Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Never seen this before

We have a 97 Accord, 140+k miles. My wife complained that while she was driving it Thursday, the steering wheel would suddenly lock up for a few seconds and then release, whereupon she would be all over the road. This would happen about every 10 minutes and it happened all the way home.

I drove it some Friday and yesterday. I checked the power steering fluid, belt etc. Checked all the suspension components, nothing out of the ordinary. Today I was checking it out again, thought maybe the key could have worked its way back enough to engage the steering wheel lock, and to my surprise, no lock at all, even with the engine off and the key out.

I’m thinking now that the pins must have broken off somehow and are rolling around in the bottom of the ignition switch, catching now and then. Does this sound feasible?

Anyone ever seen something like this before. BTW, the car is always parked on flat ground, the brake set even when its not needed and the wheels generally straight ahead.

There wouldn’t be a TSB on this would there?

BTW, this model was recalled for the electrical part of the ignition switch, but this is in the mechanical part of the switch.

I don’t know just how your steering lock looks inside, but I would definitely not take this car out on the road again until I had opened up the steering column and repaired it, or at least removed the guts from the steering lock.

You will likely find that the steering lock is made so that it is not easily dismantled, with one-way screws or twist-off bolt heads. A dremmel tool with abrasive cutting blades comes in really handy for taking out steering locks.

Remember that there are three separate parts to an ignition switch - the key lock, the electrical switch, and the steering lock. They are normally sold separately.

This is new to me, and I also have a '97 Accord. How far can you turn the steering wheel with the key removed? I know it’s hard, but how far does it turn?

It’s difficult to believe the lock broke when there’s never any pressure on it. Can you think of anything that might have put excess pressure on the locking pin?

If there is a TSB you will find it on the NHTSA website.

If the steering is locking up I suggest not driving the car. This could be very dangerous.

My factory service manual says replacing the ignition switch body, but not the electrical switch, is necessary to replace the steering lock.

In order to replace the ignition switch body you must remove the steering wheel and the steering column, which is a bit complex, and there are many warnings about the SRS (airbag) system. Shear bolts must be drilled out (3/16" drill bit) and replaced with new ones upon reassembly. Other than that it’s just screws, nuts, and bolts.

It’s not impossible to do this yourself, but I wouldn’t attempt it without a good manual to guide you. You don’t want the airbag going off in your face. My guess is the labor will be much more than the parts cost if you have to pay someone to do it.

Sorry everyone. I went out and did some more testing and it does lock with the key out if the steering wheel is turned a full 90?. I wasn’t turning it quite that far before. Most cars and trucks I’ve had lock a lot sooner than that.

I still don’t know what was happening, it hasn’t happened to me yet. My wife said that there was no loss of power when this happens so I think the problem with the electrical part of the switch that causes the engine to die is not the problem. BTW, I do have a factory service manual, but in the troubleshooting chart for the steering system, this one is not on the list.

I have seen that symptom in an old Cavalier. I ended up needing a new steering rack. It was pretty expensive.

Keith, I’d be far more inclined to suspect a broken tooth in the rack and pinion causing this rather than the steering column lock.

While I’m not intimately familiar with your model, the steering wheel lock is usually a spring loaded pin fitting into a reluctor shaped plate attached to the steering shaft. The mechanical key lock forces the pin out of the way and keeps it there. If it were to find its way back to engage the locking plate I can’t imagine anything short of operating the key would release it again.

The rack and pinion, on the other hand, could have a broken tooth wandering around getting caught between the working surfaces at any moment, and just as quickly fall out and stay hidden until whimsy repeats the process.

Just my nickels worth, anyway.

That might also explain the wandering issue. Certainly, I’d be checking all of the front suspension and steering as well. The rack isn’t easy to access and I always like to check the easy stuff first…

This sounds like it could be a the steering rack. Have it checked out ASAP.

I’ll look into the rack. I have checked everything else and nothing is loose. Also, the car does not normally wander. I think she just overcorrected after each sticking incident and interprets this as wandering.

As to the steering problem sometimes a tie rod end, or even a ball joint, can develop an odd wear pattern that may cause the joint to bind in a certain spot.
Checking for looseness may not be a valid test and it may separation of the joint followed by physically moving the ball stud around to detect this problem.

A flat spot may develop on the stud ball and may cause either a binding, jerking, or lurching feeling when the ball stud changes position.

(My memory is fuzzy on this but I seem to remember my daughter had a problem similar to this on one of her Mitsubishis about 5-6 years ago. The problem was the left front tie rod end which was perfectly tight but horribly binding in certain positions.)