Air bag Clockspring Buyer's Guide
- A rotary electrical connector called the air bag clockspring keeps the air bag and control buttons on the steering wheel connected with the car’s electrical system no matter what the wheel’s position may be.
- The air bag clockspring can wear out before the designed lifespan. The air bag connectors can melt and fuse with the steering wheel's cylinder, or the clockspring itself can suffer metal fatigue.
- If the clockspring develops an issue, expect an illuminated air bag warning light, one or more control buttons on the steering wheel refusing to work, or the steering wheel becomes harder to turn.
- Removing the old air bag clockspring and installing a new one requires at least moderate levels of training, skill, and experience in repairing vehicles.
- A new air bag clockspring can cost anywhere between $54 and $371. The price depends on the assembly’s manufacturer and the year, make, and model of the vehicle that needs the replacement part.
Have you ever wondered what delivers electrical power to the driver’s air bag and the other various electronic doodads on your car’s steering wheel? Instead of flimsy cables or wires that can fray or break whenever you turn the steering wheel too quickly, an electrical connector called the air bag clockspring maintains the link no matter the wheel’s position.
Ironically, this critical component often gets ignored by vehicle owners and even experienced auto repair technicians whenever they try to find out what went wrong with their car. This guide will hopefully increase your awareness of the air bag clockspring.
What is an air bag clockspring?
The air bag clockspring is a rotary electrical connector in the steering system. It lies between the steering wheel and the steering column.
At the heart of the assembly lies the clockspring. A flat ribbon that follows the shape of a spiral, it uses flexible materials that can conduct electricity and withstand heat.
This clockspring gets its name from the driver’s air bag stored within the steering wheel. Metal connectors attach the coil to the air bag. Additional connectors link the clockspring with the various control buttons often found on the steering wheel.
Depending on the vehicle’s make and model, the buttons on the steering wheel control the following parts or systems:
- Car horn
- Car phone
- Cruise control
- Heating system
Alternative names for the air bag clockspring include “air bag clock spring” and “air bag spiral cable.”
What does an air bag clockspring do?
Despite its name, the air bag clockspring doesn’t directly control the driver’s air bag. The job of triggering the safety device goes to the air bag control module, which uses crash sensors in the car’s front to judge if a collision proves serious enough to inflate the safety devices.
Instead, the clockspring maintains the electrical connection between the air bag and its control module. It performs the same role for other electronic devices and control systems on the steering wheel.
Depending on how the car manufacturer designed and installed it, the air bag clockspring will expand if you turn the steering wheel in one direction. Turning the wheel in the opposite direction causes the clockspring to contract.
No matter what direction you turn the steering wheel in, how much you rotate it, or how quickly you spin it, the air bag clockspring will keep channeling electricity to the air bag and controls on the wheel.
Why is an air bag clockspring important to your safety?
Federal laws required car manufacturers to hardwire air bags into the vehicle’s electrical system. That way, the air bags can work smoothly alongside other parts that also keep the occupants safe during car crashes.
The passenger air bag usually goes into the dashboard area above the glove compartment, a spacious location that can fit conventional cables and wires. However, the steering wheel’s placement on the driver’s side of the dashboard leaves the driver’s air bag with only one workable location - inside the wheel itself, leading to the current generation of bulky steering wheel designs.
Any electric cables or wires must run up the steering shaft to reach the air bag. Further, unlike the immobile dashboard, the steering wheel moves a lot.
If the steering wheel turns away from the wiring, it will tug on the wire. Conversely, if the wheel moves towards the wiring, it will push the wire to the side. Turning the wheel sharply makes the pushing or pulling motion more forceful. Turn the wheel left and right often enough or hard enough, and even the sturdiest wire will fray or break, cutting the electrical connection between the wheel and.
The air bag clockspring gets past the limitations of wire-based electrical connections. It won’t break like cables or wires since it uses stronger materials and can adjust its shape to compensate for the direction, distance, and turning speed of the steering wheel.
When do you need to replace the air bag clockspring?
Given its simple construction and durable material, the air bag clockspring enjoys a long service life. It can last longer and withstand more punishment than thinner cables and wires.
However, the clockspring can wear out before the designed lifespan. Turning the steering wheel triggers a conversion process inside its gas strut cylinder that makes the latter part hotter. While the heavy-duty cylinder can handle the ensuing heat exchange, the connectors for the driver’s air bag don’t enjoy the same level of robustness.
Excessive heat can melt the air bag connectors until the parts fuse with the steering wheel gas strut cylinder. Melted and fused connectors cannot conduct electricity well, so their associated devices and control buttons will suffer poor connection or even lose contact with whatever system they control or module they take orders from.
While less likely to happen, the ribbon comprising the air bag clockspring can develop metal fatigue earlier than expected. It may contract and expand less quickly in response to the steering wheel’s motions.
What are the symptoms of a bad air bag clockspring?
The electronic devices inside and on the steering wheel depend on the air bag clockspring for a steady supply of electricity and uninterrupted contact with their associated systems. If the clockspring develops an issue, expect to see the following warning signs:
- The air bag warning light switches on despite the air bag staying inside the steering wheel.
- One or more control buttons on the steering wheel refuse to work because they lost electrical connection with their respective part or system.
- The steering wheel becomes harder to turn because the damaged or broken clockspring impedes its movement.
Removing the old air bag clockspring and installing a replacement part requires at least moderate levels of training, skill, and experience in repairing vehicles. Unless you feel confident in your DIY skills, bring your vehicle to a trusted auto repair shop and get experts to replace it.
How much does a replacement air bag clockspring cost?
A new air bag clockspring can cost anywhere between $54 and $371. The price depends on the assembly’s manufacturer and the year, make, and model of the vehicle that needs the replacement part.
How to Repair the Air Bag Clockspring
The air bag clockspring or coil is part of your car's steering wheel. It retracts and expands while you turn your steering wheel. As for its connection with the airbag, it provides electrical continuity for it as well as your radio, cruise control, horn, and other electronic vehicular features. The coil's spring connections can melt though, thus requiring you to replace it with a new spring. You'll know when it needs replacement when it makes an unusual noise or if your horn isn't working the way it should. If your air bag light is on and doesn't go off, that's also a telltale sign of trouble.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
What You'll Need
- Wrench set
- New spring
- Magnetic tray
Step 1: Open your hood then disengage the negative cable from your battery. The negative cable is the cable with the minus sign on it. Wait four minutes until all the reserve current from your system has been filtered out.
Step 2: Take off the steering wheel's trim cover by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place. Save the screws on a magnetic tray so that you can put them back on the wheel later on without losing them.
Step 3: On either side of the steering column are airbag mounting bolts that you should remove using your hands instead of your requisite wrench set. Again, use the magnetic tray to set these bolts aside without losing them altogether.
Step 4: Lift the steering wheel's center panel to as far as it could possibly go. Look for the airbag's wiring harness then carefully disconnect it. As per usual, place the bolts or screws in the magnetic tray for the sake of safekeeping.
Step 5: Take off the airbag and lay it on your vehicle's front seat. Unscrew the steering column's center nut using a wrench then set that nut aside into your magnetic tray. It might be a good idea to group the nuts by order of removal.
Step 6: The steering wheel dampener should also be removed. This is a large quadrilateral component at the steering wheel's center. Put it on your car's front seat or some other available space beside your removed airbag.
Step 7: The steering wheel should have remaining screws that should be removed and placed on your magnetic tray. Once the last of the screws, bolts, and fasteners have been taken off, that's when you can remove your steering wheel itself.
Step 8: Take off the clockspring itself that holds together the wiring harness and the hardware. Check out the extent of its damage then if it proves irreparable, install a new clockspring in its place. Make sure it's fitment is perfect.
Step 9: Put everything back together in reverse order of how you removed them. Place the steering wheel back then position the dampener back to where it was once placed. Put back the steering column nut in the steering column's center then screw it tight. From there, reinstall the airbag and harness.
Step 10: Reconnect the wiring for the airbag then reattach on the steering column's sides the airbag mount bolts. Put bag together your steering wheel, trim, and battery cable for good measure. Reconnect your negative battery and start your car to check if the past symptoms of clockspring failure have been solved.