Clock spring in a car: problems, symptoms, replacement cost

By Vlad Samarin April 23, 2023
The clock spring (spiral cable) connects electrical components located on the steering wheel to the steering column wiring harness. For example, the horn switch and the driver's airbag are both connected through the clock spring.
Clock spring in a car Clock spring in a car.

The clock spring's function is to maintain a stable electrical connection in any steering wheel position and while turning. A car with a faulty clock spring is unsafe to drive as the horn and the driver's airbag may not work.

The clock spring, consists of a ribbon multi-wire cable encased in the housing (in the photo). It has two connectors. One connector is plugged to the stationary steering column harness, the other connects to the steering wheel. When the driver turns the steering wheel, the cable winds or unwinds inside the case like a clock spring depending on the turn direction.

Where is the clock spring located in a car?

Clock spring in a car Clock spring in a car.
The clock spring is located right behind the steering wheel in the steering column, see the photo. The driver's airbag and the steering wheel must be removed to get access to the clock spring. This photo shows the clock spring (cable reel) in the Honda Civic with the steering wheel removed.

Clock spring problems

Over time, some of the wires in the clock spring can break. This can cause some of the electrical components in the steering wheel not to work.

Symptoms of a bad clock spring:

  • The horn doesn't work or works intermittently while turning the steering wheel.
  • The horn is going off by itself while turning the steering wheel.
  • The airbag warning light stays on.
  • Some other electrical buttons on the steering wheel stop working.
Often, the horn stops working at the same time as the airbag warning light comes on.

How do mechanics test the clock spring?

Since the clock spring is used to connect to the driver's airbag, we recommend leaving the diagnostics to professionals. Safety precautions and procedures must be followed when working with airbags.

Mechanics typically diagnose starting with scanning the vehicle for fault codes. For example, if the airbag warning light is on, there is a trouble code stored in the airbag control (SRS) module. Once the mechanic retrieves the code, the factory service manual provides the diagnostic procedure for the specific code.

In case the horn doesn't work, the service manual also provides diagnostic steps.

If the clock spring is removed from the car, it can be tested with an ohmmeter for continuity of all the wires as well as for shorts between different wires.

How much does it cost to replace the clock spring?

The part typically costs between $60 and $450. Aftermarket parts are cheaper. The dealer may charge 1.5-2 hours of labor to replace the clock spring. It's not a very difficult job, but it requires a high level of precision and accuracy. When working with the airbag, recommended safety precautions and procedures must be followed. For this reason, if you suspect a faulty clock spring, we recommend visiting your dealer for diagnostic and repairs.