Help! Smoke's coming out of the steering column.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a '96 Cadillac Seville SLS. The problem is smoke coming out of the
steering column. I've had the car back to the dealer about three times for
this, and the mechanics still can't fix it. Smoke comes out around the
steering wheel, and the column gets hot near the hazard-light switch. The
dealer said there was too much grease on the turn-signal switch, causing
the smoke. Does that sound plausible to you? I worry about the car catching
fire. -- Clete

RAY: I'd worry, too, Clete. Smoke from the steering column is not a problem
you'd expect to have on a $45,000 car. I mean, if my brother's '52 MG
smoked from the steering wheel, I wouldn't be too concerned.

TOM: Concerned? Hardly! I'd have heat!

RAY: Unfortunately, the "too much grease" story smells of bull feathers. Of
all the customers' cars I've set fire to over the years, none of them went
up in smoke because I used too much grease. Grease can't cause a fire ...
it has to be ignited by something else.

TOM: And my guess, in your case, is that it's the directional switch. We
had a customer with a similar vintage Chevy Lumina, and his directional
switch had to be replaced three times (for free) by the dealer because it
was causing the same problem. Now, it's certainly possible that the heat
from the directional switch is heating up some grease on the contacts and
causing the smoke, but the switch shouldn't be getting that hot in the
first place.

RAY: Take it back to your dealer -- or another dealer -- and ask him to try
a new directional switch. Tell him there ARE things you enjoy smoked ...
like salmon ... but your steering column is not one of them.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One