Why Do Steering Wheels Lock?

Have you ever noticed that your steering wheel locks up and wondered why this happens? If so, you’re not alone! 

Steering wheels lock as part of a safety feature called ignition lock that prevents the wheels from turning when the vehicle is not running. If the wheel is locked when the car is running, this could be a sign of an issue with the vehicle’s power steering system.

If you’ve noticed the steering wheel isn’t moving, you might feel worried. Steering wheels lock as part of a vehicle’s safety features.

It prevents the car from moving when there isn’t a key in its ignition. Don’t worry, though. You should be able to free the wheel without too much of a struggle.

Top Reasons Why Your Steering Wheel Locks

Most of the time, your steering wheel locks because your car is in park. That’s called an ignition lock system. Ignition locks prevent the car from moving whenever it isn’t turned on.

Most cars use an ignition locking system to lock the wheel in place. After you’ve removed the key, a bolt engages. This blocks the wheel’s movement without the key. Simply turning on the ignition should free things up.

However, that’s not the only reason it might lock. You could have an issue with your steering system altogether!

For example, if the steering linkage breaks, you can’t turn the wheel either. It’s not super common for this to happen, though. Still, a broken steering column won’t let you turn the wheel. You could take the car to a mechanic to have it inspected.

If you’re still able to drive the car, it might have something to do with the power steering system. Low power steering fluid would be the most common cause. You’ll still be able to drive the car, but it won’t turn like usual. The wheel will lock up while you’re in motion.

You should be able to turn the wheel by applying enough force, though. If that’s the case, you’ve got to refill the power steering fluid. Power steering is a hydraulic system. Without enough fluid, it’s not going to work.

Your car could also have power issues. For example, if the battery is near-dead, it could affect the power steering. Power steering requires sufficient power to function properly. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a near-immobile steering wheel.

Is It Normal for a Steering Wheel to Lock?

Most modern cars lock their wheels whenever you’ve got them in park. That’s part of their safety features. You’ll notice it whenever you’ve taken the key out of the ignition.

If you only notice it whenever you’re parked, it’s probably normal. It should return to normal once you’ve put the car in gear.

However, if it happens while driving, that’s not normal at all. More than likely, you’ve got an issue with the car’s steering system.

It could be a broken steering column. Or, one of the steering arms may have come out of place. Either way, the steering wheel won’t control the tires at all.

Another reason it might lock up while in motion would be the power steering system. Power steering requires enough fluid and power to function well. Otherwise, it might start acting spotty. Or, it could stop working entirely.

What Happens When Your Steering Wheel Locks?

Depending on the cause, several things could be happening.

If the steering wheel locks while you’re parked, it’s part of the safety features. There’s a locking bolt inside of the wheel. It’ll move into place once you’ve removed the keys. It fits into a small hole inside of the steering wheel. That makes sure it won’t move while you’re parked.

That’s only the most usual case, though.

A failure in the power steering system feels a lot different. You’ll notice the wheel still moves, but it takes a ton of force. If you’ve ever driven an older car, you might remember how this feels. You’ve got to really yank on the steering wheel to move it at all.

Power steering issues usually happen because of fluid or power issues. Either the battery isn’t supplying enough power, or there’s not enough fluid in the lines.

How to Stop Your Steering Wheel From Locking?

You probably can’t stop the wheel from locking, entirely. If it’s a locking pin, then it’ll always engage once you’ve removed the key. This prevents the car from being stolen.

It should unlock once you’ve put a key in the ignition. Sometimes, the key might be worn. Or, the locking pin could get stuck. Then, you’ll need to work with the wheel to unlock it.

How to Unlock Your Steering Wheel

If your steering wheel won’t unlock, it could be a problem with your key or locking pin. Keys wear down over time. A worn key might not engage the ignition as well as it should.

Try pulling the key out slightly before turning the ignition. Sometimes, this will unlock the steering wheel. Try turning the key gently. Applying too much pressure might cause the ignition to catch. Then, it won’t turn.

While turning the key, put a little pressure on the steering wheel too. Only apply pressure in one direction, though. A lot of people feel like shaking the wheel back and forth. That will only make the problem worse, unfortunately.

Gently turn the ignition key wheel putting pressure on the steering wheel. You can try pulling the key out of the ignition a little bit, too. Usually, that will unlock the steering wheel.

More than likely, the locking pin has gotten a little worn. To prevent this from happening again, clean it a bit. Use a little electrical cleaner to spray down the ignition. This helps to remove any grime stuck inside of the system.

After you’ve sprayed the cleaner, use a can of air duster. Spray inside the keyhole, thoroughly. That should loosen up the locking pin.

Make sure you’re turning the key and wheel at the same time. Turn the steering wheel toward the direction it won’t turn. At the same time, turn the ignition key. That should unlock the locking pin.

It might take a couple of tries for this to be successful.

You could also try replacing the whole lock. This is going to be the most expensive solution. But, it’ll prevent the steering wheel from locking up again.

The Locking Mechanism on Your Steering Wheel

Most steering wheels have a locking pin inside of the ignition system. The pin is pushed up whenever you put the key into it. However, the pins can become stuck sometimes.

Simply turning the key and steering wheel at the same time could loosen it. You could also try cleaning out the ignition lock. Over time, locking pins accumulate grime and dust. That makes them stick in place, occasionally.

To prevent it from happening again, replace the ignition system. This will cost the most, but it will be effective.

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