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How to Install a Steering Column

steering column

A steering column connects the steering wheel to the steering box or rack and pinion steering system. This allows the driver of the vehicle to turn the front wheels with little to no effort.

Steering columns have many objects attached to them including a shifter handle, a turn signal, and wiper activation handle, a button for hazard lights, a tilt lever to move the steering column up or down, and a horn button. Most newer steering columns have additional features in them like radio tuners and cruise control levers.

The symptoms of a failing steering column include when the column starts making a clicking sound, it becomes loose internally or externally, or the steering tilt does not lock. The bushings inside the steering column tend to wear out over time, especially when the driver uses the steering wheel as an armrest applying more pressure to the bushings.

The tilt has hinges that hold up the tilted steering column. If the hinges become worn out then the ignition system meets greater resistance when actuating. The airbag light could come on due to the wires being pinched inside the column; the levers and buttons also wear out through use.

Part 1 of 3: Verifying the condition of the steering column

Materials Needed

  • Flashlight

Step 1: Open the vehicle’s driver door to access the steering column. Try to move the steering column around.

Step 2: Grab a flashlight and look at the shaft and u-joint under the dash. Make sure that the retainer bolt is in place.

Also, check that the mounting bolts that they are in place. Push up on the steering column to see if the column moves along the mounting bolts.

Step 3: Test drive the vehicle. During the test drive, check for any looseness of the steering column in relation to steering the vehicle.

Also, check all of the functions mounted to the steering column for their proper functions.

Step 4: After the test drive, operate the tilt on the steering column. If the vehicle is equipped with a tilt, this helps check for wear.

Check to see if the steering column tilt bushings are worn by tilting and pushing up on the steering column at the same time.

Part 2 of 3: Replacing the steering column

Materials Needed

  • Allen wrench set SAE/Metric
  • Boxed end wrenches
  • Cross tip screwdriver
  • Flashlight
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Protective gloves
  • Ratchet with metric and standard sockets
  • Safety glasses
  • Torque bit set
  • Wheel chocks

Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, hard surface. Make sure that the transmission is in Park (for automatics) or in first gear (for manuals).

Step 2: Place wheel chocks around the tires. Engage the parking brake to keep the rear tires from moving.

Step 3: Open the vehicle’s hood to disconnect your battery. Take the ground cable off of the battery’s negative post, disabling the power to the the steering column and air bag.

  • Warning: Do not hook up the battery or attempt to apply any power to the vehicle for any reason while removing the steering column actuator. This includes keeping the computer live. The airbag will be disabled and it may go off if energized (with vehicles that have air bags).

On vehicles from the 1960s to late 1980s:

Step 4: Put on safety glasses. The glasses prevent any objects from coming out and hitting an eye.

Step 5: Turn the steering wheel so that the front wheels are facing forward.

Step 6: Remove the steering column shrouds. Do this by removing the mounting screws.

Step 7: If the car has a tilt column, unscrew the tilt lever. Detach the shift cable from the shift column.

Step 8: Disconnect the electrical connectors to the steering column harness. Pry out the retaining clip that secures the harness to the steering column.

Step 9: Unscrew the shaft coupler nut. Remove the bolt connecting the steering shaft to the upper intermediate shaft.

Step 10: Mark the two shafts with a paint marker. Remove the steering column’s lower and upper mounting nuts or bolts.

Step 11: Lower the steering column and pull it to the rear of the vehicle. Separate the intermediate shaft from the steering shaft.

Step 12: Remove the steering column from the vehicle.

On vehicles from the late 90’s to present day:

Step 1: Put on safety glasses. The glasses prevent any objects from coming out and hitting an eye.

Step 2: Turn the steering wheel so that the front wheels are facing forward.

Step 3: Remove the steering column shrouds by removing their screws. Take the shrouds off the steering column.

Step 4: If the car has a tilt column, unscrew the tilt lever. Detach the shift cable from the shift column.

Step 5: Disconnect the electrical connectors to the steering column harness. Pry out the retaining clip that secures the harness to the steering column.

Step 6: Remove the body control module and bracket from underneath the steering column. Do this by removing its mounting screws.

Find the yellow wiring harness from the airbag clockspring and unplug it from the Base Management Controller (BCM).

Step 7: Unscrew the shaft coupler nut. Remove the bolt connecting the steering shaft to the upper intermediate shaft.

Step 8: Mark the two shafts with a paint marker. Remove the steering column’s lower and upper mounting nuts or bolts.

Step 9: Lower the steering column and pull it to the rear of the vehicle. Separate the intermediate shaft from the steering shaft.

Step 10: Remove the steering column from the vehicle.

On vehicles from the 1960s to late 1980s:

Step 1: Install the steering column into the vehicle. Put the intermediate shaft onto the steering shaft.

Step 2: Install the steering column’s lower and upper mounting nuts or bolts. Tighten the bolts finger tight then additional 1/4 turn.

Step 3: Install the bolt connecting the steering shaft to the upper intermediate shaft. Screw the shaft coupler nut onto the bolt finger tight.

Tighten the nut 1/4 turn to secure it.

Step 4: Put the harness into the retaining clip that secures it to the steering column. Connect the electrical connectors to the steering column harness.

Step 5: Reattach the shift cable to the steering column. If the car had a tilt column, then screw in the tile lever.

Step 6: Install the shrouds onto the steering column. Secure the steering column shrouds by installing the mounting screws.

Step 7: Turn the steering wheel to the right and left a little. This ensures that there is no play in the intermediate shaft.

On vehicles from late 1990s to present day:

Step 1: Install the steering column into the vehicle. Put the intermediate shaft onto the steering shaft.

Step 2: Install the steering column’s lower and upper mounting nuts or bolts. Tighten the bolts finger tight then additional 1/4 turn.

Step 3: Install the bolt connecting the steering shaft to the upper intermediate shaft. Screw the shaft coupler nut onto the bolt finger tight.

Tighten the nut 1/4 turn to secure it.

Step 4: Find the yellow wiring harness from the airbag clock spring. Plug it into the BCM.

Install the Body Control Module and bracket underneath the steering column and secure it with its mounting screws.

Step 5: Put the harness into the retaining clip that secures it to the steering column. Connect the electrical connectors to the steering column harness.

Step 6: Reattach the shift cable to the steering column. If the car had a tilt column, then screw in the tile lever.

Step 7: Install the shrouds onto the steering column. Secure the steering column shrouds by installing the mounting screws.

Step 8: Turn the steering wheel to the right and left a little. This ensures that there is no play in the intermediate shaft.

Step 9: Reconnect the ground cable back onto the battery’s negative post.

Step 10: Tighten the battery clamp tight. Ensure that the connection is good.

  • Note: Since the power was depleted completely, reset all of the settings in your vehicle, like your radio, electric seats, and electric mirrors.

Step 11: Remove the wheel chocks and place them out of the way. Pick up all of your tools you used for the job.

Part 3 of 3: Test driving the vehicle

Step 1: Put the key into the ignition tumbler. Start the engine up.

Drive the vehicle around the block. Be sure to check the shift cable indicator on the dash, for 1960s to late 80s vehicles, to make sure that it is aligned up correctly.

Step 2: Adjust the steering wheel. When you come back from the test, adjust the tilt steering wheel up and down (if the vehicle is equipped with a tilt steering column).

Make sure that the steering column is secure and not loose.

Step 3: Check the horn button and make sure that the horn works.

If your engine will not start, horn will not work, or the airbag light is on after replacing the steering column, then there may be further diagnosis of the steering column circuitry needed. If the problem persists, then you should seek out help from one of YourMechanic’s certified mechanic who can perform a replacement as needed.

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