2001 Chevrolet Impala No steering

Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
  • MEMBER
  • 2001 CHEVROLET IMPALA
  • 3.8L
  • 6 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 116,000 MILES
I changed the solenoids in the transmission drivers side pan. I dropped the sub frame pretty far to make sure I had enough room to get the pan out well after putting the sub frame back up I have no steering at all. Did I break something or is there a way the steering came unhooked? Please help thanks
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 3:16 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Do you mean you have no power assist or the steering wheel turns freely without turning the steering gear?

My guess is the steering gear doesn't turn. You've created a number of problems by dropping the cross member. First, you have to disconnect the steering shaft, otherwise it's going to pull apart at the slip joint. Second, if you rotate the steering wheel as little as one revolution with the shaft disconnected, you'll place the "clock spring" off-center. That's a wound-up ribbon cable in a plastic housing under the steering wheel. With it out-of-sync with the steering gear, it is going to turn too far one way. Either it will get tight and tear when you turn fully one way or it will fold over on itself and eventually snap when you turn repeatedly fully the other way. Plan on needing to replace the clock spring if that happens. You'll know by the "Air Bag" light staying on or the horn or cruise control not working.

Third, on only GM front-wheel-drive cars, you have to paint witness marks on the cross member so you can install it in exactly the same place it was. If it is off-center by as little as 1/16" you will change an alignment angle called "camber", which is adjusted during an alignment, but you'll also change an angle called "steering axis inclination", (SAI). The alignment mechanic can correct SAI if you tell him what you did. We don't look at that angle unless we know we need to or when we're looking for the cause of an elusive problem. There is no correct number for SAI. What is critical is it is exactly the same on each side. When it is not, you will have miserable handling and the car will dart from side to side over small bumps in the road, and no alignment will take care of that.
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 3:54 PM
Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
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Ok can I reconnect the slip joint if I can get the clock spring right?
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 4:10 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Those two things are totally unrelated to each other. The slip joint is under the dash and allows for flexing in the body and it can partially collapse in a crash. The clock spring is right under the steering wheel and is turned by the upper part of the steering shaft.
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 4:14 PM
Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
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Is the clock spring under the dash too?
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 4:26 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Nope. The clock spring is in a round plastic housing right under the steering wheel.

Have to run now. I'm racing a dying laptop battery. Will be back later tonight or tomorrow to see how you're doing.
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Saturday, December 27th, 2014 AT 4:44 PM
Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
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I got to the steering shaft under the dash. It turns all the way down to the firewall so I has to be from the firewall to the rack and pinion somewhere that came apart. Is the clock spring still an issue with this being the case? Also is there a spot from the firewall to the rack and pinion that could have came apart maybe?
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Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 AT 8:04 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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GM used a few different steering shaft designs. They all include a joint that connects to the stub shaft sticking out of the rack assembly, but those connections always need to have a bolt unscrewed or a roll pin punched out, THEN the splined joint can be pulled apart. The slip-shaft that can be pulled apart freely is much longer and typically needs to be pulled apart two or three inches before it will fall apart. That joint is usually inside the car under the dash, but it could also be right at the firewall where the upper part stays inside a rubber boot on the firewall.

The best way I can describe the clock spring is to compare it to the steering system that you can turn, ... Lets say one and a half turns from centered to full-left, and one and a half turns from centered to full-right. That means the steering wheel has a range of three turns "lock-to-lock". The clock spring will have a similar range with just a little more for a safety margin, perhaps three and a half turns. When the steering wheel is centered, the clock spring must be centered too. That way, the clock spring will never be forced to turn beyond its limits regardless of which way the steering wheel is turned or how far.

If everything is centered, then you disconnect the steering shaft from the steering gear, there won't be a problem if the steering wheel remains in that position AND the steering gear is put in that centered position before the shaft is reconnected. If the steering wheel is rotated one revolution either way, then the shaft is reconnected to the steering gear that is centered, the two will be out-of-sync by one revolution.

For example, lets say you started with everything centered, you dropped the cross member and the slip-shaft pulled apart, and during that time the steering wheel got rotated one revolution to the left. When everything is put back together while the wheels are straight ahead, the clock spring will already be one turn left. Now you can turn the steering gear one and a half turns to the left which puts the clock spring two and a half turns to the left. Depending on which way the ribbon cable is wound, it could become wound tight before you reach full-left, and forcing it further will tug it apart. If it's wound the other way, it will unwind in the housing until it can't go any further, then the end will fold over and bend. If that happens often enough it will crack apart. That usually doesn't happen because before that can happen, you will turn full-right and tear it apart that way.

A new clock spring will come with a paper tape through the center that instructs you to be sure the steering system is centered before you install it. If you get a used clock spring from a salvage yard, you have to be sure the steering system is centered before you remove it, and on all of them I'm familiar with, once removed, it can't be rotated on purpose or accidentally unless you press a pair of release buttons. Those buttons are pressed by the steering wheel when that is installed.

The only way I know of to check if a clock spring is centered is to remove the cover and look at the ribbon cable. If you're careful, you can turn it one way and feel when it gets tight, then back it off the other way slightly more than the one and a half turns in my sad example story, until it lines up with the steering shaft. The problem is knowing which way to turn it initially. If you go the wrong way, you could fold the ribbon cable over and go all the way the other way. It could actually work like that for a while, but eventually the end will fold over repeatedly until it cracks apart.

I was involved in a recall that required disconnecting the steering shaft inside the car to replace a joint. To gain access to the bolt that needed to be removed, the steering wheel had to be turned a half turn either way. On most cars, when a free-spinning steering wheel is upside-down, it has a heavy spot that makes it want to go back to its normal position. This is especially true on GM vehicles. If you didn't pay attention, you'd lose track of which way it went. Now you have a 50 percent chance it's out of sync. To avoid that, I used a rubber bungee strap to hold the steering wheel centered. Well, after a few dozen of those cars, I knew I was "so good" that I no longer needed to waste the extra time to find and use that strap. The problem was one day I knocked off for lunch with the shaft disconnected, and came back later to find the new kid sitting in the customer's car listening to the radio, and jokingly going "wheeee!" As he spun the steering wheel round and round. I donated my labor for the repair, but that mistake cost the dealership $150.00 for the clock spring, plus they lost my next hour of productivity. No one told the new kid with no formal training what would happen. No one impressed on him why we don't fiddle with customer controls and play in their cars, and I didn't leave the car with a warning note or some other indication that the steering wheel must not be turned. That's not the way we like to learn things.
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Thursday, January 1st, 2015 AT 7:02 PM
Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
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You can call me the new kid. When I was tightening the bolts for the hub assembly I wanted to rotate the wheel so I could get a good grip on one of the bolts, well when I went to turn the wheel it spun and I was at shock because I never had this issue so I spun it once or twice again in disbelief. Needless to say what you said happened actually happened. The slip not is located at the firewall on this car (2001 chevy impala) so after a long night of getting it back together (which is nearly impossible while still in the car) I have steering again.

I'm guessing I will also have to either buy a new clocking spring or if I didn't ruin this one fix it before I drive it.

P.S. Thank you for all the help this far it has been much appreciated.
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Friday, January 2nd, 2015 AT 6:19 AM
Tiny
SCOTTSMITH
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Can you tell if the clocking spring was bad with out taking the airbag and steering wheel off first?
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Friday, January 2nd, 2015 AT 12:56 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
If the ribbon cable is broken, the systems that have circuits running through it won't work. The most obvious one is the Air Bag warning light will be on, the system will be turned off by the computer so it won't deploy in a crash, and the stored diagnostic fault code will be something to the effect of "open squib" or "open initiator". The "squib" is the pair of wires going to the air bag assembly, and those include two circuits in the clock spring ribbon cable.

The horn and the cruise control also won't work. If you have steering wheel controls for the radio, those will be inoperative too.

If you turn on the ignition switch and see the Air Bag light turn on for six seconds, then go off, that means it passed all the self-tests and is armed and ready to deploy in a crash. At that point the ribbon cable is still okay. What you can try is to turn the steering wheel slowly one revolution to the left, then one revolution to the right, but don't use any unnecessary pressure. If you feel the wheel suddenly get hard to turn, suspect the ribbon cable has tightened up. At that point the easiest would be to remove the steering wheel, lift off the clock spring, then use the steering wheel to continue turning the steering system that way as far as possible. That should bring the clock spring back in sync with the steering system.

If you don't feel any resistance turning one revolution, try going all the way each way. If the Air Bag light is still off, it is possible the clock spring is in sync, but it is just as likely the ribbon cable is out-of-sync the other way and is folding over on itself. You won't know that until it breaks from too much flexing. That could take days or weeks to show up.
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Friday, January 2nd, 2015 AT 4:38 PM

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