Friday, March 16, 2012

Trick of the Trade for GM Tele/Tilt Column

This morning started out with an antique; got to make replacement keys for a 1989 Cadillac that had a telescoping/tilt steering column.  The car was in reasonably good shape considering its age; still had the original ignition switch while the glove box lock also matched the door and trunk lock.  These vehicles use a variation of the standard “Saginaw” column and require additional skills and tools; not recommended for beginners or “shade tree” mechanics.

Something worth knowing about this particular steering column is the way the horn makes contact via a rather clumsy looking spring assembly on the back of the steering wheel.  The base of the assembly which holds the steering wheel lock plate is covered by a plastic insulator which must be removed.  Unfortunately this piece of plastic becomes brittle with age and often breaks into pieces upon removal.  Most times it will come out in two or three large chunks.  Don’t despair, keep all the broken pieces; they can be salvaged.

“This insulator was used on vehicles with telescopic steering column from 1976 through 1990. The plastic star shaped horn insulator protects the spring contact from touching anything metal in the column, allowing the horn contact in the steering wheel to ground properly.”

The ideal solution would be to have a brand new spare horn insulator and replace the old one; the part sells for about $ 30.00 depending on availability.   Availability, now that’s the kicker; try to find one locally and listen to the parts counter representative’s standard line, “We show to be out of stock on that item; but can have one in a couple of days”.  

Here’s an old trick that works most of the time and saves you $30.00.  As you start to tear down the steering column, start chewing a piece of gum.  You’ll want to chew until the flavor has lost its appeal which means most of the sugar has been removed.  At that point the gum becomes very sticky, enough that it will adhere to the broken plastic pieces of the horn insulator.  

While putting the steering column back together, having already fit the key to the ignition switch, secured the turn signal assembly, telescoping column shaft, locking plate and managed to return all these parts to their working position and locked them into place with the “U” clip; carefully place the horn insulator pieces around the steering column post as if it were one piece.  Now take the chewing gum and mash it around so that it holds the broken pieces together. 

When you place the steering wheel back onto the shaft, carefully guide the horn activation spring into position.  The base of the spring will hold all the pieces of the horn insulator together and the horn will function as it was intended.  This might not be “kosher” or by the book; however, it does work and will continue to work for many years.   When you explain to the customer that he/she won’t have to wait a couple of days for the part, which you will mark up to cover shipping and handling; also mention how your work is guaranteed for ten thousand miles or ten minutes, which ever comes first.   Make sure you wink and grin at the same time or this joke falls flat. 

In all seriousness, I’ve had to perform this trick many times over the years and have never had to go back and replace a chewing gum repaired horn insulator.  You can try Super Glue; but it doesn’t work as good as chewing gum, go figure.

This will also appear as a feature article on Fiercely Independent Locksmiths of America’s website.


Right Wing Theocrat said...

I like the chewing gum patch up, good ol American ingenuity. I like the warranty even better - guaranteed for ten thousand miles or ten minutes, which ever comes first - LOL.

T. F. Stern said...

I try to have fun with customers, most locksmiths can make a key; but how many have fun at the same time...

David said...

I'm surprised that the chewing gum patch holds up in Houston heat. *shrugs* You must chew a better quality gum than I do. ;-)

I give a similar guarantee on computer work... with the right client. "Six months or six mouse clicks, whichever comes first." *wink-wink-nudge-nudge*


T. F. Stern said...

David, The chewing gum only needs to "hold" the parts together until the base of the horn spring seats. The shape of the plastic horn insulator is conical and if when it breaks into pieces, those pieces are fairly large and not splinters, then the spring is what actually holds all this together. Since there is no other pressure to combat the spring, the spring itself is sufficient to do the job.