We all know car trouble can be extremely frustrating. The cost, the inconvenience, and the stress. Not our favorite part of being a car owner. Perhaps the most frustrating is an issue that arises out of the blue and catches us by surprise. This is often the case with a locked steering wheel.
You jump in your vehicle, ready to hit the road, and suddenly your car won’t start. Your steering wheel won’t move either. So what do you do? You can phone a friend, call a mechanic, panic… Seriously don’t panic. Instead, be prepared.
Here’s what to do if you find yourself in this sweat-inducing situation.
- Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Try to remain calm. (This is important, so you don’t break or damage anything.)
- Try and unlock the wheel by yourself.
- Call a mechanic. If all else fails, enlist the help of a professional.
How to Unlock Your Steering Wheel on Your Own
These are our recommendations for cars with physical keys inserted into the ignition. If you have a keyless start vehicle, scroll down for information on How to Unlock A Steering Wheel On Your Keyless Vehicle.
There are four main ways to unlock your wheel on your own. The top three do not require any special tools. Each method does require a few different supplies. These are all easy to use and require no car maintenance experience. Start with the following:
- Extra car key
- WD40 Spray
- Canned Air
1. Try Turning The Key
Before you try this method, look closely at your key. Flip it over and look at the front and back. Inspect your key for any damage. If the key is damaged, you will need to visit a mechanic or dealership to assist you with acquiring a replacement key. You cannot unlock your steering wheel if your key is damaged. However, you can move on to option 2 below if you have a spare key.
Insert the key into the ignition and turn while moving the steering wheel on both sides at the same time. If the lock happens accidentally, this will solve the problem easily. But make sure that you do the actions concurrently.
Caution: Don’t put extra force on the key; this will permanently damage the lock mechanism. Depending on the movement, increase or decrease the amount of turn to each side. Go slowly and have patience.
2. Use An Extra Key
If the first step fails, then go for this option. If you have a second car key, get it now. Do the same recommended actions stated in step 1. Use the second car key instead of the one you already tried. Again, move slowly and have patience. This will help you to avoid damage to your vehicle and your key.
3. Try WD40
If the ignition cylinder is the issue or reason behind your locked wheel, spraying with WD40 might be the thing you need. Spray it directly into the ignition (the hole where your key goes). If the lock pins are greasy, stuck, or debris-covered, this will help you clear things up.
After spraying, gently slide your key into the ignition opening. Slide it straight in and out without turning the key a few times. This will help clear any unwanted dirt from the lock tumblers. Now follow the steps in option 1 just as before. I remember to be patient and go slowly.
4. Try Canned Air
Canned air may be able to assist you if debris on the ignition pins is the issue. Grab a can of canned air and insert the small straw or nozzle directly into the keyhole. Start with 1 short spray and follow with a few more sprays as needed.
Caution: Wear safety glasses and turn your head away as you spray to avoid getting debris in your eyes.
5. Replace Your Ignition Set
If the previous options did not work, you might want to consider replacing your ignition set. You can use a mechanic for this or attempt it on your own. Before trying on your own, we recommend seeking a professional’s advice. Ensure this is necessary before engaging in this lengthy and somewhat costly option. No need to go to all this trouble or expense if your mechanic has a better option.
- Separate The Panels Of The Steering Wheel Column– Start loosening the screws of the bottom part of the steering wheel while holding it carefully. Once you remove those, press the cover tabs, and the lower half part comes off easily; follow the same process for the top part.
- Press The Release Tab To Clear Lock Cylinder– After step 1, the lock cylinder comes into view. Now press the release tab and turn the key till the cylinder can move. It may take some turning to get the cylinder to turn backward and clear itself up.
- Install New Ignition Lock– After setting up a new lock cylinder, try using the key again. Install the cylinder in the steering column and check the key by turning it in full. If you can do so, only then get the columns back to set again.
- Reinstalling the Columns– Now reinstall the columns, do the top part first and follow the same with the bottom part afterward. Make sure the clips are engaged and end it with getting the screws tightened.
How to Unlock A Steering Wheel On Your Keyless Vehicle
Unlocking the steering wheel of a keyless start vehicle is very similar to one with a physical key. However, without an ignition opening, there are fewer options to unlock the wheel on your own. Try these two methods before enlisting the assistance of a mechanic.
1. Use the Start/Stop Button
Start by holding the wheel in your left hand. Gently move the wheel to the left and right while at the same time pressing the start/stop button with your right hand. Repeat a few times to see if this does the trick.
2. Add in the break
Keep pressing the start/stop button while gently turning the wheel left and right. At the same time, press the brake pedal with your foot. Use moderate pressure on the break. Try this a few times. Remember to be patient and use gentle movements to prevent damage to your vehicle.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can your steering wheel lock while driving? Yes, this can happen, but it is extremely rare. If this occurs, it may result from a power steering, ignition lock assembly, steering rack or column issue, etc. You can breathe a bit easier if you have a newer car, truck, or SUV. Most newer vehicles are manufactured with automatic locks for the steering wheel that are only active when the car is parked or turned off.
What should I do if my steering wheel locks while driving? This can be terrifying. The best thing to do is remain calm. Slowly tap your breaks and start to slow the car down. Gently try to turn the wheel left or right. If possible, switch on your hazard lights. Try and get off the road, over to the shoulder, and away from other vehicles as soon as possible. Again, all while breaking safely to slow the car.
How much does it cost to have your steering wheel unlocked? This can vary depending on where you live geographically. However, a good ballpark is anywhere from $100-$200. This does not include the cost of towing, which may also come into play. It all depends on where your car is located when the steering wheel gets stuck and if it can be moved safely to a mechanic, dealership, or autobody shop.
Will I need to buy new car keys if my steering wheel locks up? No, you should not need a new car key. Most locked wheels will unlock using the options above, and no new parts will be needed.
Why are car keys so expensive? Car keys for newer vehicles are more expensive than in the past. Most newer keys feature advanced technology such as transmitters, anti-theft or RFID mechanisms, chips, batteries, etc. Each piece of technology is expensive and, therefore, costly to duplicate. Think of your car key as a tiny computer communicating valuable information to and from your vehicle.
Why do steering wheels lock? Steering wheels have a locking mechanism for safety and to prevent theft. Most newer car models have a steering lock that automatically turns on when the owner turns off the engine or places the vehicle in park. This, along with newer electronic key fobs, helps keep thieves at bay because your vehicle is harder to steal quickly.