Whether it is by accident or on purpose, it is not uncommon to find that your steering wheel is locked. When the steering wheel is locked, it will often cause the key to be unable to turn in the ignition especially when there is force being put on the steering column by the wheels, which happens very often. If you find yourself with a locked steering wheel and cannot turn your car on due to your key not being able to turn, there is a simple fix.
When and How to lock your steering wheel
Sometimes, if your car is parked in an area where theft is common, it is helpful to lock your steering wheel to prevent it from being broken into and dragged away. The way to do this is to rotate the steering wheel so that the tires are pointed toward the curb. This is possible in many modern cars which have a bolt that prevents the steering wheel from moving.
The way to lock a steering wheel is first to turn the car off, then turn the wheel slightly once the steering wheel is in the desired position. When you hear a click that means the steering wheel is locked. Sometimes, while getting out of the car, the driver will turn the steering wheel accidentally. This is another way you might find yourself with a locked steering wheel.
How to unlock your steering wheel
When the steering wheel is locked and there is pressure on it which there will be if it is turned extremely to the left or right, when trying to start the car you will find that the key won’t turn in the lock.
In order to unlock your steering wheel:
- Simply move or wiggle the steering wheel. There will be one direction in which the wheel will refuse to turn, so turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction and it should budge.
- Next, attempt to turn the key in order to start the car while slightly turning the steering wheel in the direction that it will turn. The key should be able to turn.
- If this doesn’t work, try gently wiggling the steering wheel until the key turns and the car starts.
Tips on How to get your Key to Turn
It is important not to turn the key with too much force as this can easily break the key. Always be gentle with both your key and steering wheel in order not to damage your vehicle. It is possible that your key won’t turn because, if it is an old key, it may have been worn down to the point where it can no longer interact properly with the lock mechanism. If this is the case, don’t force it! Take your car to the shop and have a new key printed for your car.
There may be other reasons why your key refuses to turn. One is that the ignition cylinder might have seized. In that case it is a good idea to spray a little bit of electrical cleaner into the key slot in order to get the key moving again.
Another reason why the key may be stuck is that there is debris in the key slot. In this case spray canned air or compressed air in to the key slot in order to remove anything that is blocking the system from working. Another way to remove debris or gunk from your key slot is to simply put the key in and take it out of the slot many times to clear the debris. This is especially helpful if you don’t have access to canned air. Always make sure that you are not damaging your ignition system further.
If all else fails and your key still won’t turn it may be necessary replace your ignition lock assembly. It is easy to take your car into a shop or dealership to get this part replaced but for the aspiring hobby mechanic it is very possible to install it yourself. This part can be purchased from any auto parts store or from the internet and installed yourself as long as you know how to do it properly without (as I have mentioned) further damaging your car.
If your key is worn down it may also help to put the key into the ignition, then pull back a little so that the key is not fully in the ignition slot. It is best to attempt to pull the key back out approximately one sixteenths of an inch or about the width of a coin, then start the car again for possibly better results.
It is always better to avoid wiggling or shaking the steering wheel as that can potentially cause more issues for the car and may not successfully unlock the steering wheel. Instead rotate the steering wheel slightly in the direction in which it will turn, (this it the direction opposite from where the locking bolt is located) then turn the key with your other hand while maintaining pressure on the steering wheel.
Fortunately, if you own a keyless car that operates with a button to start the car, this issue does not pertain to you. However if your car has a remote start system and uses a key as well to manually start, you may still need this information if for any reason you can only use the manual start function.
If you ever have a locked steering wheel, although it may seem like a big problem, it’s very easy to fix quickly, all you need to do is rotate the steering wheel in the direction that it will allow you to rotate it while simultaneously turning the key. Remember to never turn the key hard enough that it might break. And never apply too much force to any part of the car that it might get damaged. If your car is damaged in the process of unlocking the steering wheel, it is advised to take your car to your nearest auto shop or dealership to get it repaired by a professional.