Does your Jeep Wrangler’s steering suddenly feel stiff and heavy while driving on the highway? Has your steering wheel ‘locked up’ while driving around a bend? Was force required and did you tug the steering wheel before it becomes undone? If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, then this article could shed some insight.
Jeep Wranglers built between 30 November 2017 and 08 May 2018 were affected by this steering defect. This batch of Wranglers was built with defective steering Pumps which resulted in the steering wheel locking up, usually while cornering, and at speeds of 60-75mph.
Other factors which could cause similar symptoms are:
- Power Steering Module Software
- Steering Lock mechanism
- Voltage Drop
There is nothing scarier than losing control of your vehicle, may it even be for just a second or two. It’s the most helpless feeling that instantly invokes panic. You immediately lose all trust and confidence in that vehicle. And for good reason, since a locked steering for any length of time, while driving, could be catastrophic.
So what is the cause and has there been any recalls, TSB (Technical Service Bullions), or DIY fixes to remedy this problem.
Before we get into the technicalities, let’s first read a few real-world experiences to get a better idea of what actually happens.
Jeep Wrangler Stiff Steering Locked While Driving
The following complaints have been lodged to the NHTSA on carcomplaints.com.
While driving our 2018 Wrangler JL in 20-30 degree temperature the steering assist locked up, causing my wife to drive the vehicle off of the road while in a slow sweeping curve. After a second or two, the steering re-engaged as she was trying to steer back onto the road and she suddenly veered back onto the road. A few seconds later it happened again. Fortunately, nothing was struck and no one was injured. After the vehicle continued to warm up the lockup did not occur again. This was 3 weeks ago.
Two days ago, while starting out driving in mid-30 degree temperatures the steering again locked up for about a second before reengaging. All instances occurred after the Jeep was sitting outside in the cold and started for the first time that day. Both events occurred within the first 4-5 minutes of driving at speeds in the 45-50mph range while making turns to the wheel.https://www.carcomplaints.com/Jeep/Wrangler/2018/steering/steering.shtml
– Indian Trail, NC, USA
While traveling on the highway at speeds of 70mph my steering wheel lost the ability to turn left. Felt like I had no power steering to the left side. This went on for 10 minutes where I could barely lean left it. All of the suddenly the steering wheel corrected itself and the vehicle jumped to the left causing me to almost hit another vehicle. The problem went away after it corrected itself and it didn’t come back the remaining day.https://www.carcomplaints.com/Jeep/Wrangler/2018/steering/steering.shtml
– Melville, NY, USA
Phew! Sounds scary. Fortunately, nobody was harmed in the incidents recorded above.
Let’s look at some of the common symptoms
Steering Lock Symptoms
There are quite a few Jeep Wrangler owners who have come out and reported similar experiences. Most of the reports include the following symptoms:
- Steering Binding
- Heavy steering and difficulty turning
- Feels like the power assist has stopped working
- Most reported the incident to occur when operating temperatures are cold (sub-40⁰F/ 4.4⁰ C)
- Usually occurs within 10mnutes of starting the vehicle
- At cruising speeds of 60-70mph
- Most lasted 2-3 seconds but some have reported a few minutes at a time
Wrangler owners report they needed to use excessive force in an attempt to realign the vehicle or get it to turn, oftentimes narrowly missing other vehicles and objects. This is a very serious issue and should not be taken lightly, since severe injury or even death could result if this happens to an inexperienced driver, or just at the wrong place and time.
Has the FCA done anything about this issue?
Fortunately, the FCA has issued a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin), numbered (08-092-18). You can read more about that here.
Let’s now look into the cause of this condition in a bit more detail.
There are two separate scenarios reported by Wrangler Owners. One is the steering getting jammed, heavy, or becoming stiff while driving around a bend and the other a clicking or knocking sensation felt and heard when this happens.
What could be the possible causes?
The following components have been identified as defective
- Power Steering Pump
- Power Steering Module Software Update
- Steering Lock mechanism
- Voltage Drop
Let’s look at each component separately, to get a better idea of what goes wrong
Power Steering Pump
The Power Steering system uses electro-hydraulic pressure to provide more natural steering feel to the driver. When the power steering goes bad it results in an intermittent loss of pressure, requiring the driver to use excessive force to control and realign the vehicle. This causes the steering to feel like it is binding or locked especially when in a curve.
Symptoms of a failing Power steering pump include:
- Whining noise while turning the wheel.
- Severe understeer and slow response times
- Stiff or locked steering wheel.
- Squealing noises
When the pump fails it will require the driver to yank the steering wheel back to the left or right before it comes undone. This yanking action with force often results in the power steering returning unexpectedly often causing over-steer. This usually happens for a second or two before it returns to normal.
One way to confirm is if you manually inspect the steering box. If the steering box is hot to the touch, it’s usually a sign of a bad or failing steering box. What happens is the boost pressure would drop resulting in the power assist is lost for a short period.
If this happens to you, drive to your dealership immediately and report the incident. Refrain from driving the vehicle until the problem has been resolved.
TSB (Technical Service Bulletin)
According to the service bulletin, the symptoms are described as above:
- High steering effort
- only during cold ambient temperatures
- Only during cold System Operating temperatures
- Mainly at speeds of 60mph
The repair routine is only described as the “Restore Vehicle Configuration” routine. The repair routine advises the repair technician to clear any codes and follow the on-screen prompts, which we obviously do not have access to.
However, in most cases, customers reported the Power Steering Pump was replaced, which subsequently resolved the issue.
Power Steering Module Software Update
There was a second TSB released on December 06, 2019, with TSB# 10170383. This TSB addresses the Power Steering software module which needs to be updated after the Steering Gear or Pump was replaced.
This TSB describes explains that if the Steering Pump was replaced, but the module software was not updated, then undesirable steering feel will be caused, i.e. stiff steering, locking up, and heavy, due to loss of power assist. So ensure you’ve had your power steering pump replaced and the power steering module software updated.
Steering Lock Mechanism
If you find your steering stiff and hard to turn and emits a loud pop when you realign the steering, then this section is for you.
This is not related to the above-mentioned Power Steering Pump and Module, however, it does have similar symptoms. This issue however is related to a mechanical fault inside the steering column.
Owners experienced the following:
- Hard to turn the wheel
- Loud pop sound when realigning the steering to Centre
- Loud clicking sounds when you turn the steering
- Excessive force is required to gain control of the steering.
- Driver needs to bring the vehicle to a complete stop
After further investigation, it turns out there is a metal pin inside the steering which is designed to manually lock the steering wheel when parked. As an anti-theft feature. The metal sleeve and lock pin works their way loose and jam up inside the steering lock. This results in tightness and a very stiff steering feel. The steering needs to be physically removed and the loose pieces from the metal sleeve/bracket retrieved.
The last cause of stiff steering can be related to a bad grounding strap. The Grounding strap needs to be cleaned of all debris and plastic which could interfere with the Electric Power Steering. This also causes the steering to lock up at speeds of 60mph. The ground strap needs to maintain a constant voltage at all times since there are very sensitive components that could malfunction as a result of a drop in voltage.
Buy a preplacement JK Wrangler Power Steering Assist Pump here
Buy a TJ Wrangler Power Steering Assist Pump here
Buy a Wireless Bluetooth OBDII Diagnostic Scanner here
Buy a Professional OBDII Scanner here
If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, do not hesitate to go straight to the dealership. This is a documented issue and they will address it using the above fixes and TSB’s. Refrain from driving the vehicle until the issue has been resolved.