The steering is the one part of your car that you don’t want to break. At the very least, you should be able to count on being able to steer your automobile back to safety if all hell breaks loose.
However, you wouldn’t anticipate that to degrade and fail you as well. It’s not surprising that the expense of steering column replacement isn’t an easy or expensive pill to take given its significance and intricacy.
But how could something that allows you to drive a car and move it about dying out on you? Furthermore, what precisely about the steering column is so complex or special that it might cost nearly or occasionally more than four digits for a steering column replacement?
Let’s attempt to dissect this to help you understand the function of the steering column.
An Overview of the Steering Column
We should first explain how the steering wheel works before figuring out how much it will cost to repair it. The overall steering system is highly complex and is made up of multiple linked gears, linkages, and other parts.
We start with the steering wheel to make things as simple as possible. This is the spherical halo that you use to turn your car’s wheels to the left or right.
The steering rack is at the bottom. Nowadays, the majority of cars utilize a steering system known as rack and pinion. A small gear wheel called the “pinion” in this instance has meshing teeth that move along a bar that is attached transversely.
The steering “rack” is the latter component. You move the ‘pinion’ along the ‘rack’ from side to side by turning the steering wheel.
Track rods are then used to attach the steering rack to the wheels of the vehicle. Consider turning the steering wheel to the left. In this case, the front-left wheels would be pushed outward and the front-right wheels would be pulled inside by the rack and pinion steering.
The steering column by Samf4u / CC BY-SA 4.0. The normal price range for a new steering column is between $100 and $500. The good news is that you might be able to find rebuilt or used columns for your car. A new steering column might be available for around $100 if you shop around online and find a good deal.
Your vehicle will now make a left turn if you do this, and vice versa. What, however, is sandwiched between the steering wheel and the rack and pinion?
A Steering Column: What Is It?
The steering column is positioned comfortably between the steering wheel and steering rack (or the rack and pinion). This lengthy column, also known as the steering shaft, converts the input from your steering wheel into actuation through the rack and pinion.
Therefore, its primary function is to join the steering wheel and steering rack. It does, however, serve some other, ancillary purposes. The steering column specifically can assist with;
- Reducing the blow and impact in the case of a frontal collision. The chapter after this expands on this a little bit.
- Allowing the driver to customize the steering to suit their tastes. To make your arms more comfortable, these modifications include modifying the steering wheel’s height and length of protrusion. For instance, the ability to adjust the wheel’s tilt and telescope as necessary.
- Offering mounting locations for specific steering and non-steering equipment. Switches, wiring, the column anti-theft lock, shrouds, the ignition system, and the gearbox gear selector are a few examples. The motors and gear needed for systems like electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) or a steer-by-wire (SbW) module can also be mounted on the column.
The Power Steering Column and the Universal Joint
It’s important to highlight the universal joint while we’re talking about the steering column. The universal joint is located anywhere along the steering column’s bottom middle.
In this sense, the steering column can be thought of as two separate shafts rather than one continuous one. The steering column can be connected to the rack using a universal joint without awkwardly angling the wheel.
The universal joint is crucial to the idea of collapsible columns in addition to aiding in steering column attachment. Another component of the steering known as the tolerance ring is found in many contemporary automobiles.
It is located along the steering column’s inner shaft. The tolerance rings serve as a spring to keep them in place while driving normally.
A frontal impact could break the tolerance ring if it occurs, should it be strong enough, and when it does. As a result of this breakage’s force, the steering column is compelled to slide and crash into the vehicle.
It is a crucial safety feature that, in addition to absorbing impact, guards against the lengthy steering column impaling you in the head.
Why Does Your Steering Column Fail?
Overall, the connection between the steering wheel, column, and rack is quite straightforward, even though we did mention how complicated the complete steering system is.
The lack of steering issues in many cars is due to their simplicity. It’s less prone to wear and failure over time because there are fewer moving parts. Even so, repeated manipulation might be enough to wear it out.
The steering column is intended to last the entire life of the vehicle. However, someone who frequently drove their automobile over narrow alpine passes and winding mountain routes would undoubtedly subject the shaft to significant wear.
Some of the imperfections, undulations, and bumps of the road are absorbed in part by the steering column. A steering column that belongs to someone who doesn’t drive frequently is more likely to be in better shape than one that belongs to someone who would drive their car on a gravel rally stage.
It should go without saying that your car will wear out and fail more quickly the more you drive it (and steer it). That contrasts with people who frequently travel in straight directions, like on highways.
Additionally, keep in mind that the steering column contributes to some of the road’s irregularities, undulations, and bumps being absorbed. People who don’t drive very often are more likely to have a steering column that is in better condition than someone who would drive their automobile on a gravel rally stage.
Overall, the steering shaft experiences significant stress even during routine driving, while being undoubtedly strong.
The aforementioned universal joint is, for the most part, the steering column’s most fragile section. Wear would typically be concentrated there because it will quickly make binding difficult.
When this occurs, turning the steering wheel may be challenging or may only provide you with a small range of motion. On the other hand, you could experience sloppiness and play while driving.
What are the Common Symptoms of a Bad Steering Column?
Fortunately, there are a few early warning indicators that you may have a damaged or malfunctioning steering column, in addition, to completely losing control of your vehicle.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should stop and consider how much a steering column replacement would cost. If you put it off for too long, the steering column can eventually break.
The least you could hope for when it happens is a few minor annoyances. At worst, your life and the lives of others would be in danger due to your errant car. So, to determine whether your steering column is malfunctioning, here are some indicators to watch out for.
1. A Not Centred Steering Wheel
You no longer need to maneuver the steering wheel at every curve with the power-assisted steering systems of today. All you need is a light touch.
Along with being simple to use, the wheel softly snapped back into place as soon as your palm was lifted off of it. We become accustomed to and frequently take for granted the wheel’s ability to return to the center or its zero-degree level.
Originally intended as a safety feature, it facilitates movement. However, there could be strange instances where the steering wheel doesn’t center itself or seems “sticky”.
If this occurs, it may be an obvious sign that the steering column in your car needs to be repaired. The problem could be caused by an obstruction in the steering column or by a broken gear inside the system.
2. A Difficult to Turn Steering Wheel
Despite this, current steering systems—particularly those with power assistance—are made to operate as smoothly as butter. To provide you with enough information on the road below, they should also be reliable in their feedback and rotation.
If the steering column is broken, this changes. The steering wheel may suddenly feel difficult to turn. Even if it did turn, it would be unpolished and feel like you were grinding on something.
On occasion, you could hear or feel the steering wheel “pop” when you turn. There may be obstructions or blockages in this situation preventing the wheel from moving freely.
We must first examine the several gears, connections, and gaskets inside the steering column. The steering column may become obstructed by dirt, dust, and other debris.
These can be the ones preventing the gears from turning freely. A technician merely needs to disassemble the steering and remove the problematic debris to resolve this symptom.
(1) steering wheel (2) case (3) Steering column (4) Universal joint by Hundehalter / CC BY-SA 3.0. Turning the steering wheel in your car shouldn’t make any noise. Red flags should be raised if the wheel makes any unexpected noises or inputs. If the steering column is damaged, turning the wheel could make clicking, grinding, squeaking, or clunking noises.
3. When Turning the Wheel, You Can Hear Clicking or Grinding Noises
As we discussed earlier, your steering wheel should turn smoothly and readily while being silent. Your car shouldn’t produce any noise as you turn the steering wheel.
Therefore, any unexpected noises or inputs from the wheel should raise red flags. Turning the wheel may produce clicking, grinding, squeaking, or clunking sounds if the steering column is broken.
Usually, we can attribute this to the steering column’s worn-out gearing or bearings. Remember that this symptom might not always be obvious. Do pay close attention because it might happen occasionally.
If you do notice that you hear it each time you spin the wheel, you should call your neighborhood mechanic right away to have a look at it. At this time, it might be on the verge of failing.
4. The Steering’s Tilt Function Won’t Lock Into Place
Recall the tilting and telescoping capabilities we discussed earlier. Although it’s a strange addition, we do appreciate that newer cars have it.
Driving is both efficient and comfortable when the wheel may be adjusted to the ideal angle, height, and location so that it falls into your hands. It should typically operate dependably and clicks into place when it locks.
The tilting and telescoping feature, however, could occasionally fail to lock. The steering wheel limps about loosely no matter how many times you try to shuffle and shake it.
Your steering column might be to blame if this is the situation. It’s possible that one or more of the internal parts have worn out or failed. Again, this needs to be fixed right away.
5. Steering System is Clogged with Dirt and Debris
Your steering system needs to be routinely inspected per your mechanic or the owner’s manual for your particular car, just like regular and routine maintenance on your vehicle. The accumulation of dirt and debris within your system might harm your steering column and result in a sticky wheel turn.
If you want to figure out if this is the cause, you can have your steering column tested to determine how much the cost of steering column replacement will be.
How Much Does the Steering Column Replacement Cost
We are now familiar with the problems affecting your steering column. We are now aware of its many advantages, significant flaws, and symptoms.
This brings us to the topic at hand: how much does a steering column replacement cost for a car? It’s not expensive, as we alluded to previously. So, how ‘not expensive’ is it exactly? Here is a more detailed breakdown of the labor and the parts.
1. Steering Column Replacement: Cost of Parts
A brand-new steering column typically costs between $100 and $500. The good news is that you may find columns for your automobile that are pre-owned or rebuilt.
If you shop around online and find a good deal, you can purchase a brand-new steering column for about $100. Nevertheless, ensure sure it is still functional.
2. Steering Column Replacement: Cost of Labor
Labor rates in US workshops often range from $50 to $120 per hour. To be safe, it is predicted that the cost of labor alone will go to $350 to $450 if you decide to replace the steering column. It typically takes between three and eight hours to remove the old steering column and replace it, depending on your car.
Steering system (1) Steering wheel (2) Steering column (3) Pinion (4) Steering arm (5) Steering knuckle by LaurensvanLieshout / CC BY-SA 3.0. The steering column is made to last for the duration of the car. But someone who routinely traveled along twisting mountain roads and via tight alpine passes would surely subject the shaft to substantial wear.
If you add everything together, the final price for your steering column replacement should be between $450 and $950. It’s not an expensive remedy, as we already stated.
In reality, and for some makes and models of cars, you can leave with a repair cost that totals at least four figures. This range of $450 to $950 roughly represents the majority of the automobiles we evaluated. There are, however, certain exceptions.
What Variables are Taken Into Account During Steering Column Replacement?
Speaking of exceptions, the following factors must be considered while calculating the cost of a full steering column replacement:
1. Model and Make of the Steering Column
The cost of a replacement steering column is significantly influenced by the kind of car you drive. Sports cars, limousines, and heavy-duty trucks are examples of higher-end vehicles that require more powerful steering systems. For instance, a Mercedes steering column replacement could cost up to $900. That only applies to the part itself!
2. Tech for the Steering Column
Automotive steering has advanced significantly. But the actual technology can be more expensive when comparing hydraulically or power-assisted steering solutions. In the end, replacing more advanced steering shafts with add-ons like drive-by-wire will be more difficult and expensive.
3. Repaired or Remanufactured Steering Column
Always have a mechanic look over your car carefully to determine what needs to be fixed. Most of the time, a repair will take care of the underlying problem without the need to replace the entire column. If purchasing the latter option is your only option, look into purchasing slightly less expensive but still very good whether used or remanufactured parts.
4. The Steering Column’s Accessibility
The difference from our earlier estimate of three to eight hours of labor is fairly significant. In fact, whereas replacing the steering column on some vehicles, such as an Audi S4, may take 8.5 hours or longer, doing likewise on a Ford F-150 would only take 2.5 hours. It all depends on how easily accessible the steering column is, or how many other components are in the way.
5. A Dealer Versus a Workshop
It comes as no surprise that dealerships charge far more than independent car shops for basic servicing. They at least provide OEM components, but are they worthwhile? According to the data samples we’ve seen, some dealers are billing you $3,000 or more to replace your steering wheel when it should have only cost you $1,000 or less.
Why Is the Steering Column Replacement So Pricey?
Considering how quickly the bills for a steering column replacement expense are accruing, you might believe it is over. However, there are a few additional factors to think about while having a brand-new steering column installed.
Rack and pinion unit by Leonard G. / CC SA 1.0. Nowadays, the vast majority of automobiles use a rack and pinion steering system. In this case, a transversely attached bar moves around a small gear wheel with teeth that mesh and are referred to as the “pinion” The later element is the steering “rack” Turning the steering wheel causes the “pinion” to move the “rack” from side to side.
- Keep in mind that the airbag mounts, which are connected to the shaft’s very tip, are also in contact with the steering column. In the case of a collision, a broken steering column could impact how the airbag deploys. This airbag mount needs to be carefully removed by a technician when you replace your steering column. It should then be carefully examined to ensure that it will function.
- You should have a complete wheel alignment performed after you replace the steering column. The new steering column needs to be aligned because it hasn’t been calibrated and could perform differently than anticipated. It shouldn’t be necessary for us to explain why this would be risky. Therefore, consider the additional cost of an alignment for all four wheels.
We won’t advise performing a steering column replacement in the do-it-yourself fashion based just on these two considerations. It is not only extremely difficult, but you must ensure that it is completed correctly.
Even if you’re a seasoned do-it-yourselfer, some tasks, like undergoing a meticulous wheel alignment, are impractical to complete at home.
Tips to Help You Save Money on Steering Column Replacement
If you would prefer to repair yourself, you can read up on the procedure and discover the stages you can carry out by yourself.
The price of a used steering column that you may buy on your own can be as little as $100, while a more recent steering column might cost as much as $250.
You can speak with a few mechanics in your region if you decide to choose a mechanic since you lack the necessary research and diagnostic equipment. However, you need to go in person to be sure they can honor that first quotation and not change it over time.
While some may be able to give you a good quote over the phone. Be careful to check with the neighborhood auto shops and dealerships when you receive a quote.
Look for less expensive used components at a nearby junkyard if you want to perform the repair or replacement yourself to reduce the overall cost of the steering column replacement.
To save money on the cost of the steering column replacement, however, be sure they have the part before you visit the salvage yard.
An Installation Guide for a Steering Column Replacement
Your car’s steering column should be a very durable component that doesn’t need to be replaced or repaired frequently. Only if something inside the steering wheel was destroyed would you need to replace this component. To obtain the greatest rate for your steering column replacement cost, you will typically need to have a dealer or mechanic perform the replacement. The procedure for removing the steering column and installing a new one will be covered.
Remove the negative battery cable first. Wait at least 15-20 minutes after the cable has been disconnected before working on the cable to give the airbag time to deactivate. The steering column’s plastic trim can now be removed. Take off the panels from behind your dash once you have removed the trim.
The steering wheel could act strangely at times, failing to center itself or feeling “sticky”. If this happens, it can be a clear indication that the car’s steering column needs to be fixed. A broken gear inside the system or an obstruction in the steering column could be to blame for the issue.
The knee bolster may be taken out from behind the steering column once the panels have been removed because they are just held in place with clips. After that, you can unbolt the steel backing that is attached to the knee bolster. Make sure your car’s front wheels are facing straight ahead, and avoid locking the ignition with the steering wheel.
Remove the pinch bolt from the steering coupler after the car’s wheels are pointed forward. It may be necessary to move the steering wheel to access the bolt that links the steering column to the steering gear. Any cables or wires that are inside the steering column can then be removed after completing this procedure. The column should then be gently removed from the car and set aside outside of it.
The new steering column needs to be lined up inside of the coupler and fastened to the dash with the wheel pointed straight ahead when you need to complete a full installation and do an overview of the steering column replacement cost. Reconnect any connections or lines that you had previously unplugged before installing the new pinch bolt to ensure the connection is tight and secure.
Reinstall the batteries, any trim or hush panels, the backrest, and the knee bolster, and then rejoin the wires. Before you start your car, ensure sure the steering works. You can avoid paying as much as you would at the mechanic’s shop by performing this replacement yourself and saving money on the cost of the steering column replacement.
Is It Possible to Drive with a Bad Steering Column?
Some would respond, “Well, why should we be in a rush to repair this? You must immediately arrange a repair if your steering column is broken.
You should at the very least have someone review it to identify any errors. First off, a damaged steering column is extremely risky and has been involved in many accidents in the past.
One of the most terrible things that may happen when you get behind the wheel is for the steering to entirely fail. Imagine accelerating toward a corner at a high rate of speed only to discover that the car is completely unturnable.
Even when you apply heavy pressure on the brakes, the automobile still veers to the left and right. It is annoying to be unable to move. It is fatal to be unable to turn.
But suppose the steering wheel is still in perfect working order. Kind of. It occasionally sticks or might be a little obstinate while turning left or right. It might be very loose and playful or something along those lines.
This might only seem like a minor irritation at first. However, this steering inaccuracy is significant enough to cause you to lose focus on what you’re doing.
We must next examine the auxiliary systems after that. Keep in mind that the steering column does more than just turn. It is attached to the airbags. In the case of a collision, the airbags might not deploy if the column is destroyed.
Some of the impacts of a collision are also handled by the steering column. If it is damaged, you cannot use it to lessen the hit.
A car steering wheel by OSX. No matter how many times you try to shake and shuffle the steering wheel, it still limps around loosely. If this is the case, your steering column might be to blame. There’s a chance that one or more of the internal components are damaged or worn out. Once more, this needs to be rectified immediately.
In conclusion, even though the cost of the steering column replacement is high, it is a cost that is justified. When compared to the price you pay for your life and the lives of other people, $450 to $950, or even more in some cases, is considered to be very inexpensive.
Therefore, please do have a check-in with the neighborhood mechanic if you experience any of the problems or symptoms that we mentioned before. Time is incredibly valuable.
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”