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Squeak when steering

2002 Solara, 69K miles, occasional squeak from steering wheel when turning, sounds as if it is coming from where the wheel connects/rotates at the column - sounds like a weak rubber horn (like clowns use) or a rubbery, balloons-rubbing-together sort of sound. Not loud - only noticed when I was w/out the radio on (had an exhaust repair last week and was enjoying the quiet).

It’s not an external steering pump whine - it really seems as if it is coming right the steering column. Short of leaving cheese to there to coax out a mouse . . . any ideas?

I believe this is the “clockspring” – the electrical cable inside the steering column that connects your steering-wheel-mounted electrical controls to the rest of the car. (“Controls” used be just the horn.) The cable wraps around the steering column so it can turn with the steering wheel. Sometimes it starts to rub and squeak.

To fix it, you have to take apart a lot of things, starting with the airbag. After you fix it, the replacement parts might well develop the same problem. That’s why, when I had this problem, I tried to live with it.

Get some cost estimates, and see if you would rather live with it or pay to get it fixed.

Thank you - with the radio on, it is not audible - is there any concern that the friction between the cable and whatever it is rubbing against will wear down the insulation over time? The only “controls” on the wheel are the horn and the cruise control (which is mounted on a small stalk).

  1. If it’s inaudible when the radio is on, then either your squeak is way less loud than what I had, or your radio is way louder. :>)

  2. Good question about the insulation wearing. You will want more expert knowledge than I have, but, although it looks like a real possibility, I’d guess the cable will last a long time. Your problem has been mentioned on this forum several times over the few years that I have been lurking, and nobody ever reported such a failure or even mentioned the concern. And if the cable did eventually short, then you’d only have to replace it anyhow (plus whatever fuse it took out).

While I agree that the problem probably does lie in the clockspring, you should be aware that art’s description of this part is, at a minimum…misleading…or just plain wrong.

While the clockspring’s function is to provide power for the controls (and the horn, and THE AIRBAG) in the hub of the steering wheel, the clockspring is not a “cable that wraps around the steering column”.

Instead, it is a relatively small circular part with electrical connectors, and these connectors hook up with the cable that runs next to (not wrapped around) the steering column. The circular design of the clockspring allows for constant electrical contact in a situation where a normal wire-type connection would not be possible, given the constant movement of the steering wheel.

Because of the clockspring’s connections and proximity to the driver’s side airbag, this is not a job for an amateur.
A mistake made in this area can result in a sudden “explosive” surprise in your face.

Thanks for the correction and amplification. Sometimes I try to give the best-as-I-can answer for question that has been sitting for a while with no responses from the people who really know.

BTW, you are right about "air"bags. The place where I used to work was developing an “improved” propellant for them. In spite of their decades of experience with developing and manufacturing propellants and explosives, they had an “incident” with this new stuff. My major lesson from working in that field was to be scared of energetic materials.

I Think I’ve Got Your Answer. You’ve Done A Nice Job Describing And Diagnosing The Problem.

Some 2002-2003 Camry vehicles make a low frequency noise when the steering wheel is turned at low speeds (That’s when you turn the wheel more and backround noise is at a minimum.). The noise is made by friction between the intermediate steering shaft ( That’s a short shaft with universal joints that connects the steering column shaft with the steering rack in the engine compartment. ) and a rubber grommet seal (No. 2 Column Hole Cover) in the body where the intermediate shaft comes through from the engine bay. That’s why it sounds like squeaking rubber - it is.

Toyota dealers have access to a bulletin explaining all of this. Seal-Tite Dielectric Grease or an equivalent is recommended as a lubricant in the area of contact. Seal-Tite is marketed by Kent Industries (1-800-654-633).

If you’d rather not DIY this, your friendly Toyota dealer would look up the bulletin and do it for you. Get an estimate. It would probably be less than a 1/2 hour of labor plus grease.