Help...lost steering, but why??

Ann HargreavesAugust 5, 2006

Yesterday I had a very scary experience, while driving my 1997 Mercury Villager. I was stopped at a major intersection. The light changed, and I proceeded to turn left, except that my car wouldn't turn. It was as if the steering wheel was very loose, no connection between it and my wheels. It felt like I was on ice...At first I thought I was in a I did not brake.

I was going very slowly. I kept turning the wheel, managed to avoid other cars, people, and lightposts. I made the turn; car was out of the intesection, so I stopped.

I stopped for a couple of minutes. No blown tire. I tried to go forward, because I was blocking traffic. My steering capabilities were back!! I was able to drive it into a parking lot and park it.

So, my mechanic says he doesn't know what happened. They drove the car in their parking lot, without any trouble steering.

What could have caused it to do what it did?


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Don't know why but I do know I wouldn't drive it again till it's fixed. I'd check the joint and shaft between the steering rack and the steering column. Might even take the steering column apart to make sure it's all together in there. If those things are good about all that's left is the rack and pinion.

A lot of the time one can leave intermittant problems alone till you can find out what's the matter for sure. This is not one of those times though. Fix it for sure or junk it. Don't drive it. jmo

    Bookmark   August 5, 2006 at 9:37PM
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This is a very stange, but dangerous, situation. It's strange in that with hyraulic power steering, there is still a physical connection between the steering wheel and the front wheels. (I am assumming that you have a hydraulic assist steering unit, not a drive-by-wire electric unit.) If the power assist is lost, there is still a steering connection, albeit requiring more effort. The steering wheel will be very difficult to turn unless the tires are rolling some. What you described is that you were able to turn the steering wheel with little effort and no effect on the front wheels. That's scary! What's hard to understand is that in very short time, it was ok again. How could the steering wheel disconnect from the linkage/steering box and then re-connect? Something is not right. I'd have the steering shafting, crushable connector, steering wheel connection, and the steering gear box, thoroughly inspected.

What are we missing? Do you have parking assist steering? With this feature, extra power boost is supplied at very low parking speeds typically from 0 to 5 MPH. It can feel like steering on ice, except that the front wheels are being turned in response to steerng wheel rotation.

If you were able to spin the steering wheel around too much, the "clock spring" connector may have been torn. If you have controls on the steering wheel such as cruise and radio button, these buttons are connected to the wiring harness through a set of flexible, coiled leads. These coiled connectors allow for steering wheel rotation from lock-to-lock but not much more.

Let us know what you find. This failure is very hard to understand based on the information given.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 2:18AM
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Ann Hargreaves

I really have not had any other problems with this car. It has 130,000 miles on it and has been good to me until now.

The only things that do not work are the AC controls in the back, the door-locks lock and unlock on their own will, and the "lighter" charger does not work. That's it.

No major repairs. It is puzzling, but it was a very dangerous situation, which could have been tragic.

I have thought about whether there was some kind of oil spill on the intersection, but there were other cars around and they were not having trouble.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2006 at 12:01AM
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Ann Hargreaves

The mechanic just called. He drove it and put it up on the rack and inspected it. He said the only thing he found was that the CV boot were torn.

What should I ask him to do?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2006 at 11:40AM
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What you describe is exactly how a vehicle acts with the steering wheels off the ground. Are you absolutely dead for certain sure the front wheels were on the ground? Was your vehicle loaded heavy in back?

I've had that happen many times in loaded dump trucks starting forward with the bed up. The front end may lift. Often it comes down with such a soft landing you wouldn't have known it was up unless someone told you.

Happened once in a pickup hauling a 12 foot load in a 6 foot bed. Topped a rise and the front went up - drove about 100 feet not knowing the steering wheels were off the ground till I tried to turn. Nuthin. The trick, of course, is to keep the wheel straight ahead and touch the brakes to bring it down so's you don't lose control :-).

    Bookmark   August 8, 2006 at 10:27PM
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Ann Hargreaves

I got it back. The mechanic replaced the CV joints. He said they could have bound up and caused the problem. Of course we won't really know until I have driven it for a while, see if it does it again. Hopefully, never.

The car was not loaded in the back, so that was not the problem.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2006 at 10:34PM
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I would be careful and test it in a empty parking lot or cow pasture.I had a few Ford products to do strange things.I had a 82 Mercury Cougar that decided to have a Ball Joint failure while going down the road.It sent the front drivers side tire up into the wheel well and the bottom portion of the fender scraping into the pavement.Luckily I was only going 20 mph at the time.But still went in the ditch.On the left side of the road.I still to this day hug the shoulder when I meet an oncoming Ford product.I keep an eye on them like I would a drunk driver.

I had a 1979 Ford Granada that had a Rack problem.On cold mornings first start up of the day.The sterring wheel would steer all the way to the left and yes so did the front tires.All by there self felt like a ghost encounter.I was a Ford fan for years.But those two mishaps made me a Ford hater very fast.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2006 at 3:22PM
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Khrios, the CV joints have nothing directly to do with the steering.
With an open boot for a week or so, you should hear the CV joint click-clack noise due to no grease, with dirt and water in the joint, ruining it...

The connection between the steering shaft and the rack must have been loose, finally it loosened enough to cause a loss of steering..
Vibrations, gravity , and luck cause it to become tight enough to work again. But I do find this to be very hard to believe..

There are two of these splined connections, one at the wheel, the other at the end of the steering shaft..
I have never seen one become loose, the factories pay close attention here..
And I hope this was the first thing checked out...
So this is a unsolved mystery....for now.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2006 at 8:11PM
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Khrios, I may be wrong about the CV joints.
If one or more were really bad, and the boots were open for a long time, the axle shaft could lock up and the steering would have to overcome this..
The steering would also be difficult to very difficult at times - before this occurred..
This scenario is very hard to imagine, also the CVs would have to be very noisy, I would think..

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 6:32PM
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I would hazard a quess that you had driven into a large puddle of oil at that intersection after you moved a bit it cleaned the tires and you were able to steer again. Only plausible explanation

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 10:35AM
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This EXACT same thing happened to me this morning. I would like to know if anyone else knows that this might have been.
I was driving up to a speed bump in my 2001 Nissan Frontier at around 10 mph and right before I hit the speed bump, I could not control the wheel: just like driving on ice. It felt loose and i was ALL over the road (thank god for the median). I pulled into a neighborhood to inspect the tires and everything and it was fine. I drove all the way to work and nothing seemed wrong. I just don't want to have this happen again...
Any additional suggestions besides the CV boot/joints??

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 4:21PM
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