NAPA Auto Parts Sterling, VA
45449 Severn Way
Sterling,  VA  20166-8918
(703) 378-6666
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Steering Columns & Shafts

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How Car Steering Systems Work

Anyone who has driven a vehicle is familiar with the steering system setup inside the cabin. As one of the most important elements of the vehicle, the steering column is the stalk or shaft on which the steering wheel is mounted. Today, steering columns are bulky and securely encased in plastic for safety and added security. We might take this humble piece of engineering for granted, but the steering column has come a long way in the last century.

Early steering columns were simple affairs consisting of a basic shaft that connected the steering wheel to the steering box. The horn button was located adjacent to the steering wheel in early vehicles until it was eventually moved to the center. In the 1930s and 1940s, the turn signals and gear shift levers were added to the setup, further outfitting the steering column with important elements. Even with all these additions, steering columns were still susceptible to tampering and theft plus could present a danger during an accident as they were known to impale drivers upon impact. By the 1960s, a collapsible design was introduced, as well as ignition lock systems for preventing theft.

By the 1990s, vehicle steering columns in everything from a Honda Accord SE to Ford Taurus sported some of the more advanced systems in automobiles. What was once a threat to the driver now housed air bags designed to save lives during an accident. The steering column was also a perfect place to access other features, so drivers didn't have to take their eyes off the road ahead. The controls for windshield wipers, headlights, cruise control, electric tilt systems, radio volume control and Bluetooth-enabled functionality has made the steering columns of modern cars one of the most technologically advanced and convenient elements of the vehicle cabin.

Bad Steering Shaft Symptoms

If you were to strip away all the layers of plastic, wiring and foam from your steering column, you'd find the simple system that makes your wheels turn, the steering shaft or intermediate steering shaft. The intermediate steering shaft connects to the shaft in the steering column with universal joints that transfer rotational motion from the steering column to the rack and pinion steering connected to your wheels.

Because accurate steering is such a fundamentally important part of safe driving, it's good to know the signs of a bad steering shaft so you can tackle them right away. If your vehicle's ignition system starts with an ignition lock cylinder on the side of your steering column, check that it is secure and fully operational. When you insert your car key, gently check for any play or loose movement. Then check the whole steering column. If it has a tilt or telescope function, check to make sure the wheel moves properly while adjusting.

Listen for odd noises coming from within the column or under the dashboard. If you hear a creaking, popping or clunking or feel that the steering wheel is difficult to turn, you could have an issue with the steering column or the universal joints that connect to it. Shop thousands of steering column parts here or visit your local NAPA AutoCare Center today for expert service on steering column replacement or repair.