Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

How Long Does a Steering Column Actuator Last?

Steering Column Actuator

Modern cars use electronic systems to ensure that the steering wheel locks in place when the key is out of the ignition, and to prevent the key from coming out of the ignition in any gear but park. However, older cars used a mechanical solution called a steering column lock actuator. This was actually a collection of levers and a rod.

If you drive a car manufactured prior to the 1990s, then chances are good that it has a steering column actuator. Essentially, this is a series of levers that is engaged when the ignition key was turned. The levers would move a rod, which would lock the key into position. The key could not be removed, which provided important safety benefits.

Obviously, mechanical steering column actuators are subject to a lot of wear and tear. They’re used every time you turn the ignition key. Because they’re mechanical, there’s the potential for wear to eventually damage the levers or the rod. Rod damage is probably the most common problem. This is particularly true if the actuator system’s lubricant wears off (which is very common, particularly with work trucks and heavily-driven vehicles). When the end of the actuator rod sustains damage, the car might not start, or the key might come out of the ignition in any gear.

While mechanical steering column actuators are rarer than they once were, they’re still in use by some vehicles. Given the importance of this component, you should know a few symptoms to watch for that indicate the actuator is about to fail (or has already failed). These include the following:

  • There is no resistance when you turn the ignition key
  • The engine doesn’t crank when you turn the key (many other problems also have this as a symptom)
  • The key can be removed from the ignition in a gear other than park

If you’re experiencing any of these problems, or you find that your car won’t crank for any reason, you should have the car checked. Have a certified mechanic replace the steering column actuator if necessary, as well as repair any other problem.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.


Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.


More related articles

How Long Does a Fuel Filler Neck Last?
Getting gas from the pump to your gas tank is the only way to keep a car going. The fuel filler neck is a metal tube that is welded to the...
Insurance Requirements for Car Registration in Kentucky
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet requires that all drivers in Kentucky carry liability automotive insurance, or “financial responsibility” in order to operate a vehicle legally and maintain vehicle...
Rules of the Road For Iowa Drivers
Driving on the roads requires knowledge of the rules, many of which are based on common sense and courtesy. However, even though you know the rules in...

Related questions

Q: Sounded weird when I started it, steering busted

Hello, thanks for writing in about this problem! The belt not moving generally indicates that the crank bolt is broken, causing the crank pulley to become loose and the belt to become disengaged. Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) KT20060425001 for...

Q: Something loose in dashboard or steering column

A rattling noise from under the dash can be multiple things one of which could be a loose wiring harness bracket rattling against something. There could be fastener nuts that have backed off loosening components causing a similar issue. An...

Q: What does the Intelligent Key™ battery discharge indicator mean?

Your Intelligent Key™ is a critical element to operating your car, but it does require a little bit of maintenance. The most important tip for owners is to make sure the battery is replaced. Without a good battery, they key...