A steering wheel system is one of the important components of any vehicle as it primarily controls direction. It translates the rotational gestures of the driver into a real live movement of the vehicle wheels. However, it is not immune to malfunctions and damages like all other vehicle components.
You know how troubling it can be to have a stuck steering wheel that you can’t turn. This post will discuss factors that could cause a steering wheel to lock and break down how to unlock the steering wheel without a key.
Why Does Your Steering Wheel Lock Up?
Coming out to find locked steering can be quite irritating, especially when you have no recollection of any warning signs. Although it could be caused by standard safety features such as the auto-lock system, you may need to look out for an underlying cause.
Safety is one reason why steering wheels are designed to lock up. When you cut the power off, the steering wheel locks up so that vehicle doesn’t move on its own. This way, you can ensure that your car will stay safe and in place.
Steering Auto-Lock Feature
Modern steering systems are generally fitted with an auto-lock feature that is activated by turning the wheel after turning the ignition off. This is a theft-deterrent that makes it more tasking for a thief to get in and drive the vehicle away.
Running Out of Power Steering Fluid
The power steering system augments your steering effort and makes it easier for you to turn the wheels. However, this system needs power steering fluid to function as it should. If your steering locks while you’re in motion, you may be running low on power steering fluid.
Locked steering may need professional service, but this is not to say you can’t have a go at fixing the problem yourself. For instance, if a steering wheel gets stuck from dirt or debris, that’s more straightforward to fix.
On the other hand, steering problems from battery failure are not easy to fix unless you can charge a dead battery.
You’ll need some materials and tools, however.
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How You Can Unlock Steering Wheel Without The Key
There are three ways to free the locked steering wheels without the key. Let’s explore these different methods.
1. Unlocking It By Yourself
There’s always a possibility that you can fix locked steering wheels by yourself. If there’s no major underlying damage, some of the things you can try include:
Insert The Key
In most instances, a stuck steering wheel can be unlocked by simply inserting and turning the key inside the ignition. Try to rotate the wheel in the same direction you did prior to it getting stuck. If you’re unable to recall which direction, turn it both ways. This should be done simultaneously with the key turning.
You may need to intensify your turning effort, but don’t apply excessive pressure to prevent causing further damage.
Use Another Key
When you slot the key in and it fails to unlock a locked wheel, there might be something wrong with the key. Long-term usage and battery failure are some things that could cause the master key to fail.
For instance, the previous owner of a used car might not have maintained the car well enough, and the key could somehow be damaged. The wheel remains locked when such a key doesn’t fit your lock cylinder entirely.
Nonetheless, if you’ve got another key, you can put it in, turn it, and steer simultaneously. The downside to this method is that not all vehicle manufacturers provide second keys, especially for newer vehicle models.
If all other remedies don’t work, try spraying some WD40 inside the ignition key. WD40 is a popular multi-purpose used to lubricate, displace moisture, prevent rust, loosen stuck parts, etc. A steering wheel can get locked when dust and dirt gather in lock tumblers.
Apply a decent quantity of the product and put the key in. Turn it in both directions while turning your steering. If any contaminant is lodged inside, this solution should loosen it up and get rid of the problem.
2. Replacing Ignition Set
When the steps discussed above don’t unlock a stuck steering wheel, you may have to take a somewhat technical approach. We must admit that not all vehicle owners are skilled enough or comfortable with a DIY approach. As such, we recommend getting professional help when the method above doesn’t work and push comes to shove.
Disassemble The Column Panels
Firstly, you’ll have to separate the column covers from the steering wheel. To do this:
- Loosen the screws on either side of the steering column, starting with the downside.
- Press the tabs on the panel cover while adjusting the wheel to release the panel.
- Repeat the same process to separate the column cover on the upper part.
Clear The Lock Cylinder
Your lock cylinder should become visible once you’ve removed the panels. Put in your key, locate the release tab, and activate it by pressing down on it. Turn the key while you press the tab and wait for the cylinder to start moving before pulling it out.
Fix The Replacement Ignition-Lock System
Now you can put in the replacement ignition-lock system. Slide the cylinder back into the same position before you remove it. Make sure your lock tab is well set inside the cylinder before putting it in. The next step is reinstalling the column, but you have to check if the key turns fully before that.
Reinstall The Columns
Once you’ve ensured that the key turns entirely in the cylinder, reinstall the lower and upper column panels. All clips should properly lock like they were before disassembly, and the screws should be tightly fixed.
3. Using Loosening Sticky Locks
Spray Electrical Cleaner Into The Keyhole
You’ll have to lubricate and clean the keyhole with an electrical cleaner for this remedy. Spray some in the keyhole, taking care not to apply too much. Next, get the cleaner distributed evenly by repeatedly inserting and removing the key.
Apply Canned Air Into The Ignition
Dirt or any other contaminant lodged into the keyhole could prevent the key from turning. If that’s the case, canned air can help. Fit the can nozzle inside the keyhole and spray the air in to loosen and remove whatever contaminant might be stuck in.
Slide The Key Gently Inside And Out Several Times
At this point, you want to insert and remove the key several times. Sometimes, dirt may get caught in between the pins of your ignition cylinder. Sliding the key gently in will dislodge any such dirt or debris.
Make Sure The Key Is Not Damaged
In certain instances, diagnosing the problem could be as simple as closely examining the key. A bent or damaged key cannot reach the depths where it would engage the pins necessary to spin the ignition.
If you discover any bend or chipped teeth on your car key, you have to replace the key entirely. You may consider making a replacement of the key. However, you cannot make a functional copy from an original that’s already deformed.
Some of these processes we’ve discussed only apply to select car models. If you’re not cautious or don’t know exactly what you’re doing, you might complicate the problem. It’s recommended that you consult a professional if you’re not confident in your ability to fix a stuck steering wheel.
Furthermore, you should check the power steering fluid level and condition when you start experiencing steering wheel issues. When you run low on this fluid, that could cause or even aggravate your steering problems.
When using a DIY approach, you may want to check your vehicle’s guide manual for information regarding ignition set replacement.
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
What do I do if the car’s steering wheel locks up while you’re driving?
Don’t panic! The first thing to do is alert other road users by putting on the hazard light and your headlamps if possible. Apply brakes slowly, bring the vehicle to a stop, and call for an auto repair service after that.
What does it cost to unlock a stuck steering wheel?
The cost depends largely on what the cause is and whether or not you involve a professional. If you’re able to fix the locked steering wheel yourself, the cost can be quite negligible. Overall, it could cost $100 – $400 to unlock a steering wheel, considering the cause, supplies needed, and the service fee.
Hopefully, you now know how to unlock steering wheel without key if it ever gets stuck.
It could be as straightforward as sliding your vehicle key inside and out or spraying WD40 into the ignition to remove dirt. There are other relatively complicated remedies to try out, depending on the severity of the problem. Don’t fail to seek professional help when necessary.
Additional Read: The Best Steering Wheel Locks for Car Security
I’m Tim Miller, an automotive mechanic, and blogger from Denver, Colorado. I’m the founder of gmundcars and angf35eis. My fan page is facebook.com/autozikcom. I’ve had over 15 years’ experience in car repair and using OBD scanners. My reviews and articles about car repair and maintenance can be found on my own websites.