A steering shaft coupler is a device that links the steering shaft coming from the steering wheel to the steering gear box or rack and pinion assembly. On some vehicles, the coupler might include a rubber bushing that dampens vibrations that might otherwise be transmitted from the ground to the steering wheel. Some variations also include a universal joint that accommodates an attachment angle at the lower end of the shaft that is different from the shaft itself. In other words, the u-joint on the coupler lets the shaft change directions once it protrudes through the cowl section and into the engine compartment. The coupler is sometimes referred to by other names, such as "flex coupling" or "rag joint". On some vehicles, the steering shaft coupler is nothing more than a star-shaped rubber element embedded in a coupler assembly housing that must be removed and disassembled in order for the coupling to be replaced.
Because the function of the steering shaft coupler is to tie together the steering shaft and the steering gear, its function is essential to proper steering and handling of your vehicle. If the coupler is worn or damaged, you will likely feel the effects in your steering wheel. For instance, if the universal joint is bad, you might feel excessive play in your steering wheel. The wheel might also vibrate while you are driving. You might hear a clicking or clunking sound when you turn the wheel. And the wheel might bind or lock up. Each of these symptoms can indicate a bad steering shaft coupler and portend a serious and dangerous problem ahead if the joint fails completely.
The process for removing and replacing a steering shaft coupler depends entirely on the vehicle make and model and the type of couple used. For instance, some vehicles use an exposed coupler between the steering shaft and the steering gear. Other vehicles that feature electric power steering instead of hydraulic power steering have a small star-shaped rubber coupler located inside a housing on the steering shaft.
On vehicles with hydraulic power steering, a technician must remove any components in the engine compartment necessary to access the lower part of the steering shaft and steering gear necessary for access. This can include several parts, wiring, and more, and it might be necessary to work from the engine compartment or from beneath the vehicle. On a vehicle with electric power steering, most of the work is done inside the vehicle. The lower dashboard must be disassembled, the steering column covers removed, wiring disconnected, and steering column removed for access. The coupler housing must be removed and disassembled to change the coupler.
In any case, this repair can be significant, since many important safety and control systems are involved in the disassembly process. Care must be taken to avoid damage to sensitive wiring, electronics, and the supplemental restraint (airbag) system.
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