The case of the smoking steering column.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

Occasionally, when I start my 1988 Chevrolet Beretta, a little puff of white smoke comes out of the steering column, right behind the steering wheel. This only happens when starting the car and not every time. It's not dust. Do you have any idea what it is?

TOM: If this were an Italian car, Roger, it would mean that a new Pope had been elected. But since it's a Chevy, it means that there's some sort of short circuit or bad connection.

RAY: The white smoke is coming from "arcing." Arcing is what happens when electricity jumps from one contact to another. It makes a spark, and as we all know, where there's fire, there's smoke....or something like that.

TOM: And in the steering column, there several places this could be happening; At the ignition switch, the directional/dimmer switch, the horn switch, or cruise control switch.

RAY: Have your mechanic open up the steering column and turn the key to the start position. If he does this in a darkened corner of his garage, he may be able to see a spark jump at one of these switches. If not, he can look around for blackened contacts, which are evidence that arcing is taking place.

TOM: And when he figures out which switch it is, he should replace it. The whole thing ought to cost you less than $100. And that should take care of your smoky Beretta.

RAY: Smokey Beretta....wasn't he the one who said "Only you can prevent forest fires?"

TOM: Doesn't it embarrass you to make jokes as bad as that?

RAY: No.

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