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BMW steering wheel

Modern vehicles have a lot of amazing little perks, including stereo and other configurable settings right in the steering wheel. But like any tech, sometimes you’ll have problems. If you’re wondering what to do if your steering wheel buttons and horns aren’t working, you’ve come to the right place.

Typically, if the steering wheel buttons and horn aren’t working, the clock spring is likely the problem. The clock spring is mounted with important circuitry for things like the buttons, horn, and airbags. It could also be a problem with settings or firmware, or something as simple as a fuse if your steering wheel isn’t visibly damaged.

In today’s article, we’ll explore this in a little more depth so that you’ll have a better understanding of what might be the problem. We will also cover how to isolate and fix the issue yourself. Read on and we’ll tell you what you need to know to get those buttons and horns working again!

Finding the likely culprit

Diagnosing why the steering wheel buttons and horn are not working is actually less complicated than you think. You need to understand how those buttons are powered, where they need to make contact to register, and how to check their configuration.

Once you know how they work, then the issue generally boils down into one of the following items, each of which we’ll expand upon in the sections that follow:

  • Understanding the clock spring
  • Redefining your control settings from scratch
  • Checking your fuses
  • Wear and tear or debris on your buttons
  • Damaged steering wheel concerns

As the clock spring is the most common culprit, we’ll start with that first and build from there, including some tips of what to look for where applicable. With that said, we’d like to introduce the clock spring and what you need to know about it!

Understanding the clock spring

The name ‘clock spring’ is a little misleading. It’s not an actual spring, but an electrical connector that is coiled in a spiral. It incorporates neat features like cruise control and stereo settings into your steering wheel. It also works with your horn, so if both the buttons and the horn aren’t working, the clock spring is the most common culprit.

You can see a little more about how it works with a quick video here from YouTube, but that’s the basic gist of it. The simplest way to put it would be that it helps the wheel turn. It also allows electronic signals to be registered and carried to a control module.

One of the fastest ways that you can check for this is to simply look at your airbag light. If it’s not on, then it’s quite likely that you’ve got a problem with the clock spring. Although it could still be an issue like a fuse (and we’ll talk more about this shortly)

Depending on the make and model of you car, a new clock spring can run anywhere between $50 to as much as $200 for the replacement part. If you aren’t comfortable replacing it yourself then you can expect another $100 – $200 for the labor costs – but don’t panic yet.

There are still some other things to check before you go taking your car to the mechanic!

Redefining your control settings from scratch

It’s possible you need to redefine the settings associated with your buttons. The chances are high for this if the buttons don’t work, but your horn does. To reset and define your controls, you’ll want to access your LCD and do the following:

  1. Look for a ‘general settings’ or ‘settings’ option.
  2. Select ‘steering wheel’ and look for ‘user defined’
  3. Select the ‘user defined’ option and then press and hold ‘Derived Functioning’
  4. Follow the system prompts. It should have you select a button and then assign the function that you like. You should do this for each button. Then start the car and check your settings to see if the buttons work.

Note: Some vehicle settings may be different, in which case you will need to check the owner’s manual. The manual will tell you how to access your steering wheel settings. You could also ask other owners in online forums about your vehicle. To find them, do a Google search for the make and model of your car with the word ‘forums’. It should be among the first few results.

Checking your fuses

Fuses can go out and when they do, then you’ll get various items that correspond with them acting up. It could be turn signals, or in this case, your steering wheel buttons. However, checking them is fairly easy. Look at the fuses and see if any look burnt-out or broken.

While it’s usually near the instrument panel, some cars have them in other places. For example, it could be under the back seat, or even under the hood. It’s best to check your manual or Google your make and model.

Wear and tear or debris in your buttons

If you’ve had your vehicle for a while, it could be a matter of wear and tear over time. Sometimes debris can collect slowly and keep the metal contacts from properly connecting. Verifying this will involve removing the steering wheel cover so that you can actually check the contacts. In some cases, cleaning them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab may be all that you need.

If you aren’t comfortable opening up your steering wheel panel, have a mechanic do it for you. Don’t let your friends pressure you to do otherwise. You can do a lot more damage if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is often an expensive lesson to learn!

Damaged steering wheel concerns

If the casing on the actual steering wheel is damaged, then it’s better to get it repaired. If you’ve got the skills, you could obtain the parts and do it on your own. With the buttons in the steering wheel, you’ve got contacts that need to be properly aligned in order to function. If the steering wheel becomes damaged then it’s unlikely to be a quick fix.

You can still check and clean the contacts on the buttons in theory. But keep in mind that if it’s already damaged, attempting to access the insides might make things worse. Especially if you can’t put it back together because of the damage.

At this point, you’ll need to get the parts and put in the time to fix it yourself. Alternatively, you could hire a professional mechanic. There’s just no easy workaround for actual physical damage!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean if your horn stops working?

If the horn has stopped, but your other buttons are working, then you’re probably dealing with a fuse issue. The horn in your car needs electricity to work. If the fuse blows out or gets old, the horn will start sounding weak and then completely go out.

If it’s not the fuse then it could be rusty connections or another issue at play.

What causes the buttons on the steering wheel to stop working?

If all of the buttons on your steering wheel have stopped working, then it’s a problem with the clock spring. You cannot access the part itself without removing the steering wheel first. Before you start taking anything apart it’s a good idea to check your fuse box first.

If your fuses are fine, then how you proceed will depend on your mechanic skill level. If you aren’t comfortable taking part of your vehicle apart, then it’s best to get a good mechanic right away.

Is there a fuse for the horn on a car?

Yes, there is going to be a specific, identifiable fuse location for your horn. You can find where the fusebox and the exact fuse for the horn is located by consulting your owner’s manual. Another way is checking online forums for your specific vehicle (if you’ve lost your manual).

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