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Dealer can't figure out why my steering locks up when turning

I am really hoping someone can help me here. I have two problems and they may or may not be related. The first problem is steering locking and the second problems is that the ‘VDC Off’ light on the dashboard comes on and goes off occasionally. I have a 2010 Nissan Altima 2.5SL. On two separate occasions, the steering wheel locked while making a right turn. Here’s the sequence of events:

  • Approaching a turn, I slowed down (~15 mph first time, slower the next time)
  • I turn the steering to the right to make the turn.
  • As I complete the turn, I try to turn the steering back to the neutral but it’s locked up.
  • I ended up slamming the breaks to stop the car. After a little wrenching the steering came lose again. While I was wrenching it lose I could hear a crunching or grinding sound.

The first time it happened on the street and the second time in a parking lot. Both times, it was snowing slightly.

The dealer kept the car for 2 days and could not reproduce the issue, nor figure out why the VDC light keeps turning on randomly. I would really like to find out what’s wrong as it’s a safety issue.


It seems Nissan has had steering problems and needs to be recalled before someone dies. Anyhow, the u-joint at the lower part of the steering shaft has worn out. Keep us informed.

You could look at the mechanics file for a front end shop near you. The link is in the red banner at the top. This is something the dealer might farm out anyway.

Thank you for the prompt responses. You guys are awesome.
@Dusenberg - Would I be correct to assume that this is something that should be covered by the mechanical/drivetrain warranty? And would I just tell the mechanic to check the u-joint? Any idea how much something like this should cost? I am in Chicago.

@VOLVO_V70 - Thanks. I will look up a mechanic near me. I know a shop but wasn’t sure if this is something I would want them to look at.

Not covered by warranty. Just tell the mechanic the symptom’s as clearly as you can and let them do their job.

320 dollars. Let them give you a price.

Thank you again. I will let you know how it goes.

Is there actually any remaining warranty coverage on this 7 year old car?

In any event, the drivetrain of the car consists of the engine, transmission, and drive shafts.
Ergo–no connection whatsoever with steering problems.

@VDCdriver You are right. The powertrain coverage is 60K miles (and my car is under that) so I thought it might apply but it’s 60 months or 60K miles, whichever comes first.

I checked at for reports on this problem. There are 3 recalls for the 2010 Altima, and none relate to a steering problem. There are 13 complaints of problems, and none are for your complaint. Not all complaints are registered at the US Department of Transportation, but if your issue is present in a lot of cars, I think it might be reported at least once. If the dealer hasnt seen this before, they will have a very hard time fixing it. If you don’t get satisfaction at the Nissan dealer, contact the Nissan corporate offices and register a complaint. Maybe they can help you.

I checked all my resources too.

And there’s not even a TSB related to this problem.


Where was the crunching sound coming from, steering column or front end? Was ther a build up of snow in the wheel wells?
Edit since both times it was snowing I am leaning towards snow buildup somewhere.

The sound seemed to come from under the front of the car, in the middle.
The snow was mostly flurries so I doubt that it was built up snow. I did
check the front wheel wells immediately after and I could not see anything
that might have obstructed wheel movement.

I can’t speak to the merits/demerits of any Nissan specific steering problem, but I can imagine several things that might cause this symptom to occur.

  • Steering rack is binding
  • Steering linkage is binding.
  • Ignition key interlock (the function that locks the steering wheel when the key is removed from the ignition) has failed.

This doesn’t seem to be the kind of problem where the shop can’t get it to happen so you continue to drive, waiting for it to occur again, then you tow the car to the shop. That method works in many cases, but for this it seems too dangerous. Not just for you, but for other drivers. I think you need to instruct the shop to make some educated guesses and start taking things apart until they find what is broken. Meanwhile, drive a different car, a rental car, etc. If the shop balks, you’re probably going to need to seek help with one of your state’s traffic safety organizations. You simply cannot be forced to continue to drive the car b/c the shop won’t help you. That’s my opinion anyway.

Vdc light could be worn brake pads causing low brake fluid.

The VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) light indicates that the VDC system won’t operate if you were to try to take a cloverleaf at 80 MPH.

But it has nothing to do with the steering.


The break pads are nearing end of life but the shop checked brake fluid and it was not low. They thought it might be the sensor not seated properly and they reset it but the light still comes on at random times.
I will take it to a different shop and insist that they figure out what’s wrong. Thank you all for your advice.