wheel Turning
When there is any loss in traction or the steering wheel’s functions go bad even when there was no issue the last time you drove your car, there might be some problem with your steering angle sensor. The sensor might have sent inaccurate information to the car’s onboard computer resulting in unnecessary automatic adjustments or the sensor might have stopped functioning entirely resulting in no information reaching the ECU (This will trigger the Traction Control Light).
Car Acts Strange After Wheel Alignment
We talked about the steering angle sensor sending false or inaccurate information to the ECU. If your car is acting a bit weird or driving strange even after a wheel alignment, it might be due to a failing steering angle sensor. It is important and necessary to reset the steering angle sensor after an alignment, if your mechanic fails to do that, you can have this problem. Therefore, in such case revisit your mechanic and have the sensor reset and the wheels realigned.
Location of The Steering Angle Sensor
The steering angle sensor is usually located near the steering box, however, in some cars, it is even found right by the wheels. There can either be one of more than one sensor on your vehicle. So, it is first best to know which one of your sensors is causing the Check Engine Light in your dash to light up.
Diagnosis of a Failing Steering Angle Sensor
There are a number of visible signs that accompany a failing steering angle sensor. Understanding and spotting them before time can help you save some money and most importantly your life. The first difference you will feel might be in your car’s performance. Perhaps, the car is too unstable around corners or just too out of control when you brake. The car’s Engine Check Light can also illuminate. Generally, any awkward feeling while driving your car can be an example of failure, which you need to get checked as soon as possible.
Testing A Bad Steering Angle Sensor
After you have completed all the above steps and you are still getting the Traction Control Light in your dashboard, it is time to schedule an appointment with the mechanic. The mechanic will have the proper tools to test and check the sensor. The most important tool to check sensors is a code scanner. A car’s computer communicates via error codes. As soon as something goes wrong, an error code(s) pops up and the Check Engine Light or the Traction Control Light illuminates. You cannot see the error code without an OBDII scanner. A mechanic already has a scanner which he can use but you can also easily buy one for a reasonable price.
You can also check the parameters to see what angle the steering sensor is sending. Try to turn your steering wheel to see if you get any corrupted signals from it.
The most common code that accompanies a failing steering angle sensor is U0126. If you see this code on your scanner, it means you may have a problem with the sensor.
Sensors can also be tested using voltmeters sometimes if you have the skill. To check the steering angle sensor, you need to have a high impedance voltmeter, which is not commonly found in everyone’s home but it is easily found in a mechanic’s workshop. Then you need to check the reading on the voltmeter at various engine speeds. Finally, compare the readings with the manufacturer specific range. If there is any irregularity, get the sensor repaired or replaced.
Cleaning the Steering Angle Sensor Connector
In some cases, it can be corrosion on the steering angle sensor connector or inside it. If you can reach the sensor easily, you can try to clean the connector and the sensor. Keep in mind that in the most cases, it is the sensor itself that got an internal damage, and a cleaning won’t fix it.
Things you will need:
A disposable plastic bag
Remove the Sensor
The steering angle sensor is either located near the car’s suspension or in the steering column. Search for the correct location on your car’s user manual and proceed to unscrew the sensor. Make sure not to damage any other surrounding components.
Use Ethanol or Alcohol to Clean the Sensor Connection
To clean a steering angle sensor, you could either use the alcohol and the plastic bag technique or use a dedicated Contact Cleaner. The first one requires you to place the sensor inside the plastic bag and rub it with alcohol to wash away any contaminants. The second is fairly easy as you just might need to spray the cleaner liquid onto the sensor to clean the connector and the sensor.
Reinstall the Steering Angle Sensor
Now you can simply let the sensor dry for a few hours before you put it back in its original position.
Steering Angle Sensor Replacement Cost
A steering sensor replacement will cost you $150-$320 on average with the part costing $120 – $250 and the labor costs averaging at $80 – $150.
The first thing you might wonder after looking at the replacement cost is that it varies a lot. There is no fixed price for the part and neither a fixed labor cost. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the price of the part can depend on the make of your car and its model year. Older car parts are very rare and difficult to find, so they cost a lot more than a component for a more recent car. Furthermore, the steering angle sensor for a foreign car will definitely cost a lot more compared to locally assembled vehicles whose parts are relatively cheaper.
The second big concern is the qualification of your mechanic. Mechanics are certified by a regulating body that determines their car repairing skills based on their knowledge. Then there are other mechanics that have reached a certain stature just through experience. The third category is those mechanics that have loads of experience and a professional certification. Usually, the latter is the best one among the three and that is the one you should go for. A certified professional mechanic will usually charge you on the higher side of the price bracket, but then you can be assured that your car will come back in working condition. Other cheaper mechanics can destroy even those things which were working fine in the first place.
Repairing/Replacing Steering Angle Sensor
The perfect time to replace your car’s steering angle sensor is when it starts to show signs of failure. This saves you from future trouble and future expenses. Here is how to remove and replace a steering angle sensor:
- Determine the faulty sensor, using an error code scanner
- Search for the bad sensor in the steering column or near the wheels
- Browse the car’s manual for a detailed explanation of the sensor’s location
- The sensor would be protruding and probably dirty from overuse
- Remove the connector to cut off the electricity supply to the sensor in order to remove it
- Now use a screwdriver to unscrew the steering angle sensor from its place
- Throw out the old sensor and unpack the new sensor you bought
- Thoroughly clean the area where you will place the sensor
- Place the sensor in its place and screw it tightly to the body frame
- Reconnect the connectors to sensor
- Start your car and look for the glowing light in your dash
- Use an error code scanner to clear the code cache and remove the light in your dash