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Mazda MX5 NB, Place Your Text Here

Its been a long week of no work on the cars, thanks to being struck down with a brutal man-flu, but today I was back at work, so used that as an excuse to say I was well enough to also work on the car again.

One of the major things I have been needing to do to the MX5 since I got it, was change the steering wheel. I have a thing for trying to predict what my cars might fail a warrant on, and fix it before it’s an issue, and one thing I knew the MX5 wouldn’t/shouldn’t pass on was the steering wheel.

The flashy bright red “OMP” deep dish suede steering wheel didn’t have an airbag, and since the car originally came equipped with an airbag steering wheel, unless the complete airbag system is removed and certified, this wheel is not legal.

I probably could have done what the previous owner did, and claimed ignorance and crossed my fingers it would pass, but that’s not my style. It was also a bit flashy for me.

Not to mention being Deep Dish Bro my fingers werent physically long enough to reach the indicator stalk from the wheel, so indicating was a hands off wheel deal.

I went on a hunt to track down a nice tidy standard Nardi airbag wheel, and this turned out to be much harder than expected. No one would sell me one, as any they had “werent in sellable condition”, and when asked what that meant they either ignored me or said they were suddenly out of stock. Weirdos.

I did find out in my travels that the Mazda Familia SP20 has a very similar wheel (just nicer, with perforated leather on the sides) and airbag that will also work, but they seem to be even harder to find without all the leather torn off them. Pick A Part had one, but it was torn to bits and mouldy. Ugh. Not paying $60 for that.

I had to drop my standards and just look for someone who would sell me one that was “usable”. A complete car came up on Trademe the other week as wrecking, so before the listing had even been up for an hour I asked how much they wanted for the wheel. They too said it wasn’t sellable, but when pushed by saying I didn’t care if it was torn up, as long as it was complete and the airbag was OK, they agreed to sell it for a reasonable price. Money is money.

It wasnt actually too bad, the leather is torn through on the top and the rest of the leather is badly scratched and worn, but its intact and all there.

It’s interesting to me, to note that the fancy pants Italian Nardi Torino steering wheel leather was only stitched around the rim, and the three bits on the spokes are actually separate and just wrapped around and glued on. Seems like a cheap design.

I had a plan to fix the leather issue, but first I needed to get the airbag off so it didn’t blow me to bits. There are two 10mm bolts, one on each side, in the holes in the plastic.

With both of those removed the airbag comes off easily

Please ignore the totally retro 90s speckled “always dirty looking” carpet. It’s clean, honest 😄

This is where the bolts are

Interestingly, when you press the “horn” it pushes on the U-shaped metal frame, which is on sprung standoffs, which I’m guessing just grounds against the body and down the steering column to complete the circuit. Simple but effective; means you can press anywhere on the airbag center to trigger the horn.

But I digress, what was my magical leather fix? This.

Oooooh yeah, “Place your text here”. Only quality parts for my Steeering wheel.

It’s a cheap perforated “leather” cover that you stitch onto the steering wheel. I got it on trademe for about $8 plus postage.

Step one was to trim the peeling leather off the wheel and smooth out the edges a bit. I used some tape to smooth off the edges and hold it all down long enough to get the wrap on.

Then carefully stretch the cover on. I don’t know if my wheel was special, but it was a pretty tight fit. Any tighter and it probably couldn’t be nicely stitched together. I aligned the main join up with the center of the bottom spoke.

Being so tight did mean it has a nice smooth finish, and doesn’t slip around on the wheel. Unlike some others I have seen, this ultra-cheap one has a nice layer of padding inside it too.

I’m not going to explain much about my stitching as I’m pretty average at it, but it works and doesn’t look too bad. I used these videos as guides which helped a lot

I used the method of skipping a stitch which creates a nice pattern. I learned quickly that you can only tension the strands that go straight across the wheel and not the diagonal ones, or it all turns to mush

I wish they had used a thicker or stronger stitching on the fabric itself, as I couldn’t pull it as tight as I would have liked because I felt like I was risking breaking the thread and the whole thing would be a write off then. The included thread to join the halves was far stronger and easy to work with, but be damned careful how much you waste as I was left with very little left over at the end (and in some videos they show a good couple of CM being trimmed off here and there).

After an hour or so I finally had it all stitched together, and I’ll be, it actually looks and feels pretty good. Really nice and thick, with some give in the hand thanks to that extra padding. It’s also completely hidden the spot where the leather is damaged and missing, so that’s a win.

The next part is the real fun. Fitting it.

Step one, DISCONNECT THE BATTERY! Do not work on the airbag system with the battery connected, and give it a few minutes to completely discharge after disconnection too. Remember; Negative – First off, Last on.

Now, time to hiff that red wheel.

Make sure its straight up gee. No master spline here, and you don’t want your wheel to be on a gangsta lean.

Whip off all six of the hex screws, and find that 4/6 were finger tight. Out falls the “horn button” a previous butcher owner made

Yes, that random uncrimped terminal in the above photo was “designed” to loosely float around inside the boss so that the switch can ground the circuit 😐 Thanks gravity for making the horn possible.

With that cluster out of the way, back on goes the wheel so that I can remove the main nut from the column. I need the wheel on so I can counter the force needed to undo the nut, and pull the boss free from the spline.

I get all my tools ready, including a nice big power bar to crack the nut…. Put the socket on, give it a good heave, and…..

It was barely more than finger tight.

No no, don’t torque up that super critical safety item nut. Nope, she’ll be right.

I did wonder where the slight play in the steering wheel was coming from. Guess I found my answer.

Didnt take much of a tug to pull it off the spline either, and then i was left with this

What is “this” you ask? Well, I think its meant to be an airbag light canceller. It connects to the airbag connector in the clock spring, has a fuse in the end of it, and what I think is a resistor in one of the wires. Out it comes, since I’m putting a real airbag there instead.

Speaking of airbag lights, mine didn’t light up when the ignition was turned on (like it should, as a self test), so I suspected someone had fiddled with my cluster and likely made the bulb go walkies. To check, I had to remove the cluster.

In the MX5 it’s probably one of the easiest clusters I have removed. Pop the top off the column shrouds; no screws here, just clips in

and then the cluster surround comes out too. Also no screws, just clips. Take some care on this one, as the top clip is apparently easy to break. I pulled forward on the two lower front parts to free them and then got my hands in there and gave the lot a mighty yank towards the rear of the car. NOT UPWARDS, or the clips will break.

Four screws secure the cluster to the car, and then you can access the back of it. With the screws out I popped my little LED light behind the dash, and sure enough, there was an open gap in the back and this is what my light showed up

I removed the cluster and there it was, a nice little hole. Bingo.

I checked all the other lamp sockets to see if I could steal a bulb from another one that I didn’t need (seatbelt light?), and found that someone had fitted a bulb to a light that isn’t used on manual cars….

Could it be, that whoever did the work, just moved the airbag bulb to a free spot? That’s kinda smart, thanks!

I moved it back to the correct spot

I plugged the cluster back in, and popped it back in place. I reconnected the battery and turned the key

There we go, a nice red airbag light, and a single error code of “6”. This indicates an issue communicating with the drivers airbag, which is kind of a given when it isn’t installed. Excellent.

I disconnected the battery again, and reassembled the dash (after a quick clean of the cluster lens, with some autosol, to get rid of some baked on grot in front of the tacho) and slotted the new-ish steering wheel in place. It’s all straight forward, just align the wheel correctly, make sure the airbag connector comes through the wheel frame in the middle, and plug in the horn connector.

The center bolt got torqued up to the correct 45Nm with the spring washer. There’s no play in the column now… funny that. 😔

Next was the part that made me the most nervous I have been in a long time. Fitting the airbag. Standing out of the car, leaning over the door, I VERY carefully handled it from the top, making sure that I didn’t put any of my body in front of it, and then plugged it in and pushed it into place. Having not blown my arms off was a good sign, so I carefully bolted it back into the frame and it was done. I carefully reconnected the battery again, and still it didn’t blow up, so, YAY.

It looks and feels much better, and best of all? The airbag light comes on with the key, and then goes away and stays away!

Now I should be ready for the warrant next month. Hopefully.

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