[HOW TO] Fix/bodge the steering wheel locking mechanism - Alfa Romeo Forum
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(Post Link) post #1 of 29 Old 04-04-17 Thread Starter
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[HOW TO] Fix/bodge the steering wheel locking mechanism

Hi,

I did this a couple of years ago and documented the process with some pictures, but never had the time to write about it and ended up forgetting about it. Lately I've seen this issue resurface, so I decided I would tell how I disabled my electric steering wheel lock.

I bought my 159 used and it came with this error: "vehicle protection system not available". It relates to the electric steering wheel locking mechanism, I went to a nearby thief den dealer and they charged me 35 euros for half an hour of diagnosis and the result was: "There is indeed an error, it's almost certainly a wiring problem, you need to leave your vehicle here, it will take a while". Looking at the service manual description, they imply the car will not work without that module, so a wiring issue shouldn't let me drive the car at all, so I decided to take matters in my own hands. First I ruled out the battery, I bought a new Yuasa battery but the problem never went away. Then I removed the connector and check the wires, they were all fine, even after I moved the loom around vigorously, that was further proff the wiring should be OK.

I contacted a less shady dealer and they quoted around 300 euros for a new steering lock unit, which is pretty reasonable but I didn't really want to pay that much for a feature I don't really care about, but the constant error message was really bothering me, so I decided to try and hack mine as it was broken anyway. This is the process:

First you need to take the trims that cover the underside of the steering wheel. To get the maximum clearance possible and make the job easier I also removed the driver's "leg airbag" (sorry, don't know the proper name), if you do this follow the service manual instructions. Messing with airbags is potentially dangerous, but I didn't really felt safe working with power tools in the steering wheel column with an airbag pointing straight at my nose. This is what you see after removing the airbag and the lower covers:

You are supposed to remove the shear bolts and then replace them with new ones but, as I already said, I don't really care about this feature, so I sed a Dremel with a cutting disc and I created a small groove on top of each screw, with this groove they became regular screws, so I took them off using a regular flat head screw driver. Look at the last picture in the end of the post to get a bigger view of the cut in the screws. This is the removed unit:

As you can notice, we have an additional security measure, there are 3 screws holding the cover in place and they have specially designed heads that make it easy to tighten but make the screw driver slip when you try to get them loose. I was going to drill them but they were made of some really though alloy, the work around was really simple: put the unit in a vise and get a flat-head screw driver with sharp corners, apply a lot of force on top of the screw driver for it not to slip and try to loosen the screw, eventually it will start turning and come out.
After you take the cover off this is what you see:

Now you just pull the PCB out and disconnect the motor wires from the board:

I'll link 2 higher resolution photos of the main board in case someone wants to look at resistor values or part numbers.
Top:

Bottom:


Even though I was getting the error on the dashboard, I could hear the lock operating and after taking the key out the steering wheel would actually lock and unlock after inserting they key again, so the motor was working properly. This led me to suspect these two switches on the vertical board with the blue connector:

These two switches, marked SW1 and SW2 act like end stops so the controller knows when the locking bolt reaches the fully open and fully closed positions. It would be tricky locating exact replacements and hacking different ones in place would also take a lot of effort, so I decided I would just get rid of the locking mechanism altogether and trick the controller with a small relay. Luckily, I had a handful of these:

These very useful little parts are called latching relays, they operate like any other relay, but you only need to apply a short pulse of current and they stay there, no need to keep supplying power, if you want to switch it the other way you can either operate the other coil or invert the polarity of the coil you applied the pulse on, this is the diagram of the relay:

My plan was to wire the old failing switches to the relay in a way where it is either closing the SW1 or closing the SW2. The coil of the relay is connected to the motor driver, this way when the controller wants to lock the steering wheel it applies power to the coil (thinking it is driving the motor) and the relay closes the SW1, the controller sees the Switch 1 closed and thinks it reached the desired position and stops supplying power. When the controller wants to unlock the steering, it drives the coil reversing the polarity (trying to reverse the motor) and the SW1 opens and the SW2 closes, the controller sees this and thinks the bolt reached the fully open position and stops supplying power to the relay. I don't remember if the motor worked at 5 or 12 volts, but the relay was rated at just 3 volts, so I added a resistor in series with the coil of the relay so it wouldn't fail prematurely.
This is the final circuit, I put a bit of epoxy in the relay pins to try and stop vibrations from breaking the relay pins, the black and red wires go the the old motor connector:

I tried this and all errors were gone (I think I didn't even had to clear the error using Multiecuscan, it was just gone). Considering the lack of errors a success, time to reassemble everything. I started by completely removing the old motor and lock from the enclosure. I probably didn't need to do this, it was probably nearly impossible but I was afraid that with the vibrations there was a small chance of that thing moving and eventually locking the steering while moving, I know it sounds silly, but I feel safer this way :

Now I covered the hole with a thick piece of plastic cut to fit. Again, probably no need for this, but this way I know nothing comes in or out of this box:

This is the board with the relay already attached, I used two bits of foam so the relay wouldn't be flapping around inside, a piece of foam between the relay and the board:

And another piece of foam on top of that:

I put the PCB back in it's place and closed the lid. The old screws were a pain to remove, I replaced them with three 4mm stainless steel screws:

Finally I put the unit back in it's place and reconnected the wiring connector. I actually reused the old sheer screws, the Dremel cut worked so well than I can easily tighten or loosen them at will:


And, to this day (two years later), it never complained again
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Excellent write up. Enjoyed that. Well done.
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Originally Posted by Verbout View Post
Excellent write up. Enjoyed that. Well done.
Nice post

I was having the "vehicle protection system not available". I have just regrease the mechanism inside the box. I have also spray liberaly some contact cleaner on switches. Since then, it works flawelessly.
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Originally Posted by ritchy31 View Post
Nice post

I was having the "vehicle protection system not available". I have just regrease the mechanism inside the box. I have also spray liberaly some contact cleaner on switches. Since then, it works flawelessly.
I was going to do that, I reckon the issue is on the switches, but I don't really want that feature, it serves me no purpose, this way I make sure I don't have to touch it again
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Originally Posted by ritchy31 View Post
Nice post

I was having the "vehicle protection system not available". I have just regrease the mechanism inside the box. I have also spray liberaly some contact cleaner on switches. Since then, it works flawelessly.

bumping an old thread, but wondering did you use any particular grease? (I got contact cleaner from Maplins)
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Useful thread. As a side note I notice the OP is in Portugal....now although he says he does not really care whether that feature worked or not, if you live in the UK you must have a working steering lock or you will NOT pass the MOT. To be honest I thought it was a Europe wide rule as the legislation came in to our MOT via Brussels as far as I was aware. It may be yet another case of the Europeans inventing all these laws but only the UK sticking to them....lol!
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Top class thread as i have the same issue with my 159 2.4... I have just put mine through MOT and definitely didn't check my steering lock, maybe a bit different in N Ireland. My steering lock doesn't engage at all so i was wondering what would happen if I just disconnected the plug going into the unit. would that remove the dashboard fault?.
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There are differences in the NI test.....but the steering lock is still part of the test!! Lets hope he checked your brakes a little more thoroughly!!! LOL
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Originally Posted by alfaitalia View Post
Useful thread. As a side note I notice the OP is in Portugal....now although he says he does not really care whether that feature worked or not, if you live in the UK you must have a working steering lock or you will NOT pass the MOT. To be honest I thought it was a Europe wide rule as the legislation came in to our MOT via Brussels as far as I was aware. It may be yet another case of the Europeans inventing all these laws but only the UK sticking to them....lol!
or more likely the UK coming up with it and blaming the EU regardless for whichever policies turn out to be unpopular
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Haa haa....Probably.....A fellow "remain" voter I feel !!
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What brakes?? Lol
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alfaitalia View Post
Useful thread. As a side note I notice the OP is in Portugal....now although he says he does not really care whether that feature worked or not, if you live in the UK you must have a working steering lock or you will NOT pass the MOT. To be honest I thought it was a Europe wide rule as the legislation came in to our MOT via Brussels as far as I was aware. It may be yet another case of the Europeans inventing all these laws but only the UK sticking to them....lol!
not all MOT testers are the same..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Billalpha159 View Post
Top class thread as i have the same issue with my 159 2.4... I have just put mine through MOT and definitely didn't check my steering lock, maybe a bit different in N Ireland. My steering lock doesn't engage at all so i was wondering what would happen if I just disconnected the plug going into the unit. would that remove the dashboard fault?.
if it was just a matter of unplugging the unit, their would be no need for the workaround in this thread

Edit- after a later post, I want to point out this comment is tongue in cheek, and not meant badly in any way (I thought that was what the smiley indicated after the comment).

Last edited by OzMurc; 22-03-18 at 22:27. Reason: making sure no one was inadvertently offended by an attempt at humour
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Haa haa....Probably.....A fellow "remain" voter I feel !!
most definitely, and I'll bore anybody to death about if they have the misfortune of hanging round with me too long haha
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Ozmurc you have obviously done this repair seeing you are so knowledgeable. Be keen to hear how you found the job.
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QUOTE -OzMurc "not all MOT testers are the same.."

True and that's why one might fail you on a bush for "excessive play" another might just advise. Things like that are down to a tester discretion to a degree. But something like steering lock is similar to a brake like bulb.....its either there and working or not and....erm...not! So every tester should fail it if he's doing his job properly. No room for discretion on that one!! Its in the rules they all SHOULD test by. PS...I'm an ex MOT tester....long time ago mind ! Only failed one MOT test on my own/wifes cars in the last 30 years (rust near a seat belt mount I missed on my old Jeep three years back.....must be losing my touch!!!!)
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Ozmurc you have obviously done this repair seeing you are so knowledgeable. Be keen to hear how you found the job.
I'm far from knowledgable on Alfa's (and I thought your posts on here have been very good).

I have a thing for Italian machinery; I've got a GTV and a 156, and only recently acquired the Brera, and I generally play with cars as I do enjoy it (most of the time).

I think a little is lost in translation on forum posts as my post wasn't meant in any way badly (again far from knowledgable on Alfa systems, but I'll give anything a go).

I've tried unplugging the unit, and also, I've tried using another unit I purchased on eBay for £30 (still another 2nd hand unit for sale for £99). I found this needed recoding. I've just ordered MultiECUscan from Gendan today, and will try recoding the unit, as I'd rather use a laptop and a diagnostic port connection than pull apart the unit and resolder etc.

Of course, with Alfa's being what they are perhaps for someone else, simply unplugging the unit may work! (HUMOUR!)

PS- I will be putting up videos on YouTube under this name.

Last edited by OzMurc; 22-03-18 at 22:31. Reason: decided my car history was not relevant.
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Video would be great... I am going to try and remove the unit next week... iv basically rebuilt the car as it was heading to the graveyard and I rescued it.. iv done complete brakes, engine out clutch, belts, glow plugs, EGR delete, swirl flaps, manifold clean , DPF decore, and remap.. it's going great but now left with the silly stuff but very annoying stuff lol.. keep in touch as I'd be keen to hear how you get on with the brera. That's my next purchase when I sell my GT.. hopefully soon as I'm not allowed to keep it and the 159 women just don't understand lol
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I ended up swapping the main board into the "spare" steering lock unit; this nearly fixed the problem- the car would start every time, but the VPS still showed as an error on the screen. So I ended up doing the same thing as the OP, just slightly more refined using a 5v latching relay, and hot melt plastic to stop vibration damage instead of foam. I paid a very talented electronics guy £50 to do this, as I didn't have the equipment to do surface mount soldering; so I just supplied the relay I bought on ebay (£4.94 from memory), so £55 fix all up.

I've posted a pic below, and will upload a video when I edit a few clips and put them together.
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File Type: jpg IMG_5117.jpg (116.5 KB, 39 views)

Last edited by OzMurc; 27-04-18 at 15:51.
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I had plans to use this brilliant thread to sort my VPS problem.. but it decided to fix itself.. when I insert the key the steering lock jumps as it disengages. And all my lights are as should be. No doubt I'll have more lights shortly... it is an Alfa lol
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All this week I have been trying to fix this problem . I have opened it and cleaned it - greased it but no luck so far...
I will probably have to do the relay fix.
I am reluctant to do the soldering myself though... would you guys know anybody to recommend around Birmingham?
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All this week I have been trying to fix this problem . I have opened it and cleaned it - greased it but no luck so far...
I will probably have to do the relay fix.
I am reluctant to do the soldering myself though... would you guys know anybody to recommend around Birmingham?
I don't know about Birmingham, but in central London, I just googled electronic repairs, and this company came up:

Camera, Camcorder, Laptop & TV Repairs Service in Central London

They said their minimum charge was £50, and thats what the job cost me. Its not complicated, anyone who can repair PCBs (printed circuit boards) and Amplifiers can do the job. I just supplied a link to this page's pictures from the OP, and I supplied the relay. So I'm sure you could find someone in Birmingham to do that.

Otherwise, you can always ring the guys I used and ask for Slawek, the guy who did my module- am sure you could post either way.

I did supply the relay (£4-5 on ebay).
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I cleaned my 2 main earths up at the weekend, hoping for good things on the overunning starting, but no changes, I may replace the leads at some point.
I hooked up MES this evening and have the following faults in the pics. My immediate feeling is buy a new TEG unit, but Iíll check cables first and the earths inside the car. Itís not triggering fault codes on every start, I just did 5 starts which didnít fire immediately, but no codes up,yet. Itís horrible when it over runs on the push start when youíve taken your finger off the button, feels like itís just going to break the car in two😀 Any thoughts?
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File Type: jpg E15B7573-24E6-404F-9363-75BDD8D1F8A2.jpg (74.5 KB, 26 views)
File Type: jpg 530B1136-1AB2-4F2B-BDC9-71D4AB4359FC.jpg (79.5 KB, 25 views)

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It yould be great if you could send me a link for the relay!
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It yould be great if you could send me a link for the relay!
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Panasonic...AAAOxyPFJTlvlf
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More info on Vehicle Protection System

Thanks all for this excellent thread and Jose's original post details. I have the VPS problem on my Alfa 159, fortunately it is only happening when removing the key - so the steering lock is stuck in the 'out' position.
After reading all the threads and google searching - I found this detailed solution to repair the Steering Lock ECU unit.
Some great photos and details here - I plan to dismantle mine and check if my unit has the same root cause as the post in the Romanian Alfa Club (link below - hope it is ok to post this). Use Google Translate to translate the web page - works great.

https://www.alfaclub.ro/forum/viewto...339411#p339411
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