Why Are the Ford Steering Wheel Buttons Not Working?

In the early days of motoring a steering wheel was literally just a steering wheel bolted to the steering column. You could turn it left or right and your car would respond and you could even sometimes remove it so no one could steal your car.

There are still some wheels you can easily remove for security purposes but there are many that have become more hi-tech. With regards to Ford steering wheels on more recent models more and more functions can be controlled from the steering wheel.

This obviously is very handy and allows you to adjust certain things without needing your hand to leave the steering wheel. In terms of safety when driving this is a fantastic level of innovation but that of course depends on whether or not the buttons are working.

In this post we will look specifically at Ford steering wheels and what can happen to cause the built-in buttons to not perform their designated functions. We will also look at what some of these buttons do and how to try and fix these issues yourself if possible.

Why Are Steering Wheel Buttons So Important?

As mentioned there are a lot of functions you can perform from newer Ford steering wheels which is great. There are of course usually back up buttons for all of these systems somewhere on the dashboard if the steering wheel buttons stop functioning.

We are all taught however when driving that our hands should remain on the wheel at all times unless needed to shift gears. This is why these steering wheel buttons are so helpful as they allow us to make certain adjustments without our hands leaving the wheel.

When we are controlling a vehicle that could be a couple of tons of metal it is best to have full control of the steering wheel.

What Are The Main Issues With Ford Steering Wheel Buttons?

There are several different buttons found on a Ford steering wheel and they can control a host of things regarding the vehicle. Equally there are as many if not more reasons that these buttons may cease to work. Below are the six main reasons that steering wheel buttons might stop working.

  • Broken or faulty clockspring
  • Incorrect setting control system
  • Gunk or dirt in the buttons
  • Stuck Stereo
  • Broken or faulty switchboard
  • Loose Wiring

Issues with these buttons may not always be immediately obvious, in fact issues may start subtly at first. A good indication of an issue developing may be the volume or audio controls on your radio may start to malfunction.

This may not be related to the steering wheel buttons, however, as this problem could also indicate an issue with the radio itself. It is easy to test this though as you can use the controls on the radio itself rather than the steering wheel. If the issue persists then it’s the radio. If it clears up it may be the steering wheel buttons.

Another big indicator is issues with the cruise control functions. A failure to initiate when using the steering wheel buttons or suddenly ceasing to work could indicate an issue with the buttons. Of course it could be an issue with cruise control itself which could still indicate issues with the steering system as a whole.

Receiving certain error messages can tell you something is wrong with the buttons as can seeing the airbag light come on. Ultimately though if you are pressing the button and it is not performing the task as intended there is likely some problem.

What Can Be Controlled From a Ford Steering Wheel?

Understanding what the buttons on your Ford steering wheel do is very important to help us know what the problem is and if we can fix this issue. In the table below are some of the main steering wheel buttons with a brief description of what they do.

Name of Button Main Function of the Button
Adaptive Cruise Control Adjusts speed to maintain distance from the vehicle in front
Voice Control Enables voice control where available for certain functions
Windshield Wipers & Washers Cleans front windshield with washer fluid and wipers
Audio Control Controlling the radio stations and volume
Active Park Assist Helps to locate a good parking spot
Phone Calls Answers and initiates hands free phone calls
Lighting Controls Controls external and internal lights

As mentioned the main task of the steering wheel is to keep us heading in the direction we want to go. This has now changed and we can do so much more with the steering wheel as you see in the table above.

Some of the issues with the buttons of our steering wheels can be external while others can be hidden deep in the steering column itself. It is a complex system so problems can certainly develop over time. If a button ceases to function it may just be that button or it could be a sign that others will soon follow suit.

Often the problems may require a professional eye to diagnose and fix but this does not mean we can not find and resolve certain problems on our own.

Issues With the Clock Spring

We should first clarify what a clock spring actually is as this is pertinent as to why it can affect how steering wheel buttons work. A clock spring is a flat multicore cable wound into a spiral shape. It is found in the vehicle's steering system connecting the steering wheel and the electrical system.

Also connected to this clock spring will be the airbags, horn and certain other electronic devices. It essentially conducts electrical current to various components. The reason for its spiral design is to allow it to turn with the steering system. Straight wires would become twisted and potentially damaged over time.

This is therefore an important element of steering while keeping essential functions like airbags operating. If this spring is broken or faulty then electrical messages may not reach things like the audio system, airbags and cruise control.

When the electricity is not being transferred then the buttons are not being effective. The connection between the button and the steering column is essentially severed so pressing the buttons will do nothing.

The clock spring can be replaced if faulty and this may be something you have the ability to do yourself. If not you may want to see a mechanic to do this for you. Remember that doing work on your own steering system might result in dangerous mistakes.

You will likely be able to find clock spring replacement videos online and as it is a little fiddly you are best seeing it done rather than following written instructions. It should be noted that you may have to remove the airbag pad in this process so be sure you know how to replace it correctly.

If you have any doubts in your ability to perform this replacement I urge you to have a professional do this for you. Messing up your steering or breaking your airbag could have potentially life threatening consequences.

Dirty Clogged Buttons

Some people keep their cars immaculate while others may treat their vehicle as a moving trash can. Over time dirt and sometimes mold can build up in the gaps between buttons. This can literally clog the button making it not function when you press it.

The button may not fully depress or dirt can get between the circuit and the metal plate on the underside of the button. If the connection between button and circuit is not made then the function can not be completed.

If the buttons are sticky or gunked up you may need to clean your steering wheel to fix this issue. You may have to remove the steering wheel to do this clean as you do not want to risk getting certain electrical elements wet.

Again find a Youtube video of how to do this with your specific Ford model and what you will need. Generally though hot water and a toothbrush will be your cleaning supplies for such a project.

A Frozen Stereo

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the steering wheel buttons; it might be the radio itself. If for instance the radio wont change channel or increase volume it could be due to a frozen radio. You may simply need to perform a reset of your audio system and everything will be fine again.

The Switchboard Is Faulty

The Switchboard itself may be broken or perhaps just one of the buttons is faulty. Even one faulty button can affect the rest of the buttons if not fixed. This may mean that you need to replace the whole switchboard in order to ensure full functionality.

This would include taking apart the steering wheel so it may be something you would want to take to a mechanic. Trying to fix such things yourself comes with potential complications.

Conclusion

The steering wheel buttons are very handy but they can also become damaged over time. There are a number of reasons they may cease to function with various degrees of potential fixes. It may be as simple as cleaning the buttons to replace connections.

The steering system is something you should only work on if you know what you are doing. Your ability to steer the vehicle or the functionality of your airbags can be compromised by ill advised DIY around the steering wheel.

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