When cruise control systems were first introduced, they usually were activated by a series of switches that ranged from dash controls to secondary turn signal switches. As technology advanced, one of the first systems to cater to the evolving needs of the automotive consumer group was the cruise control. In order to improve safety and increase driving comfort, many automotive manufacturers began to move the cruise control activation switch to the outside edges of the steering wheel.
The cruise control switch is typically comprised of five individual functions that allow the driver to activate and control the cruise control setting with either of their thumbs or any fingers on the steering wheel.
The five functions on all cruise control switches today typically include:
- On button: this button will "arm" the cruise control system and set it by pressing the "set" button.
- Off button: this button is designed to turn off the system so it can't be accidently activated by mistake.
- Set/accelerate button: this button will set the cruise control speed once a desired speed has been achieved. Pressing this button again and holding down on it typically causes the vehicle to increase its speed.
- Resume (RES) button: the resume button allows the driver to reactivate the cruise control setting to the previous speed, if they had to temporarily disengage the system due to traffic or having to slow down by pressing the brake pedal.
- Coast function button: the coast function is one that allows the driver to coast, typically used when driving down hills or in higher volume traffic situations.
Along with the hand held controls, many of today's cruise control systems have a secondary shut off system for safety. For drivers that own automatic transmissions, the brake release switch is used as a secondary shut off device while those with manual transmissions that rely on a clutch pedal to shift often have both the brake and clutch pedal release switch. Having all of these systems work correctly is vital for vehicle safety and proper activation of the cruise control.
Occasionally, the steering column cruise control switch breaks or becomes faulty due to extended use, water or condensation inside the steering wheel, or an electrical problem with the switch. On some vehicles, the cruise control switch is still located on a turn signal indicator. For purposes of this instructional article, we'll focus on the most common type of cruise control switch, located on the steering wheel.
- Note: In this article we will focus on providing general instructions for removing a cruise control switch. In many cases, the exact location of the cruise control switch is different, as are the instructions for removing and replacing them.
Part 1 of 3: Determining the symptoms of a bad cruise control switch
The primary way most mechanics know that a certain component is damaged and needs to be replaced is based on an error code. On most OBD-II scanners, an error code P-0568 notes that a problem exists with the cruise control switch, typically a power or short circuit issue. However, if you don't receive this error code or don't have a scanner to download error codes, completing self-diagnostic inspections gives the mechanic a better starting point as to how to pinpoint the right component that is broken.
Since the control switch cluster has multiple toggle switches on it, one or any of the following cruise control malfunctions requires the mechanic to replace both cruise control switches as the fault may exist with one or both toggle clusters; but without replacing them and testing them, you won't know exactly which one is faulty. It's always best to replace both of them at the same time.
Some of the other symptoms of a bad of faulty cruise control switch include:
Cruise control will not turn on: If you press the "on" button, there should be a warning light indicator that lights up on the dashboard. If this light does not turn on, it's a good indication that the on button is either damaged or that the cruise control button assembly has an electrical short. If the short is the cause, the OBD-II code P-0568 will likely show up on the scanner.
Cruise control does not accelerate when pressing the “accel” button: Another common malfunction with the cruise control switch is when you press the accel button and the cruise control does not increase the vehicle's speed. This symptom may also be attributed to a faulty relay, cruise control servo, or control unit.
Cruise control does not return to original speed when pressing “res” button: It's also common for the res button to malfunction on the cruise control switch. This button is responsible for putting the cruise control back to the original setting if you had to temporarily deactivate the cruise control by tapping the brake pedal or engaging the clutch. If you press this button and the cruise control light is illuminated on the dashboard and the cruise control does not reset, the switch is usually the culprit.
Cruise control will not coast: A popular function of the cruise control is the “coast” function, which allows drivers to temporarily disable the throttle control while encountering traffic, going downhill, or when they need to reduce speed. If the driver presses the coast button and the cruise control still maintains acceleration, the cruise control switch may be faulty.
Part 2 of 3: Replacing the cruise control switch
In this instructional article, we'll outline the tools, steps and tips for replacing the cruise control switch system that is located on both sides of a steering wheel. This format is the most common found in vehicles made over the past decade. However, there are cruise control switches that are located as turn signal indicators or separate levers that are attached to the steering column. If you're vehicle has the cruise control switch located on the steering wheel, proceed to follow the instructions below. If it is located in a different area, consult your vehicle's service manual for precise instructions.
- Warning: Do not attempt to complete this job if you do not have the right tools, as you will be removing the steering wheel air bag, which is a serious safety device that should not be tampered with uncarefully.
- Boxed end wrench and ratchet set with extension
- Flat blade screwdriver
- Philips screwdriver
- Replacement cruise control switch
- Safety glasses
The steps needed to replace the switch on both sides of the steering wheel are similar if you have a cruise control switch cluster panel located on the same side of the steering wheel; the only difference is instead of removing two individual switches, you'll be removing only one. The connections and steps for removing them are virtually identical.
- Note: As always, refer to your vehicle service manual for precise instructions.
Step 1: Disconnect the battery. Locate the vehicle's battery and disconnect the positive and negative battery cables before proceeding.
Step 2: Remove steering wheel column bolt covers. On both sides of the steering wheel are two plastic caps that need to be removed prior to taking the steering column cover off. Using a flat screwdriver, carefully pry the two covers off the side of the steering column. There will be a small tab where you can insert the blade of the screwdriver to remove them.
Step 3: Remove the steering wheel column bolts. Using a ratchet with a long extension and an 8mm socket, remove the two bolts inside the steering wheel column holes. Start by removing the driver side bolt first and then replace the passenger side bolt. Place the bolts and the steering wheel covers in a cup or bowl so they do not get lost.
Step 4: Remove the center air bag cluster. Grab the air bag cluster with both hands, and carefully remove it from the center of the steering wheel. This cluster is attached to an electrical connector and cluster, so be careful not to pull too hard.
Step 5: Remove the electrical connector from air bag cluster. Remove the electrical connector attached to the air bag cluster, so you can have a clear area to work. Carefully remove the electrical connector by pressing the side clips or tabs and pull from the hard plastic side areas (not the wires themselves). Once the electrical connector is removed, place the air bag cluster in a safe area.
Step 6: Remove the cruise control switch. The switches are connected to a bracket that is now accessible from either side after you removed the air bag. Using a Philips screwdriver, unscrew the bolts that are holding the cruise control switch onto the bracket. Usually the top one will have a ground wire attached underneath the bolt. Once the bolts have been removed, the cruise control switch is loose and you can remove it.
Step 7: Disconnect the cruise control electrical harness.
Step 8: Repeat the above step(s) with the other side cruise control switch.
Step 9: Replace the old cruise control switch with the new one. After both switches have been removed, reinstall the new switches by following the instructions in reverse order as listed below. Reinstall wiring harness and reattach the switch to the bracket, making sure you reinstall the ground wire under the top bolt. Complete this process on both sides.
Step 10: Reconnect the wiring harness to air bag cluster.
Step 11: Reconnect the air bag cluster. Place the air bag cluster straight in the same location it was originally sitting inside the steering wheel. Make sure to line up the holes where the bolts will go inside the side of the steering column.
Step 12: Replace the bolts on the steering column. As noted above, make sure the bolts line up and are inserted inside the bracket that holds the air bag cluster onto the steering wheel.
Step 13: Replace the two plastic caps.
Step 14: Reconnect battery cables.
Part 3 of 3: Test drive the vehicle
Before you begin to test out your new cruise control switch, a good rule of thumb is to make sure the primary switch (the on button) works. To test this, simply start your engine and press the "on" button on your cruise control switch. If the cruise control light illuminates on your dash or instrument cluster, the switch should be working fine.
The next step will be to complete a road test to truly examine if your repair was completed correctly. If you were having problems with the cruise control shutting off after a certain period of time, you'll want to test the vehicle for at least that same time period. Here are a few tips on how to complete the test drive.
Step 1: Start the vehicle. Let it warm up to operating temperature.
Step 2: Check the codes. Plug in the diagnostic scanner and download any existing error codes or clear the codes that showed up initially.
Step 3: Drive your vehicle to a highway. Find a place where you can drive smoothly for at least 10 to 15 minutes with the cruise control on.
Step 4: Set your cruise control at 55 or 65 MPH. Press the off button, and if the cruise control light on the dash turns off and the system shuts down, this button is working correctly.
Step 5: Reset your cruise control. Once it is set, press the accel button to see if the cruise control increases the speed of the vehicle. If it does, the switch is good.
Step 6: Test the coast button. While traveling at speed and with very little traffic on the road, press the coast button and determine if the throttle is disengaged. If it is, release the coast button and verify that the cruise control returns to its setting.
Step 7: Reset the cruise control again and drive for 10 to 15 miles. Verify that the cruise control does not shut off automatically.
Replacing the cruise control switch is a rather simple repair. However, if you've read these instructions and still don't feel 100% confident in completing it, please contact one of YourMechanic’s local ASE certified mechanics to perform the cruise control switch replacement for you.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Replace a Cruise Control Switch and was authored by Timothy Charlet.