Once upon a time, your car’s steering system was pretty straightforward. Today, this isn't really the case. As more and more electronic systems are added to our vehicles to enhance stability, control and maneuverability, the systems inevitably become more complex. This is particularly true when it comes to steering the car.
Many vehicles today come equipped with a stability control system. Basically, this is designed to help you maintain control of your car when instability is an issue. For instance, it would come into play if you were in an uncontrolled skid, or approaching a rollover situation.
The steering angle sensor is part of the stability control system. There are two types in use – analog and digital. Analog systems are becoming rarer, due to the fact that they are less reliable than digital systems and experience more wear and tear. In an analog system, the sensor measures voltage changes created by the steering wheel and sends that information to the car’s computer. In a digital system, an LED light measures the angle of the steering wheel and transmits that information to the computer.
The computer takes the information from the steering angle sensor and compares it to the position of the two front wheels. If the angle of the steering wheel is incorrect in comparison to the wheels (the steering wheel is turned left, but the wheels are straight or turned right), it takes corrective action. For instance, the stability control system might activate a rear brake to help bring the car back into correct alignment.
The steering angle sensor on your car is in use at all times if you’re driving. However, there’s no specified lifespan for this component – it could conceivably last for the life of the vehicle. With that being said, they do fail. If your sensor fails, then the stability control system will not work and you’ll see a warning light in the dash (the Stability Control light will either turn on or flash, depending on the car in question). However, these sensors can also be thrown off if they are not reset after an alignment.
The following symptoms may help indicate that the steering angle sensor in your car has either failed or is about to fail:
- You see the Stability Control light on in the dash (or a similar light, depending on the make and model in question)
- Your steering wheel has too much play (you can turn it left and right without turning the wheels)
- You’ve recently had an alignment and the warning light is on in the dash (indicates the sensor needs to be reset)
If you suspect a problem with your steering angle sensor, it may be time to get it checked. Have a mechanic inspect the system and replace the steering angle sensor if needed.