How to Unlock Steering Wheel (With Key in 5 Simple Steps)

There are several reasons why a steering wheel locks in place. Most vehicles feature an anti-theft deterrent to prevent thieves from stealing cars. In other cases, the steering wheel is locked due to filth or solidification in the ignition system or a faulty steering system. For those unfamiliar with auto-mechanics, a general overview of how steering systems work might be helpful before tackling a locked steering wheel problem.

What Does a Steering Wheel Lock Mean?

Cars come equipped with locking steering wheels as a safety measure. Wheel locks are designed to keep a car from moving when the keys are missing or entered incorrectly. To unlock a steering wheel, the ignition switch should first be turned on. However, ignition tumblers can break down due to excessive mechanical movement and force over time.

A steering wheel lock refers to the literal inability to move the steering wheel clockwise or counterclockwise. This lock is an anti-theft mechanism that prevents unauthorized persons from moving the car without authorization or the key in the ignition. Most vehicles have a spring-loaded lever that causes the steering wheel to engage in a locking mechanism. Once locked, the steering wheel will not move even an inch.

Why Lock the Steering Wheel?

  1. Deters theft by making it very difficult to move the car once the locking mechanism is activated
  2. Prevents unauthorized use of the vehicle, allowing only operators with ignition keys to use the vehicle
  3. Makes it difficult to tow, especially when the wheel is turned to the far left or right before locking

How Does a Steering Wheel Lock Work?

A steering wheel lock prevents the steering wheel from driving without the ignition key in the ignition. During a keyless ignition, any movement of the steering mechanism, whether at the wheel or the front tires, will cause a spring-loaded lever to be released and lock the mechanism. When the wheel turns, this is what happens.

An external steering wheel lock refers to a third-party device, such as “The Club,” that a user places physically on the steering wheel to prevent use. These devices require a key for the built-in lock. This article deals with the internal steering wheel lock that is standard in most modern vehicles.

How to Unlock the Steering Wheel with Key

  1. First, turn the steering wheel in the direction that it was initially locked. If the wheel moves at all, it will probably be only an inch or two in either direction. Some wheels will not move at all.
  2. Second, hold the steering wheel in the direction of the lock, then place the key in the ignition and start the car. The steering wheel should come loose. If it remains locked, try turning the vehicle in the opposite direction, then repeat this step. Remember not to get frustrated or panicked. Steering wheels are designed to be locked and unlocked with the proper key or maneuvers.
  3. The problem may not be with the steering mechanism but with the key itself. Try another key, if one is available, or obtain a spare key from a dealer or duplicate from a hardware store.
  4. Alternatively, spray WD40 into the ignition port. If the wheel is locked due to dirt or debris, the WD40 should loosen the foreign objects enough to permit key entry into the locking cylinder. Light taps from a hammer also work with certain vehicles. Just be careful not to cause unnecessary damage or void a warranty.

How to Unlock Steering Wheel with Dead Battery

  1. First, try to jump-start the battery by using jumper cables or a mobile battery system to recharge the battery.
  2. If the doors can’t open due to a loss of power, it may be possible to raise the vehicle using a jack, then place a battery charger directly on the starter cable and the frame near the starter.
  3. For vehicles with push-starts, operators can try pressing the brakes while using one hand to push the start button and the other to move the steering wheel back and forth until the locking mechanism opens.
  4. If a vehicle operator is unsure whether the car battery is failing, look for the symptoms: backfiring, dim headlights, flashing lights, an exclamation point on the car’s computer screen, or a clicking sound when the key is turned. If jumping the battery fails to recharge it, purchasing a new battery or having the alternator checked might resolve the issue. A battery tender should also be considered. If the electricity is definitely out, checking the steering lock mechanism under the dashboard is another option, but pliers and a wrench or screwdriver will also be needed.

What Do You Do If Your Steering Wheel Won’t Unlock?

Not every vehicle is equipped with power steering. Some operators unfamiliar with vehicle mechanics might mistake no power steering for locked steering. Consult the owner’s manual to verify before unlocking the steering column.

Ultimately, suppose the steering wheel does not unlock despite trying these methods. In that case, call a mechanic or emergency roadside service to send a repair person to remedy the problem or tow the vehicle to a qualified auto repair shop to have the steering wheel unlocked from there.

If following these tips still didn’t unlock the steering wheel, consider a brief video that describes the problem and offers a practical solution.

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Author: Dave Johnston

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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