Clock spring

Tiny
DEBBIE AYRES
  • MEMBER
  • 2002 BMW 325I
  • 174,000 MILES
Is it possible that while BMW replaced a recall driver's side airbag, that they caused damage to the clock spring? Coincidentally, the clockspring was damaged in a month of the airbag being replaced. Thank you. Debbie
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Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 AT 4:46 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
No. The clock spring is not touched when replacing the air bag in the steering wheel. If the clock spring is removed without regard to its orientation, (usually what do-it-yourselfers do), it can be damaged if it is not reinstalled correctly. It contains a wound-up ribbon cable that can only wind up or unwind a specific amount. When it is installed off-center, turning the steering wheel fully to one side will cause the ribbon cable to wind too tightly and snap. Turning the steering wheel the other way will cause the cable to unwind too far and fold over on itself. That will cause it to break, but not always right away. It is very doubtful it would last a month unless you only drove straight ahead and never turned fully to either side.

You did not list any symptom or repair history, so I am guessing that since you are asking about the clock spring, the "Air Bag" warning light must be on, and there is a fault code related to the "squib" or "initiator" circuit. There are other things that can cause that code to set. It is important to understand fault codes only indicate the circuit or system that needs further diagnosis, or the unacceptable operating condition. They never say to replace parts.
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Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 AT 5:32 PM
Tiny
DEBBIE AYRES
  • MEMBER
Thank you so much CardioDoc for the information. The airbag light came on within a few weeks of driving after having the recall work done on the driver's side air bag. I see, so the fault code indicated the system and did not mean that it was related to the air bag. Very helpful! Thanks!
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Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 AT 12:39 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You have that partially correct. There are many computers in your car, and any related to safety or emissions will have its own warning light. The warning light that turns on indicates the system with the problem. The diagnostic fault codes have to read in that computer, and it's that code that indicates which circuit within that system needs further diagnosis.

The Engine Computer can detect close to 2,000 different problems and it will set a fault code to indicate the circuit or system that needs to be diagnosed, or the unacceptable operating condition. It's important to understand that those fault codes never ever say to replace a part or that one is bad. When a part is referenced in a fault code, it is actually the cause of that code about half of the time. Your mechanic must first rule out wiring and connector terminal problems, and mechanical problems related to that part. An example of a typical fault code is, "Throttle position sensor voltage too high". That could be caused by a bad sensor, but a cut wire is much more common. A better example is, "Engine running lean too long". It's obvious no part is even mentioned. The people at most auto parts stores will read these codes for you for free, because they're hoping to sell you a part, but very often that part won't solve the problem.

The Air Bag Computer also detects problems and sets its own fault codes, but in this case it turns itself off. It knows it can't be relied upon to know when a crash impact is occurring or to deploy the air bag. It turns the red "Air Bag" warning light on to tell you the system is turned off. You need to have a mechanic read these codes with a scanner that works on BMWs and can access the Air Bag Computer. Most auto parts stores just use inexpensive code readers that can only access Engine Computers. Some of those cost less than $50.00. Regular scanners used in repair shops cost between $4,000.00 to over $10,000.00.

The clock spring is part of the Air Bag system. It has the wires going from the computer to the "initiator" that lights the rocket fuel pellet that inflates the bag. Because you mentioned the clock spring, I assumed it was the "Air Bag" warning light you saw lit up. If that is not correct, there are other systems that also have wires going through the ribbon cable. Those include the horn and cruise control. Both of those systems have switches on the steering wheel. The engineers have gotten really insane with all the totally-unnecessary computers they've added to otherwise pretty reliable systems. It wouldn't surprise me if these other circuits are monitored on newer cars. The manufacturers try to convince us these computers, with their self-diagnostic capabilities, make diagnosing modern cars easier, but in fact the biggest majority of problems, by far, are caused by those unneeded computers. The dust, vibration, and moisture are the worst enemies for electronics you can possibly find, so the engineers keep adding more and more.

The optional anti-lock brake system has its own computer and can set its own fault codes. That one also turns itself off when there's a problem, and it turns on the yellow "ABS" warning light. It can detect electrical problems and most mechanical problems. You can get a clue by observing exactly when that warning light turns on. The warning light turns on for six seconds while the computer runs some tests, when the ignition switch is turned on. If the light turns off after that six seconds, then turns right back on again, it is usually an electrical problem, such as a cut wire or corroded connector terminal for one of the wheel speed sensors. If the warning light turns off, then turns on again after the car has been moving, typically between, oh, 50 feet to as much as a mile, it is usually mechanical-related. The wheel speed sensors are working, but it takes some time to detect a problem with the signals they are generating.

There are other computers that are capable of setting their own fault codes, but they do not have warning lights. You have to go by the symptoms to know there is a problem. Examples include the Body Computer, heater/air conditioning controller, Transmission Controller, and dozens more. Even the instrument cluster and now the radio are computers that can set fault codes. These fault codes are needed to tell the mechanic where to start looking to solve a problem. Many decades ago it took only a few minutes to determine which system wasn't working, and each system only had a few parts to look at. Today, there can be over 50 computers doing the same things we never needed computers to do before, and each one can have over a dozen individual sensor circuits, and another dozen actuator circuits. Without a diagnostic fault code to tell the mechanic which of those circuits needs to be diagnosed, it could take weeks of testing to figure out which one has the defect, and more time to figure out what that defect is.
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Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 AT 2:41 PM
Tiny
RLACOUR
  • MEMBER
I like Debbie am experiencing identical issue. Original purchaser of 02' 525i. Never experienced problem with airbag or steering wheel alignment. Airbag recall performed Dec 2016 @ 97,000 miles.
June/July 2017 recieved airbag warning light. Same dealer that performed recall now saying clockspring requires replacement, and cause is unrelated to airbag replacement. Total miles driven since recall service: 4,000
Dealer charging $180 for performing diagnostic service.
Dealer pricing clockspring replacement at $763.11

Dealer claims clockspring S are well known for failure & need for replacement, as early as at just 60,000 mile.

Certainly feeling like a ripoff by dealer.

Elevating matter to BMW North America.
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Friday, September 1st, 2017 AT 11:15 AM
Tiny
RLACOUR
  • MEMBER
Update. After declining to have clockspring replaced and advising of intent to file complaint with State of Calif Bureau of Automotive Repair and BMW No. America, picked car up, paid the $180 diagnosis fe ( in protest ), got in car, started it and like magic the warning light did not come on!
Still going to follow through with complaint as I feel the $180 charge should not have applied based on initial system recall/repair was or should have been covered under 12 month warranty for the Dec 16' repair order.
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Friday, September 1st, 2017 AT 4:47 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
What other profession do you expect people to work for you for free? From what you've said so far, your expectations are unrealistic. The air bag recall involves unsnapping the old air bag assembly from the steering wheel, lifting it off, unplugging it, then the horn switch is removed and transferred to the new air bag. The new air bag is plugged in and snapped onto the steering wheel. It takes more time to walk to the parts department to get the new air bag than it does to do the repair. The steering wheel is not removed, and no one goes near the clock spring.

To do the clock spring replacement, the steering wheel has to be removed to get to it. That requires special tools, and can take up to an hour.

We have enough trouble already with unjustified accusations from people who don't understand how the machines work that we trust to get us back home, I'll never defend a dishonest mechanic or shop owner, but unwarranted accusations only add to the bad reputation good mechanics have just by being part of the industry.

There's two things your complaint has in common with the original question. This is a common problem, and in both cases, it was not caused by replacing the air bag. As proof, neither problem showed up right after the recall was performed. In my tv repair industry, and the car repair industry, we call that, "being married to the product". That means whatever goes wrong from the date of the repair to the rest of the products' life is our fault because we touched it five years ago, . . Or two years ago, or as in your case, seven months ago. If you get a flat tire, is it because you hit a pot hole seven months ago? If your engine runs rough, is it because of where you filled with gas three weeks ago? Those make just as much sense.

There's over 2,000 defects your Engine Computer can detect. Half of them cause the Check Engine light to turn on. If your mechanic fixes the cause of one of those defects, then a completely different problem develops a week later and turns on the Check Engine light again, is that the mechanic's fault. By your logic it would be.

I DO take issue with the charges you were quoted, but that is not surprising. BMW, VW, Audi, and GM are well-known to be the worst manufacturers in the world when it comes to customer-friendly business practices. They have more ways figured out to separate you from your money after the sale than all the other manufactures combined. According to a large group of national-level trainers for our industry, the best manufacturers at putting customers ahead of profits are Hyundai, Toyota, and Chrysler. Even with those brands, it is common to find hourly shop rates around $100.00 per hour. If I'd show you my list of expenses and government regulations auto shop owners have to worry about, you would be unable to figure out how they manage to stay in business charging so little!

My reason for sharing that wondrous information is not to justify the high cost of auto repair, but to explain my concern regarding the charges you were quoted. Step one for your complaint of "Air Bag light is on" is to connect a scanner to read the diagnostic fault code. That takes all of five minutes. Some unscrupulous shop owners have a one-hour minimum charge, so that five minute diagnosis could cost you a hundred dollars. In my city, we have about 15 new-car dealers. Most of them are extremely honest and ethical, but the Chevy dealer is the notable exception. He has that one-hour minimum, and almost no repeat customers.

It is an accepted practice to have a separate charge for using the scanner on your car. Those can cost as much as $10,000.00, plus the annual updates that can cost over $1000.00 per year. One of BMW's customer-unfriendly business practices is they are very selfish with their service information and specialized test equipment. They are one of the very few manufacturers that will not share that with the independent repair shops. That's why a lot of shops won't work on BMWs. You're stuck with the dealership and whatever they want to charge.

Finally getting to my point, even with a one-hour minimum, and a test equipment charge, I would be ashamed and embarrassed to hand a customer a $180.00 bill to do a five-minute diagnosis. To give the benefit of the doubt, lets say it takes five minutes to drive the car into the shop, five minutes to find the equipment or wait your turn for it, five minutes to write up your findings on the back of the repair order, and five minutes to drive the car outside, a half-hour charge would not be unreasonable. The fault code for a defective clock spring is very specific as to the circuit, and there's only three connectors, some wire, and the clock spring involved. Given that clock springs do fail, connectors in this safety circuit are of very high quality and have a real low failure rate, AND this is a common problem on this model, a conscientious mechanic would not waste your time and money ruling out those other possibilities before condemning the clock spring. We DO take the time to rule those things out for other problems before we spend your money on a part, but not in this case. The chance of being wrong is less than one in a thousand, and no boss would blame a mechanic if the new clock spring didn't solve the problem.

I'm also surprised with the price you were quoted for the new clock spring. I'm unhappy that a new one for my minivan costs almost $150.00. I suspect your price includes the installation, but even if that takes an hour, the cost is unreasonable. Given the age of the car, I would look for a second opinion from an independent shop, and ask if they will quote a price for a new clock spring, and a used one from a salvage yard. If this is a known high-failure item, a reputable shop owner may not want to trust a used one, but if the dealer will sell them the part, you should get a much better repair estimate for the new one.

My issue with your complaint is threatening to take this to a higher authority. Unless there's more to the story that you haven't shared, you're looking for someone else to blame for the failure of a high-failure part on an expensive fifteen-year-old car, built with expensive parts. When the rest of us need a new clock spring, who do we complain to if our air bag system wasn't worked on previously? It looks to me like the mechanic didn't do anything wrong, and the new air bag didn't cause this problem. That repair was seven months ago with no problems in between.
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Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 AT 1:33 AM
Tiny
RLACOUR
  • MEMBER
Appreciate and respect your feedback. In December this particular dealer had also quoted $4200 to repair/replace instrument cluster because it's LED readout had started fading. The repair was declined, and subsequently performed by an independent speed shop for $218.00

I do not believe the problem to be with the mechanics, but rather with the "service advisor" that gets assigned to you.

And yes I do acknowledge, this may all be "just my reality".
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Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 AT 6:55 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I think you're eluding to a common problem in this industry. That is poor communication. Mechanics speak their own language, just as do people in many other professions. In three words they can tell another mechanic an entire story about the car they're working on.

The service adviser usually was never a mechanic, or he was a poor one who got demoted. Part of his job is to take what he thought he heard the mechanic tell him, and translate that into something he thinks you will understand. You know things are going to get lost in translation. That is not an attempt to deceive or defraud, but I've had customers find me, and after discussing their car, the story they related from the service adviser was nothing close to what I had told him. Its no wonder so many customers think they're being lied to. In my case however, it was common for him to clarify his understanding during our lunch breaks or free time. He appreciated that I could make the problem and solution understandable. My service manager and the dealership owners even brought customers back to see me on occasion. Later, I had the same success as an instructor. (Really smart people make bad teachers because they get frustrated when everyone else doesn't get it as easily as they do. What does that say about me)?

Very happy to hear about your experience with the independent shop. I've repaired a few digital instrument clusters, but one that I had to send in cost around $150.00 plus shipping two ways. That was through a private company. GM dealers are required to send clusters, radios, and computers to one of two authorized repair facilities. It can cost a customer around $450.00 to get an AM / FM / cassette player repaired. I worked at a tv repair shop in the '70s that was authorized for GM warranty. A corporate fellow came around, so proud that they were going from over 100 shops in the U.S, to six, then to two. That's what they have now is two. To further cut out little hobbyists like me who fix a dozen radios per year, they will no longer sell us radio service manuals or parts. That's one example of what I mean by "customer-unfriendly business practices". I have dozens of similar GM stories.

Anyway, remember how you were treated at that dealership the next time you're in the mood to buy a car. You might even ask to speak briefly to the dealership owner. It's my understanding that at some dealerships, service advisers earn a commission on the parts and services they sell, so it's in their interest to inflate charges. The owner will appreciate knowing why customers don't come back. My boss used to tell us it takes more advertising dollars to get one new customer than it takes to keep ten people happy and coming back. GM is constantly advertising for new customers. Most others don't have to do that.

I'm sorry that I don't have a better answer than to get a second opinion. Look how well that worked out for you with your instrument cluster!
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Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 AT 8:26 AM

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