If the steering wheel is skipping, you must, at times, have a steering wheel that is not straight or level when driving straight down the road. That is a severe safety issue, and one I've never heard of. If it did occur, that would explain the torn clockspring. It is designed to handle normal turning of the steering wheel from full left to full right, and not much more.
It is critical that the tires be perfectly straight ahead when a new clockspring is installed. New ones come locked in the centered position, and don't unlock until the steering wheel is installed. The only problem I ever had was with a car on which I was replacing the rack and pinion steering assembly. The steering shaft was disconnected when I went to lunch. Came back an hour later, and the "newbie" kid was sitting in the car, fiddling with the customer controls, and grinning ear-to-ear as he spun the steering wheel round and round. He had no clue that he just destroyed a $150.00 part by turning it more than the ribbon cable would allow.
Older cars used a sliding contact for the horn so turning the steering wheel repeatedly would not harm anything. That's what he was familiar with. Even some Ford products with cruise control switches built into the steering wheel used three sliding contacts for the cruise control and horn, but when airbags came along, the manufacturers could not risk a lawsuit if one of the contacts ran over a microscopic piece of dirt at the exact microsecond the airbag needed to deploy. The ribbon cable provides a solid mechanical connection to the electrical circuit. The circuit is monitored by the airbag computer whenever the ignition switch is turned on. The system self-tests itself for the first seven seconds. During that time the red dash light will be on. If the light never comes on, there's a problem. If it blinks off after seven seconds, then comes right back on, there's a problem. If it comes on and goes off later while driving, there's an intermittent problem. The bag will pop in a crash when the light is off, but a diagnostic fault code will remain memorized in the computer for the mechanic to retrieve later.
The "coil spring" your mechanic is referring to is what holds the car up and helps it ride smoothly over bumps. There's one in each corner of the car. The front two each have a mounting plate on top with ball bearings that allow them to turn freely while holding up over 1000 pounds of vehicle weight. These bearing assemblies can deteriorate and bind causing hard steering or they can cause "memory steer" which is the steering wheel not coming back to center by itself without you helping it. That can be very irritating to drive.
If you do NOT experience a crooked steering wheel, I suspect when you refer to "finally it'll catch on and turn the tires" you might be feeling that binding in those upper strut mounts. An easy way to determine if that's what it is, is to lightly wrap your fingertips around an upper loop of one of the coil springs, then have someone slowly turn the steering wheel. It's easier when the engine is running because there will be power steering assist. You will likely feel a little roughness as the spring turns, but a binding mount will cause tension to build as the spring twists, then it will suddenly snap loose with an audible "thunk". If one side seems to turn freely, feel the other side for binding. The struts must be removed to replace the upper mounts, and the vehicle should be aligned afterward. There are other things that can go wrong with the mounts that can not be detected without disassembling them. For that reason, some customers get surprised with additional parts needed when all they were expecting was to get new struts installed.
If binding strut mounts is indeed what you're experiencing, that would have nothing to do with a broken clockspring. Just a coincidence it happened at the same time. If your mechanic never heard of a clockspring, he has never worked on a Chrysler airbag system. I have about 20 of them that I sell at car show swap meets. "Clockspring" is Chrysler's terminology and it's printed right on the box. Unfortunately, most of the clocksprings I have are from new cars that came without cruise control from the factory. When adding factory cruise control at the dealership, we had to replace a number of components including the steering wheel and brake light switch. The clockspring was replaced too because of the two additional circuits in it for the cruise control switches. The clocksprings we took out were practically new, but they don't have the two cruise control wires in them.
The bottom line is the clockspring is by far the most common cause of a problem in the airbag system, and the clockspring is the only thing that the airbag, horn, and cruise control have in common. First, have the steering and suspension system inspected and repaired. The alignment specialist at the Dodge dealership will be the most familiar with the system and its common problems. (That's what I did for ten years). Quite often the final repair bill is less expensive compared to quality independent shops because less diagnostic time is required to find all the problems. I was surprised to learn we often charged less than a lot of other shops.
There's a lot to digest. Holler back if you have more questions.
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 AT 9:59 PM