I RECENTLY TOOK MY DODGE 1500 TO MY MECHANIC AND...
2005 Dodge Ram
October, 24, 2012 AT 2:30 AM
I recently took my Dodge 1500 to my mechanic and had my rack and pinion steering replaced. When I picked it up he asked me if my air bag ever came on. I said no and he looked confused. He stated that they felt the steering wheel was tight and they forced it left and right. In the process the herd a pop and stated the clock spring broke. Now my air bags and horn don't work. Does this sound like an issue that was caused by faulty instilation or am I liable to pay to have the clock spring replaced
Nope. It is important to have the steering system centered when disconnecting the steering shaft from the rack, AND the new rack must be centered when the shaft is reconnected. Many mechanics even lock the steering wheel so it won't get bumped. (You can also start with it off-center but then you must install the new rack off-center exactly the same amount. The clock spring is a wound-up ribbon cable in a plastic housing under the steering wheel. If your steering wheel turns four revolutions, (as an example) from full left to full right, the clock spring will be able to go only about four and a half revolutions. It's the rack and pinion assembly's internal stops that prevent the clock spring from going too far.
The mechanic didn't know or didn't see that the steering wheel turned at least one revolution while it was disconnected, or, as happened to me once, the new guy was playing with the customer's steering wheel during lunch break. He thought it was funny that he could keep on turning the steering wheel endlessly until I explained what he caused. I normally put bungee straps through them to make sure they didn't turn but had stopped doing that to save time.
When the steering wheel is turned one or more revolutions between the old and new racks, once assembled, the clock spring will either get tight when turned fully one way, and you might hear it snap, or it will unwind the other way and the end will fold over on itself. After bending enough times it will break.
The horn, cruise control, and air bag all have circuits running through the clock spring so those circuits will be inoperative. The Air Bag Computer detects that open circuit, sets a diagnostic fault code, turns on the warning light, and disables the system. I don't know if the passenger air bag will still pop in a crash.
When installing a new clock spring, the steering system must be centered because that's how all new clock springs come. There is a tape across it explaining that, and there are two lock buttons that prevent it from turning so you can't lose track of where it is currently oriented. The installed steering wheel pushes those lock buttons down allowing the clock spring to rotate.
The shop should replace the clock spring at no charge to you for parts or labor since it was their fault. That's how it worked at the very nice Chrysler dealership I worked at. Sometimes they may not believe they caused the damage, and very often they did not cause the problems people think they did, but in this case they admitted the steering wheel got tight and they heard the ribbon cable snap. What WOULD be appreciated is after they make the repairs, if they do it without argument, I'd take them a bunch of chocolate chip cookies or some donuts a few days later so they know you're not angry. The mechanic is going to be feeling pretty low already, and angry customers can really wreck a guy's day.