Sorry for the delay. Had a house fire so I have to drive into town and sit in the library parking lot to use their wireless internet. Had a snowstorm the last two days but I'm back now.
What I'm concerned about is the "clock spring". That is a wound-up ribbon cable in a plastic housing under the steering wheel. It makes a solid electrical connection for the air bag, but they run other circuits through it too for the cruise control switches and horn. It is critical that the wheels are straight ahead when the steering shaft is disconnected, and the steering wheel remain that way until the new steering gear is attached to the steering shaft. If, for example, you have to turn the steering gear half a turn to access the pinch bolt, you have to turn the steering wheel half a turn the same way.
Anything that causes the steering wheel to get out of sync with the steering gear will cause damage to the clock spring. On older cars without air bags, with the steering shaft disconnected, you could rotate the steering wheel endlessly without damaging anything. With the steering gear connected, you typically will have three steering wheel revolutions lock-to-lock, or about one and a half turns from full-turn to centered. The clock spring is designed to accommodate that and little more. Suppose the steering wheel is centered when you disconnect the old steering gear. To install the new gear you have to turn it to the right to access the tie rod end attachment point. If you connect the steering shaft like that with the steering wheel still centered but the gear to the right, you have to turn the steering wheel a revolution to the left to bring the tires back to straight ahead. Now, when you turn to the left, the steering wheel and clock spring are going to go one revolution more than allowed. Depending on which way the clock spring is off-center, that will either tear the cable because it's too short, or the cable will be too long and will fold over on itself. After a few times of folding over, it will crack and break.
If you have to replace the clock spring, the new one will have a piece of tape through the middle with a warning to have the tires straight ahead. The new assembly will be locked in the centered position. The installed steering wheel pushes on a pair of buttons to unlock the clock spring and let it rotate.
In your original description, it sounded like you were able to turn the steering wheel freely one way but it wasn't clear if you could turn it back to centered. If you could get it back to centered but it wouldn't go any further, you could have been stopped by the clock spring. If you were gentle, I could see the ribbon cable surviving, but it won't for long if you don't correct it right away.
Thursday, November 13th, 2014 AT 2:24 AM