If there’s one component on your car that you wouldn’t want to break, it would be the steering. If all hell breaks loose, you should at least be able to expect that you could steer your car back to safety. Yet, you wouldn’t expect that to wear out and fail on you, too. Given its importance and complexity, it’s no surprise that the steering column replacement cost isn’t an easy (or cheap) pill to swallow.
But for an item that literally lets you take the helm of the car and move it about, how could it possibly die out on you? Moreover, what exactly is so intricate or unique about the steering column that it can lighten your wallet by nearly (or sometimes more than) four digits for a steering column replacement cost? Well, let’s try to break this all down, and understand the role of the steering column…
What Do You Need To Know About The Steering Column?
Before we get into how much is for a steering wheel replacement cost, we should first uncover what it actually does. The entire steering system is quite elaborate, and it consists of numerous linkages, gears, and components tied together. Just to simplify things, we start with the steering wheel. This is that circular halo which you grip to turn left or right and steer the car’s wheels correspondingly.
At the bottom, we have the steering rack. In most cars today, we have what’s called rack and pinion steering. Here, the ‘pinion’, which is a small gear wheel, has meshed teeth that rotate along a transversely mounted bar. This latter unit is the steering ‘rack’. By rotating the steering wheel, what you do is swiveling the ‘pinion’ along the ‘rack’, from side to side.
The steering rack is then connected to the car’s wheels with the use of track rods. Let’s say if you turn the steering wheel left. In this scenario, the rack and pinion steering would push the front-left wheels outwards and pulls the front-right wheels inwards. By doing so, your car will now turn left, and vice versa. But what is it that goes in between the steering wheel, and the rack and pinion?
How Does The Steering Colum Work?
Sitting in its happy place between the steering wheel and steering rack (or the rack and pinion) is the steering column. Sometimes referred to as the steering shaft, this long column translates the input of your steering wheel into actuation through the rack and pinion. Mainly then, the only job it plays is to connect the steering wheel and steering rack. However, it does have other, secondary functions.
Namely, the steering column can help with:
- Dissipating the impact and blow in the event of a frontal collision. A bit more on this in the following chapter.
- Offering adjustments in the steering to meet the driver’s preferences. These include adjustments for the height and length of how the steering wheel protrudes, just to make your arms comfortable. For instance, being able to tilt and telescope the wheel as needed.
- Providing mounting points for certain steering and non-steering componentry. For example, these can be switches, wiring, the column anti-theft lock, shrouds, ignition system, or the transmission gear selector. Additionally, you can mount the motors and gear on the column that is required for systems such as electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), or a steer-by-wire (SbW) module.
What About The Universal Joint?
While we’re looking at the steering column, it’s worth mentioning the universal joint, as well. The universal joint sits somewhere near the bottom-middle of the steering column. In this regard, we can think of the steering column as not a singular shaft, but broken up in two. With a universal joint, the steering column can be attached to the rack without angling the steering wheel awkwardly.
Aside from helping with mounting the steering column, the universal joint plays a vital role in the concept of collapsible columns. In many modern cars, there’s another part of the steering called the tolerance ring. It can be found along the inner shaft of the steering column. Under ordinary driving conditions, the tolerance rings act as a spring to hold them in place.
If and when there’s a frontal collision, and should it be strong enough, it could break the tolerance ring. With that amount of force, this breakage then forces the steering column to slip and collapse into the car. On top of absorbing impact, it’s a major safety system that otherwise prevents the long steering column from impaling you in the head.
What Causes Your Steering Column To Fail?
Overall, and while we did say how complex the entire steering system is, the actual connection from the steering wheel, column, and to the rack is fairly simple. This simplicity is the reason why you don’t see many cars having steering problems. With fewer moving parts, it’s less susceptible to wear and failure over time. However, constant maneuvering could still be enough to wear it out.
By design, the steering column is made to last the lifetime of the car. That said, someone who would regularly drive their cars on twisty mountain roads and tight alpine passes would no doubt put more wear on the shaft. Suffice it to say, the more you drive your car (and the more you steer), the quicker it’ll wear out and fail. That’s compared to those who often go in straight lines, such as highways.
Furthermore, you have to bear in mind that the steering column helps to absorb some of the bumps, imperfections, and undulations on the road. Folks who seldom drive are likely to walk away with a more pristine steering column than a person who’d take their car out on a graveled rally stage. In all, the steering shaft, while certainly robust, does take in a lot of strain, even in regular driving.
For the most part, the most vulnerable component of the steering column is that aforementioned universal joint. Wear would usually be concentrated there, as it’ll soon make the steering hard to bind. When this happens, it can be difficult to rotate the steering wheel, or you’ll only have a limited range of motion. Alternatively, you might feel looseness and play in the wheel.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Steering Column That You Need To Look Out For?
Other than completely losing control of your car, there are thankfully a few early warning signs that you may have a worn or faulty steering column. If you notice any of these symptoms, then it’s worth taking a step back and evaluating the expense of a steering column replacement cost. Put it off for long enough, and that steering column could be in danger of failing.
When it does, the least you could hope for is some minor inconveniences. At worst, it would easily put your life, and the lives of others, at the mercy of your runaway car. So, here are some of the signs to look out for, to know if your steering column is going awry…
1. Steering Wheel Is Not Centred
With today’s power-assisted steering systems, you no longer have to man-handle the steering wheel at every turn. A light touch is all you need. Along with ease of use, the wheel would gently snap back to its center position as you lift your hand off the wheel. Having the wheel return to the middle – or its zero-degree level – is something we get used to every day, and can often take for granted.
It’s originally a safety feature, meant to make maneuverability easier. Nevertheless, there may be odd times when the steering wheel would not center itself, or if it feels “sticky”. Should this happen, it may be a clear sign that your car’s steering column might be at fault. The cause could be narrowed down to a blockage within the steering column, or if there might be a broken gear inside the unit.
2. Steering Wheel Is Rough To Turn
Once again, you can sense that there’s a problem with your steering column if the feel on the wheel is just not right. That said, modern steering systems – especially with power assistance – are designed to be as smooth as butter in their routine use. Additionally, they’re supposed to be consistent in their feedback and rotation, enabling them to give you a sufficient amount of input of the road underneath.
This changes if there’s a fault with the steering column. You might suddenly feel that the steering wheel is hard to turn. Even if it does turn, it would rough and unrefined, as though you’re grinding on something. At times, you can hear or feel a ‘pop’ in the steering wheel as you turn. In this scenario, there may be blockages or obstacles which are restricting the movement of the wheel.
Primarily, we have to look at the many gears, linkages, and gaskets within the steering column. Dust, dirt, and other debris could find their way into and get stuck in the steering column. These may be the ones responsible for blocking the gears from operating smoothly. This symptom is relatively easy to fix, as a technician need only take apart the steering, and dislodge the debris in question.
3. Hearing And Feeling Clicking Or Grinding Sounds When Turning The Steering Wheel
Your steering wheel should not only turn effortless and smoothly, as we mentioned before but also do so quietly. Steering wheels or the act of turning your car shouldn’t make any sound. So, hearing any odd noises or feel unusual inputs from the wheel should ring alarm bells. In the case of a faulty steering column, turning the wheel could exhibit clicking, grinding, squeaking, or clunking sounds.
Usually, we can blame this on worn-out gearing or bearings inside the steering column. Mind you, this symptom might not be clear at all times. It may come about every once in a while, so do pay close attention. If you do happen to hear it clearly every single time you turn the wheel, you should call up your local mechanic to take a look at it immediately. It might be close to failing, at this point.
4. Steering Tilt Function Refuses To Lock In Place
Remember that tilting and telescoping functionality that we talked about earlier? It’s an odd touch, but we do appreciate its inclusion in modern automobiles. Having the ability to move the wheel to just the right angle, height, and placement for it to fall into your hands makes driving both efficient, and comfortable. It should normally work reliably and locks into place with a tactile ‘click’.
Yet, there could be moments where the tilting and telescoping function refuses to lock. No matter how many times you try to shuffle and jiggle it around, the steering wheel limps around loosely. If this is the case, your steering column might be to blame. One or more of the components within may have worn out, or have failed. Once more, this should be resolved promptly.
How Much Does A Steering Column Replacement Cost?
At this stage, we’ve become familiar with woes concerning your steering column. We know now its many benefits, critical points of failure, and the symptoms it exhibits. So, we come to elephant in the room – how much does a steering column replacement cost? We hinted earlier that it’s not cheap. So, just how ‘not cheap’ is it? Well, here’s a more precise breakdown of both the parts and labor…
Parts – A new steering column can average around $100 to $500. The good news here is that you can find refurbished or used columns that are compatible with your car. Shop around online, assuming you find a good one, and you could get away with buying a whole new steering column for around $100 or so. Just make sure that it’s in serviceable condition, though.
Labour – Generally, US workshops charge a labor rate of $50 to $120 per hour. It’s been estimated that to replace the steering column, you’ll have to add another $350 to $450 in labor costs alone, just to be safe. Depending on your vehicle, the typical amount of time it takes to remove the old steering column and swap it out is anywhere between three to eight hours.
Add it all up, and the total steering column replacement cost for you should fall around $450 to $950. As we said, it’s not a cheap fix. In fact, and for certain makes and models of vehicles, you could likely walk away with a repair bill worth at least four digits. That $450 to $950 figure is an approximation of most vehicles that we’ve sampled. However, there are exceptions.
Some Things To Consider For Calculating The Steering Column Replacement Cost
Speaking of exceptions, here are some variables that you have to take into account for a full steering column replacement cost:
Make And Model – The type of vehicle you drive is a significant determiner of how much you’ll have to pay for a new steering column. Higher-end vehicles, such as sports cars, luxury limos, or heavy-duty trucks, need more amped-up steering systems. A replacement steering column for a Mercedes, for example, could be priced upwards of $900. That’s just for the part itself!
Steering Tech – Automotive steering has come a long way. But in comparing between hydraulically or power-assisted steering systems, the actual tech behind it can cost you. More modern steering shafts that have gadgets tacked onto them, such as drive-by-wire, will end up making it more complex – and expensive – to replace.
Repair Or Remanufactured – You should always have a technician inspect your car thoroughly to see what needs to be done. More often than not, a repair is sufficient to fix the underlying issue, without needing to replace the whole column. If you have no choice but to spring for the latter option, then consider getting slightly cheaper (but still pretty good) refurbished or remanufactured parts.
Accessibility – Our previous estimate of three to eight hours worth of labor is quite a huge variance. Indeed, while some cars like an Audi S4 would require 8.5 or more hours to swap out the steering column, the same job would take just 2.5 hours for a Ford F-150. It all depends on how accessible – in other words: how many other components are there in the way – the steering column is.
Workshop vs. Dealer – It’s no surprise that dealerships charge far more for a simple service than third-party auto shops. They do at least offer you OEM parts, but is it really worth it? Based on the data samples that we’ve found, some dealers are charging $3,000+ for a steering wheel replacement cost, whereas it should’ve cost you $1,000 or less.
What Else Should You Think About When Counting Up The Steering Column Replacement Cost?
You may think it’s over, seeing how quickly the bills are piling up for a steering column replacement cost. However, there are a couple of other things to consider while you’re getting a brand-spanking-new steering column installed…
- Remember that the steering column also interacts with the airbag mounts, which connect to the very tip of the shaft. If the steering column is faulty, it may affect the airbag’s deployment in the event of a crash. When you’re replacing your steering column, this airbag mount should be removed carefully by a technician. Later, it should be inspected in detail to make sure it’ll work.
- As you’re replacing the steering column, you ought to have a complete wheel alignment done after the fact. A wheel alignment is necessary, as the new steering column has yet to be calibrated, and may run out of its intended specifications. We shouldn’t have to explain why this would prove dangerous. So, do factor in the added cost of an alignment for all four wheels, too.
With just these two factors taken into consideration, it’s for this reason why we won’t recommend that a steering column replacement is to be done DIY style. Not only is it immensely complicated, but you have to make sure that it’s done right. Even if you’re an experienced DIYer, some things can’t feasibly be done at home, such as going through a rigorous wheel alignment.
Should You Really Have To Worry This Much About A Steering Column Replacement Cost?
Some might say, “well, why should we need to hurry about getting this fixed?” In the case of a defective steering column, it’s absolutely necessary that you promptly schedule a repair. At the very least, you should have someone check it through to see what’s wrong. For starters, a faulty steering column is downright dangerous and has caused numerous accidents before.
Having the steering fail on you completely is among the most terrifying experiences when getting behind the wheel. Imagine getting up to speed as you’re approaching a corner, only to then find out that you can’t turn the car at all. You stamp hard on the brakes, but even then, the car squirrels left and right. Not being able to move is an inconvenience. Not being able to turn is deadly.
But let’s say the steering wheel still works just fine… Sort of. It sticks sometimes, or it might be a bit stubborn about turning left or right. There might be a lot of play and looseness in it or something of the sort. At first, this might only seem like a mild annoyance. Nonetheless, this inconsistency in the steering is substantial enough that it could distract you from what you’re doing.
After that, we’ll have to look at the auxiliary systems. Remind yourself that the steering column plays other roles aside from turning. The airbags are attached to it. If the column is damaged, the airbags might not deploy in the event of a crash. The steering column is also responsible for absorbing some of the impacts of a collision. Should it be worn out, it can’t help you soften the blow.
Steering Column Replacement Cost – Conclusion
In summary, the steering column replacement cost, while expensive, is a price worth paying for. $450 to $950 – or higher, in some instances – is relatively cheap when compared to the price you pay for your life, and the life of other people. So, if you face any of the issues and symptoms that we noted earlier, please do get a check-in with the local mechanic. Time is ever so precious.
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