How to Unlock a Car Steering Wheel

Unlocking a Car Steering Wheel

​There is a fair chance that most of us have had the same thing happen: you sit down behind the wheel of your vehicle and the steering wheel is locked. When this happens, the car won’t start, so you’re pretty much stuck, right?

Well, not necessarily. The most common answer for this is to tap the brakes a few times and move the wheel. It will unlock and move freely again, allowing you to start the car like you normally would. But this guide is for instances where this simple fix doesn’t work.

How to Unlock Your Steering Wheel

Thankfully, you are not the only person to have dealt with an issue like this. That means that others have created helpful solutions to get you through frustrating situations like this. There are a few tried and true methods, although some of them are more preferable than others.

So, how do you unlock your car steering wheel when it won’t budge?

Use ​The Key

As mentioned, you can generally unlock the steering wheel by tapping the brakes repeatedly or by unlocking it with your key. If you can place the key in the ignition and start the car, your wheel should unlock automatically.

There may be times where you feel resistance, but don’t just force it; just use a gentle amount of pressure. Applying too much pressure can run the risk of your key breaking off in the ignition, and that’s another whole set of issues.

Clean the Steering Column

As previously mentioned, there can be times where your steering wheel gets locked because there is dirt or dust built up in the steering wheel column. Best of all, cleaning it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to do.

There are definitely ways to clean your steering column properly, so reference your vehicle’s make and model to see the best ways to clean the steering column. Just as importantly, make certain that you know whether or not the steering fluid that you choose for your car will work with your specific make and year.

Should you be uncertain about how to add that steering fluid, check your car’s owner manual or how-to YouTube videos, as those can be extremely helpful as well.

Replace the Lock Assembly

If you get to the point that the wheel still doesn’t unlock even after using the key, don’t panic. Remove the steering wheel column panels and you should be able to see the ignition lock cylinder, which you will have to remove.

When you’ve done this, immediately replace it with the new ignition lock assembly. Test the key in the new lock cylinder to make certain that it works properly before putting it back into place and securing it.

As with cleaning the steering column, check the car’s owner manual first to avoid making mistakes or to see what the manufacturer recommends for the situation.

Call a Mechanic

As you can see, some methods for resolving this issue are easier than others. Depending on your capacity with cars, you may not feel comfortable with something like replacing the ignition lock assembly.

When all else fails, bring your car to a mechanic. They can identify the issue quickly and work to resolve it without the worry of potentially doing something wrong. That peace of mind can be worth the money it takes to get this issue fixed.

Get regular checkups and avoid making sharp turns in order to keep your steering wheel from locking up. Things will break down over time, but care and preventative maintenance will keep your steering wheel working properly for far longer. Not only that, but it will save you the frustration of dealing with the issue yourself or having to take it to a mechanic.

Why Is Your Steering Wheel Meant to Lock?

This is actually meant to be something of a defence mechanism against theft. Much like using a steering wheel lock, the idea is that if a thief gets into your car, the steering wheel being locked will prevent them from making a quick getaway. But sometimes when the wheel locks, it can be an indication of a problem instead.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Locking?

The power steering pump is probably the most common issue at fault in such situations. It is meant to make turning the vehicle easier, as there are some vehicles that without a power steering pump would feel like a workout every time you are behind the wheel.

You might notice that your power steering pump is on the fritz if you hear some squeaking every time you turn or if your steering wheel has a slower response. The only fix for this is to have it replaced, and it is a repair that you should make as soon as possible, as it can be dangerous to drive with a bad steering wheel.

You should also try to avoid making sharp turns when you can. Sharp turns can lock your steering wheel, which is bad enough, but it can also hurt the transmission system and engine as well. Sharp turns are dangerous as it is, let alone with all the issues that can come up with your vehicle.

The key mechanism can also be the culprit. If the wheel won’t unlock even after you put the keys in, your key mechanism is likely broken. It can also lock up if there is dirt and debris stuck inside, although it can be difficult to clean that out.

  • Updated March 27, 2020
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