COAL Update & Curbside Repair Guide – The Clock Springs Forward On My 1991 Dodge W-150

Anyone who has ever owned an elderly vehicle knows there are periodic events that allow opportunity for stretching one’s mind into new territory.  Such recently happened with my 1991 Dodge pickup.  This particular event required a repair that needed to be approached methodically every step of the way.  So let’s get started.

Several weeks ago my wife and I made a trip to the nearby town of Wardsville.  She had sold this balloon candy cane to an assisted living facility five weeks prior so we came to pick it up.  We took the Dodge to haul the reusable pieces back.

Yes, these balloons were five weeks old in this picture and looked great.

As I turned into a parking spot at the facility, I heard a crinkling sound in the steering column.  The noise sounded like a combination of wax paper and tinfoil being wadded up.  I knew this wasn’t good but decided to think about it later.

A week or so afterwards I hauled some used oil to the auto parts store for recycling.  Backing the Dodge out of the driveway, I saw a thin piece of copper wire erupt from between the steering wheel and steering column.  It shot out at the 12:00 position so there was no overlooking it.

Getting to the auto parts store I asked the guy at the counter about it.  “Oh, sounds like your clock spring.  Huh, this says your truck doesn’t have one.”

Given the horn had honked on the way there when the turn signal was activated, there was obviously an issue at hand.  A few days later (yes, I was still short tripping it and there were reasons why), when leaving work, the horn began blaring with the turn signal on.  Turning off the signal turned off the horn. So the pickup was parked until I could figure things out.

Looking under the pad on the steering wheel revealed more copper wire.  This was looking ugly.

Adding to the fun was this needed part (which I’ve heard called both a clock spring and a steering control module) could not be found at four brick-and-morter stores, two very large online auto supply places, and one Chrysler specific parts house.  A forum for first-generation Rams said to use part number such-and-such from a specific aftermarket company.  That company’s website revealed this part number was long out of production.

This wasn’t looking good and the only alternative was to find one at the salvage yard.  But how many salvage yards keep thirty-odd year old vehicles on hand?  Plus, the part would be the same age as what had just gone kaput.

Calling around, I found several examples of what was needed.  None were located close, all wanted to sell me the entire steering column for $250 or more, and there appeared to be some differences in the part depending upon whether or not the subject vehicle has cruise control (which mine does) and a tilt-column (mine does not).

We have a grand total of one self-serve yard in the area.  Last I was there, there was nothing that old.  Talking to a coworker, he said he had just seen two Dodges of this vintage parked there.

Sure enough, there were.  From having scoured procedural videos on YouTube, I knew the older Dodge (on the left) did not have this part.  Interestingly, both of these have power windows and locks.

A quick aside about this…so much of what I have found shows a clock spring as typically found in vehicles having airbags – although that appearance could be based upon less than comprehensive information.  Dodge didn’t put an air bag into a pickup until 1994.  From what I can determine, this piece appeared for the 1991 model year, which is when the front end was revised (as seen above, on the right).  While this is pure speculation, it really makes me wonder if Chrysler had considered equipping these pickups with airbags but then paused until the new trucks appeared for 1994.

Or perhaps there are other reasons.  Maybe somebody here will know as it’s got me rather curious.

So the choice of donor was clear.  It was a two-wheel drive, gas powered 3/4 ton.

While I did not check for model year on this Dodge, it was equipped with cruise and tilt, and I was hoping for no bad surprises later given what I had learned during my initial search.  As one of the persons wanting to sell an entire steering column had told me “the interchange guide says a spring from a tilt wheel equipped unit won’t work and I can give you 500 times where that guide is right but another 50 where it is wrong”.

Getting the steering wheel removed showed a truly beautiful part waiting to be harvested.  It pulled right off the shaft.

The steering wheel removal tool was a loaner and the yard charged me $15 for the clock spring.  It was now showtime at home.

After disconnecting the battery, this was facing me.  I had previously pulled off the horn cover but still needed to remove the white center section.  Two Phillips screws on the back of the steering wheel are all that is holding it in place.  The screws were tight and wanted to strip at first.

Two wires and a connector needed to be removed.  The connector has a plastic clip holding things in place; don’t forget plastic has a tendency to become brittle after thirty years.  Nothing broke but one needs to keep this phenomena in mind.

Also note the location of the wires coming through the wheel itself.  That is very important to remember upon reassembly.

Next up is removal of the nut holding the steering wheel.  It is a 13/16″ nut and the only correctly sized socket I had was for my impact wrench.  It is safer to use an impact socket on a hand wrench than the other way around.

The steering wheel is pressed onto the shaft so removal of the nut is only the first step in removal of the steering wheel.

This was the second time I had removed a steering wheel that day.  It was also the second time in my life having done so.

There is an indentation in the center of the steering shaft with holes for the other two bolts.  The two outside bolts only needed to be finger tight.  A half-inch socket was required for removal and the steering wheel became free after a turn or two.  Its release from the shaft is quite obvious.

Removing the wheel revealed a hot mess of copper wire erupting from the 9:00 position of the part.  The potential of this wire getting wound around the steering shaft had not escaped me.

There was evidence of this deterioration having been around for a while.  This was on the electrical connector on the bottom rear of the part and not seen in the other pictures.  This particular connector emerges from the steering column.

Some physical differences exist between the two parts despite their being identically shaped and the wiring being the same.  Whether this is a function of the tilt wheel or perhaps model year I do not know.

Given the stickers I was able to determine the part numbers deviated somewhat, but only in the last two or three digits.  The flat spots on the rear of the steering wheel needed to align with the flat spots on the hub of the replacement clock spring.  Simultaneously pressing the two buttons inside the hub allowed rotation to one of four detents, allowing for placement of the wheel.

I had to rotate the new hub to achieve the correct orientation of the steering wheel.

Remember the statement about taking note of where the wires were threaded through the wheel?  I didn’t.  This shows the wrong way to do it, evidenced by one wire not having enough slack to connect.

This is how it should be done.  See the difference?

At this point it was all fine-tuning, but it was also some of the more visible things to fine-tune.

The horn cover needed to be reinstalled.

It needed to be threaded over the plastic, which was a surprisingly difficult thing to do.  The cover is very stiff material and a screwdriver was ideal for wrapping the edge of the cover over the plastic.  I only stabbed myself with the screwdriver once, so that’s not too bad I suppose.

Reinstallation of the cover gave a final product free of any evidence of a prior problem.

Removal of the piece at the salvage yard took less than thirty minutes.  It was about the same when I did it a second time at home.  Reinstallation took significantly longer, but part of that was my fault for threading the wire through the wrong location.

All is now good except the horn.  I suspect the electrical connector fell off as the “new” one wasn’t as tight, so that should be about ten minutes for a fix.

With this problem I had seriously entertained the idea of selling my Dodge.  A coworker was interested as he wants to put the body on a 3/4 ton diesel chassis he has.  A sale to anyone else would have necessitated this fix anyway, so I figure I’ll just keep the old Dodge a while longer.  With new pickups being stupid expensive, even for a basic one as I would want, I’m not pulling that trigger anytime soon.  So, for now, the old Dodge will continue to live in my driveway.

Plus, she’s still fun to drive as seen here on my test run after this repair and an oil change.