My V50 took home the trophy for Only Car to Break Down on the 2019 Spring PNW Cruise: it refused to start on Sunday morning because the steering lock had jammed. What follows is the tale of everything I had to do to get to the point where I feel comfortable driving the car again.
Wrong Wheel Drive and I had camped together, so he was in his rental Charger next to my car when I tried to start it. I’m glad that, once I told him what was going on, Wrong Wheel Drive simply started to look for the problem instead of stressing out about needing a tow down over 100km from the mountains on a Sunday in a foreign country, like I did. He was an extremely valuable source of momentum. He messaged the rest of the group while I pulled my tools out, and then we started troubleshooting why nothing happened beyond the solenoid click when I turned the key.
Fortunately, “on an Oppo drive” turns out to be a great place to decide to break down. By the time WWD and I have the steering column exposed to look at the lock (using intel from gmctavish), the rest of the group has made their way down the road from the meeting spot in the village. We get it started by way of a hammer from Longtime Lurker and AMGTech’s percussive maintenance. Extremely relieved and grateful, I bid the group goodbye and took the short way back, driving all the way home to Portland without taking the key out which prevents the lock from trying to re-engage (in fact, I never even turned it past the accessory position, though it turns out that was unnecessary),
I promised the kind people on the cruise, who were only worried for my safety, that I would take it into the shop soon. I didn’t mean it as a lie at the time, but of course it turned out to be one.
The next day, I talked with the shop about the the real solution of replacing the part, and they said it would be ‘round $600 just for the part alone (I think; it may have been for the whole job). The remediation suggested in the blog post gmctavish found is to unmount the lock, take out the piece that tends to cause it to jam, and just leave it disconnected in the dash. Volvo themselves would take a similar approach and remove this component entirely a few model years down the road. I think disconnection is a perfectly reasonable workaround, so all I have to do is remove the two shear-head bolts holding the lock in and I’ll save the better part of a grand! Can’t be that hard, right?
Well, when it comes to me and wrenching, even the simplest things are hard, so with the knowledge that I can always throw in the towel and get a short tow to the Volvo guys, I dig in on Monday evening. The first thing I do is disconnect the battery and wait 15 minutes to be sure that I won’t set the airbag off in my face. Once I’m not worried about that, I get rid of a downward-facing shield-looking metal plate that restricts access to the sides of the steering column.
Once that thing is out of the way, I can really work. I take my non-Dremel rotary tool and grind a notch in the bolt head to make a very shoddy flathead screw:
It’s a crappy notch, so undoing the bolt requires being careful with exactly how the screwdriver is seated in the notch. But after only thirty or so minutes of quarter turns, slips, redos, and a few more applications of the rotary tool, it comes out:
This is when I make an unpleasant discovery: the threads have blue loctite in them:
Which explains why it never got easier to turn that bolt out. “Oh well,” I think, “annoying, but not that bad. How hard could the other side be?” Yes, I do love tempting fate.
By the time I got the bolt on the left out, it was time to take Ravna to the dog park, so it’s tomorrow evening before I take a crack at the right-side bolt. After a couple hours of grinding, turning, having the screwdriver slip out, cussing, and repeating, this is all I have to show for it:
It’s a few turns out, and I cannot get it any further. I call it quits for that night and consult the internet. I learn that heat will melt loctite, so my plan is to use my soldering iron to heat up the bolt and free it from its loctite shackles.
I try this a few nights later, and it fails miserably. Even with some solder on the iron to help heat transfer, and after sticking it on for a good ten minutes, the bolt is not very warm. My guess is that the heat is transferring to the steering lock (and possibly the column) so my soldering iron is not gonna have enough juice to get to the required temperature.
At this point I’m starting to doubt whether I’ll be able to get the bolt off, but I’m still not ready to call it quits and go to the shop hat in hand. On Friday evening, I stop by the hardware shop to pick up two new tools: a heat gun, and an offset screwdriver, like this:
I had been unable to put a good amount of torque on the bolt because I’d been using regular old screwdrivers, so even if I couldn’t get the loctite to loosen, I was optimistic that having a lever arm would be enough to persuade the bolt to come out.
On Saturday afternoon I set to work with the heat gun. I put it on the lower setting and applied heat for a good ten minutes or so. It certainly did something, though despite the play the lock had from the left bolt coming out totally vanishing after soaking in the heat, I really have no idea if it affected the loctite at all. I suspect it didn’t. But after grinding down the notch one more time, the bolt starts to turn using the offset screwdriver:
This gives me the intoxicating sense that I’m close to success, and with redoubled efforts, I finally liberate the right-side bolt:
I don’t want to do the math to figure out exactly how many hours it took me to remove a grand total of two bolts. Suffice it to say that I would be the world’s poorest tech if I got paid book rate.
After the bolts are out, it takes me a few minutes to realize I probably need to have the lock disengaged to be able to remove it. I reconnect the battery and stick the key in, which allows me to fully depress the pin on the left side of the lock and remove it from the steering column:
That black plastic piece you can see to the right of the lock bolt has a metal pin in it that impedes motion of the bolt (presumably, this keeps the bolt in the open position to reduce the chance that it will accidentally engage while you’re driving). The awesome Volvo guy who wrote the blog post I was following — who goes by “my name ideas were taken” — informed me that this is what usually causes the lock to jam, so I remove it:
Now, hopefully, the lock bolt can move however it likes, and this problem won’t re-occur.
The final step is to give the lock a new home in the dash where it can happily amuse itself engaging and retracting for many years to come without actually doing anything. Worst case, if it jams again, I can open the dash back up and manually unjam it. I wrap the lock up in bubble wrap to insulate it from vibrations and avoid annoying rattling noises:
Then I reinstall the metal shield-y panel and tie the lock to it on either side, so it won’t slide around too much:
Then it was a simple matter of reinstalling all the dash panels to get the car back to normal. You can see some of the bubble wrap and rope if you look below the steering column cover at the right angle, but that’s not a big deal in my book.
I’m pretty pleased with the state of things now. I may end up replacing the lock eventually, but I think that’s not very urgent with this workaround. I will be getting a ratchet soon to keep in the glove box permanently, with a T25 bit on it, in case the lock jams again. The total cost of the heat gun, offset screwdriver, and a few more cutting discs for my rotary tool ended up being $62, and the ratchet will add on another ten or fifteen bucks. But I removed a new kind of bolt for the first time, got a few new tools, and no longer have low-level anxiety about driving the V50; all good results in my book.