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Steering Wheel Locked: Top Reasons Why and How to Fix It

Steering wheel is locked and ignition key won't turn?

If you can't turn your steering wheel, you've likely engaged one of the most common anti-theft features.

When the steering wheel lock function in the steering column is engaged, a locking pin sticks the steering wheel into position, preventing unauthorized vehicle use.

Over time the ignition cylinder inside the ignition lock assembly can become worn and malfunction, preventing the steering lock from disengaging.

Many modern vehicles have a steering wheel lock anti-theft feature that engages if the steering wheel is rotated while there is no key in the ignition.

If the parking brake is engaged, you won't be able to turn your steering wheel, but you will still be able to turn the ignition key.

In the following sections, we'll discover why your steering wheel is locked and how to unstick it using various methods.

Table Of Contents [show]

    Steering wheel is locked and ignition key won't turn?
    Steering wheel is locked and ignition key won't turn?

    Why Is My Steering Wheel Locked and My Key Won't Turn?

    If your steering is locked and the key won't turn, it points to a problem with the ignition cylinder assembly.

    Over time both ignition cylinders and ignition keys will wear out.

    You can try "jiggling" the key gently while trying to turn the steering wheel left and right and see if the lock mechanisms disengage.

    You can also try turning the key to the accessory setting if possible and then turning the key back to the start settings.

    Problems with ignition cylinders are difficult to fix, and you'll most likely need to take your vehicle to an auto repair shop and install a new assembly.

    Why Is My Steering Wheel Locked and Car Won't Start?

    If you're trying to, your steering wheel is locked, but you can turn your key to the starting position, and it just won't start; it points to a problem other than your steering and ignition lock assembly.

    Possible reasons your vehicle won't start could be a dead battery, faulty starter, or a bad fuel pump.

    Pull key out a tiny bit before turning.
    Pull key out a tiny bit before turning.

    How Do You Fix a Steering Wheel That Is Locked?

    Fixing a locked steering wheel generally involves turning off the anti-theft feature.

    Luckily, dealing with a locked wheel is an easy fix:

    1. First, insert the key — Try to turn it. If it moves, the wheel will unlock as the ignition cylinder activates.
    2. Turn key gently — If both the wheel and the key remain stuck, apply gentle pressure to the key in the direction you'd usually turn. Keep in mind that only light pressure is necessary; using more won't increase the likelihood of success. The key could break off inside the lock!
    3. Apply steering wheel pressure — The wheel locks in place using a pin and won't turn in that direction. Decide which direction the wheel won't move, and apply pressure in the other direction while turning the key (never wiggle or rock the wheel, it could damage the pin). The simultaneous action should unlock the wheel.

    The above works for most locked wheels, but you may not find success if your key is wearing out.

    In this situation, pull the key out slightly (roughly 1/16 of an inch) before turning the wheel.

    If the steering unlocks, your key is worn, and you should order a replacement before it stops working.

    Alternatively, spray some electrical cleaner into the keyhole to unseize the ignition cylinder, allowing you to turn the key fully.

    Removing plastic covers around steering column.
    Removing plastic covers around steering column.

    How to Unlock a Steering Wheel Without Key

    Without a key, unlocking a steering wheel becomes more technical, as it involves replacing the ignition assembly.

    If you aren't comfortable with this level of DIY, we recommend seeking a professional mechanic's help.

    But if your vehicle is older and you're willing to try, always read your vehicle's owner's manual before following the steps below:

    1. Take off the plastic cover that protects the steering column.
    2. Free lock cylinder — Press the lock release tab and turn to move the cylinder backward. It'll come free after a few tries.
    3. Install ignition lock system — Install the new system, ensuring the cylinder sits in the same position. Try the key. Ensure you can get a complete turn before moving on.
    4. Reinstall columns — Replace the upper column and then the lower part. Make sure all screws are tight. You've unlocked your steering wheel!

    How to Unlock a Locked Steering Wheel Push to Start

    It's often easier to unlock a push-to-start system than you'd believe, provided you follow the steps below:

    1. Press brake — Pushing the brake ensures your car stays put once you unlock the wheel.
    2. Center wheel — Try turning the steering wheel in the direction headed prior to locking.
    3. Press the engine start button while pressing the brake — If none of the above works, push the ignition button while holding the brake after turning the wheel. The simultaneous action should unlock it like with key ignitions.

    If that doesn't work, the car's battery might be dead, preventing the engine from kicking in.

    Therefore, jump your vehicle prior to following the unlocking procedure.

    Push to start starting system.
    Push to start starting system.

    How To Disable Steering Wheel Lock

    Since it is a theft-prevention measure, there is no way to permanently disable the steering wheel lock. But unlocking a locked steering wheel is very easy. Simply press down the start button or use your car key to turn the ignition from lock to accessory (ACC) position, and gently wiggle the steering wheel left and right until it comes free.

    Below, is a step-by-step account of how you can unlock the steering wheel of both key-start and keyless cars.

    Unlocking the Steering Wheel of a Key-Start Car

    If you own a key-start car, you can easily disengage your locked steering wheel by following these steps:

    • If you remember which direction you originally turned the wheel in before it got locked, pull the wheel in that direction.
    • Insert your car keys into the ignition and switch it to the ACC position. Once the ignition switches on, the wheel will disengage itself.
    • If you don't know which direction the wheel is locked in, try twisting it in both directions while turning the key to successfully unlock it.

    Unlocking the Steering Wheel of a Keyless Car

    Keyless cars feature a push button fob that you press to start or stop the engine. In that case, here's how you can unlock the steering wheel if it ever gets stuck:

    • Tap the engine start button without stepping on the brake (doing so sets your car in ACC mode).
    • Now apply gentle pressure to turn the wheel left and right until the locking pin disengages.


    The steering wheel lock in your vehicle is most likely engaged for one of the following reasons.

    The first reason your steering wheel lock is engaged is that the vehicle's anti-theft system is triggered. The second reason your steering wheel lock is engaged is that either the ignition key or ignition cylinder assembly is worn and needs to be replaced.

    To disengage a steering lock, you can try turning the steering wheel back and forth as much as the anti-theft system will allow while gently turning the key. This will usually disengage the system.

    Alternatively, the problem is harder to fix if the steering wheel is locked and the ignition won't turn because of a worn ignition key or ignition cylinder. You can try pulling the key out of the ignition 1/32" to 1/16" and trying to turn again or spraying some electrical cleaner into the ignition.

    You may need to get the vehicle towed to an auto repair shop to replace the ignition with a new assembly.