How to unlock the steering wheel
There’s not a lot worse than being locked out of your own car. But perhaps being locked out of your own steering wheel is a pretty bad scene, too. If you need to learn how to unlock the steering wheel, don’t panic because it’s actually pretty easy. You basically need to grab your wheel, move it gently, turn the key, and then gingerly wiggle it free. Definitely something like that, anyway.
Dealing With A Locked Steering Wheel
What Exactly Is A Steering Wheel Lock?
Anyone else remember THE CLUB? Why am I making myself feel old…? Anyway that’s not what we are talking about here.
The steering wheel lock is a thing that you actually can’t see, and not a lot of people remember to teach about this when they are teaching someone about driving. So, don’t worry if you have no idea what it is, because you aren’t alone.
The lock is a thing that only activates when the vehicle is turned OFF (as in, the engine is OFF, and the key has been turned to OFF, too).
If you then turn the wheel a few degrees – or let’s call it ‘a little bit’ – to the left or right, it will lock. The lock will engage with one of the available lock slots. This is the thing that prevents the wheel from moving any further.
That’s why you want to be kind of gentle when you are unlocking it. Over time, just like with all other mechanical things, it could break, and you probably don’t want to help it break any sooner than you need to.
Not all cars have this lock.
Why Does The Steering Wheel Lock?
It makes sense why you should lock your car doors and possibly the door to your house. But why do steering wheels lock up? Well it’s a safety feature for one thing.
The main purpose of having a steering wheel with the ability to lock is this:
- To stop the vehicle from moving when there is no key
- If for some reason (humans, probably) the wrong key is inserted into the ignition, it will stop the car also from moving, or from moving very far
- (To unlock a steering wheel, you must turn your key in the ignition)
In other words:
It’s an anti-theft device. If someone breaks into your vehicle, and tries to turn the wheel without the proper key, the steering wheel will soon lock, and the wheel (and tires) won’t be straight.
The wheel doesn’t typically lock when it’s straight. So, a car thief will maybe be able to drive in lame circles in your vehicle, or only until the vehicle runs into something, which is usually pretty soon unless you live in the middle of like ten football fields or something like that.
I suppose it’s the lesser of two evils to have your car get a bit messed up compared to never seeing it again, which might be really annoying especially during pandemics.
Pro-Tip: Need to run an errand around a sketchy neighborhood? Lock your wheel on purpose after parking. It will be very difficult – if not impossible – for bad guys to steal your ride.
It’s also a safety device. When you park on a hill, and of course turn your wheels the appropriate direction, the locked steering wheel will do an important job.
In the rare but real event in which the parking brake were to fail, the lock would keep the wheel from moving.
Which again, is supposed to translate into the lesser of two evils, for those times in life when your car is rolling away down the hill like without you.
Unlocking Steering On Cars With an Ignition Cylinder
The steering wheel locking mechanism is connected to your ignition cylinder. To unlock your wheel:
- Insert your key
- Using your right hand, put some pressure toward turning the key and maintain that pressure
- Wiggle your steering wheel left or right, or maybe up and down for some vehicles
- Jiggle the key until it turns
- You’re done
The steering wheel lock – just like most other car parts and things – can wear out, break, or generally act in a glitch-y way.
If you know for certain you’re going to have to replace the cylinder, then you could use some WD-40; especially if you’re stuck somewhere and just really want to get home because you’re hungry. Otherwise don’t use WD-40; select some job-specific, warranty-approved lubricant if you know what I mean.
If the ignition cylinder is too worn, or downright broken, you might just need to replace it.
Unlocking Steering On Cars With a Start Button
For hip and modern vehicles with a start button, the steering wheel lock is basically an electronic deadbolt. I know it sounds freaky.
Gingerly wiggle the steering wheel with your left hand. At the same time, take your right hand and tap the start-stop button. Depending on your particular vehicle, you may or may not need to press the brake pedal too at the same time.
These steps should put your ignition in ACC mode and unlock your steering wheel.
Check that your key fob battery is good. If you have another fob, try that.
If you are still unable to unlock your steering wheel, it’s possible your car may have an electrical, or electronic problem.
Preventing Locked Steering Wheels
You can lock your steering wheel by turning it when the vehicle is OFF.
The best way to prevent the locking is:
- Drive where you’re going and park and/or steer the wheel where you want it (if parking on a hill, make sure to turn your wheels appropriately)
- Apply the parking brake
- Perform your ‘tug test’ in neutral to ensure the parking brake is actually doing something
- Park your car and shut off the engine (make sure to park in the right gear for your situation)
- Then, simply don’t touch the steering wheel until you’re ready to start the engine again
Or, just learn how to unlock it.