Is mechanic at fault for broken clock spring?

I was driving home and suddenly my car seized with a very loud metal-y sound and lost steering control. When I got out of the car, my front driver’s side tire was perpendicular to the car (and the rest of the tires) and the frame was resting on the tire. I had it towed to a local mechanic who said he could fix it. It turned out my rack was faulty (broken tie rod?) and I also needed new lower control arms.

When I started it for the first time after having it fixed, I noticed my air bag light was on. A few days later, I noticed my horn did not work. I took it back and they claimed it was an electrical issue and could not do it in their shop and would recommend another shop. Well, I thought that sounded odd, so I took it to another mechanic who figured it out in less than an hour and fixed it in about that same amount of time – my clock spring was broken.

The second mechanic was extremely helpful and explained what it was and how it breaks – his guess was that the steering wheel was not locked when the other mechanic fixed the rack. What I want to know is, is it possible that it broke when the rack faulted while I was driving or is it the fault of the first mechanic? Any ideas?

Make and model?

I think it’s hard to blame or absolve anyone on this one.

It’s possible that the steering wheel/column was not held stationary while the rack and pinion was replaced. This can result in the steering wheel (and thus also the clockspring) to turn beyond the normal range and cause damage to the clockspring.

On the other hand by the time a car has a broken rack and pinion and worn out control arms it’s got to be a pretty high mileage older car, in which case the clockspring may have been about to fail anyway, and the simple but unavoidable jarring action of replacing the rack pushed it over the edge.

Model year?
Odometer mileage?

Sorry, it’s a 2004 dodge stratus with 123,000 miles.

IMHO when you fold a wheel up under like that it can in fact damage the clockspring. It twists & turns the steering shaft. I’d be really hard-pressed to blame the mechanic.

There is an active recall on certain Chrysler products, providing free replacement of the clock spring that apparently was not very good quality to begin with.

Is a 2004 Stratus one of the recalled models? I don’t know the answer to that question, but the dealer’s service department does.

I suggest that you call the service department, give them your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and ask if there are any open recalls for your car. You may just luck-out.

If your steering went like that and the steering wheel didn’t turn like crazy and run until it stopped, I can’t say that what happened caused the clock spring to break. I can’t say that it was the mechanic’s fault either.

You’re kind of lucky, usually I like to say a lot of things.

I don’t see how the clock spring was broken with the front suspension service. The clock spring is located behind the steering wheel and is designed to reel out the wires that make the connections from the steering wheel to the rest of the vehicle such as air bags as the steering wheel is turned. So whether the steering wheel was turned normally by hand to operate the clock spring or if the steering wheel turned from the suspension service shouldn’t make a difference. The clock spring doesn’t know what’s causing the steering wheel to turn.


Tester, the car is rack and pinon, so if the steering wasn’t locked when the rack was absent (being replaced), the steering wheel would have been free to turn as much as it could (without the rack there for resistance), breaking the clockspring.

I think that part of my suspicion has to do with the fact that they returned the car to me the first time with my airbag light on and my horn not working, both big safety issues… they didn’t even mention either of them… wouldn’t they typically see them as another thing that needs to be fixed?

VDC driver, I will look into any recalls. Thank you, everyone, for your help - it is much appreciated!

How it got broke is not the question. The question is why it was not replaced as part of the repair. Once the steering free wheeled,the clock spring was out of center. At that point its hard to re-center ( darn near impossible) with out braking it. Most likely it was broke when it got to the shop. Also anytime a clock spring is removed its recommended that it be replaced.

The steering wheel must be locked in place with a strap before the rack and pinion is removed. The Stratus sedan doesn’t have a ignition steering lock, the coupe (Mitsubitshi) does lock after removing the key from the ignition. Some cars have an off balance steering wheel and will rotate 180 degrees when the steering shaft is disconnected and the mechanic forgot to tie down the steering wheel. The problem then is which way did it rotate? The clockspring must then be recentered.