How to unlock a steering wheel

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A steering wheel lock is a safety feature that serves to prevent your car from moving on its own once the engine has been turned off and to prevent potential theft of your vehicle. If this happens to you, don’t fret. Unlocking a locked steering wheel is one of the simplest procedures you’re ever going to have to undertake on your car.

Whether you’ve got a car with a conventional ignition lock cylinder or one that relies on keyless technology, both of their steering wheels unlock similarly.

How to Unlock Steering Wheel in Vehicles With Conventional Ignition

1. Insert the key in the ignition

2. Turn the key and maintain light pressure

Turn it as if you’re about to start your car. Do it gently as the steering wheel locking mechanism is interconnected with the ignition lock. As a result, you won’t be able to exercise a full motion of the key. Trying to do so (or applying too much force) might break your key or lead to the ignition lock cylinder damage.

3. Apply pressure to the steering wheel at the same time

Your steering wheel can only lock into one direction or the other. You can easily discern which one by trying to turn the wheel left and right. One side will give you a little bit of wiggle room. Gently apply force towards turning the wheel to that side.

4. Simultaneously turn the key and the steering wheel

Instead of moving your wheel back and forth, simply work towards applying slight pressure to one side as explained above. With the pressure simultaneously applied to the key, you should hear a click and feel the movement of both the key and the steering wheel.

5. Your steering wheel should now be unlocked

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How to Unlock Steering Wheel in Vehicles With Start/Stop Engine Button

If your vehicle relies on a start/stop button instead of conventional ignition, the process is largely similar.

1. Push the brake pedal as if starting the car

If you don’t intend to start the car but merely unlock its wheel, you can skip this step.

2. Push the Start/Stop engine button

This will start the car and automatically unlock the steering wheel. Alternatively, you can push the button without applying the brake pedal to bring it into the Accessories mode. The result will be the same.

3. Some cars won’t unlock the locked steering wheel automatically

If your model is among them, you’ll have to engage the wheel simultaneously with the start/stop engine button. Simply turn the wheel from its current position in one direction and maintain pressure with one hand while pressing the button with another.

4. Your steering wheel should now be unlocked


What causes a steering wheel to lock up?

There are a few reasons a steering wheel may lock up.
The steering wheel automatically locks up when you move it with the engine turned off. This can happen accidentally when turning the wheel before starting the car or after turning off the engine. This is a mere safety feature easily resolved as described above.
The steering wheel seemingly locks at low speeds and turning maneuvers but feels more responsive at cruising speeds. This can be an issue with the power steering fluid or the power steering mechanism itself. If it springs a leak, the power steering system might lose fluid, rendering it unresponsive. A similar thing may happen if dirt or debris manages to penetrate it.
The steering wheel locks up while driving. This downright dangerous turn of events isn’t unheard of, although it rarely happens. On extremely rare occasions, a steering linkage may fail, resulting in a locked wheel in the middle of driving. The only course of action is to attempt to control the car to the best of one’s abilities while simultaneously working on getting it to a stop.

Can you unlock a steering wheel without the key?

The steering wheel can be unlocked without a key, but it’s an arduous process that requires proper tools, some know-how, and plenty of time at your disposal. This process requires a complete dismantling of the wheel, and the amount of time needed to successfully complete the procedure will depend on the type of vehicle.

How do you unlock a locked ignition?

There are a few things one could do if a car’s lock ignition cylinder doesn’t turn.
Try using a spare key. Sometimes, the ignition isn’t the problem. It’s the key. This is especially true with used cars where there’s no viable way to discern the manner in which the previous owner(s) had handled the car and key. The key might be worn out, so a spare one or a new mechanical copy might do the trick.
Try spraying the inside of the ignition lock cylinder with a spray lubricant or – if you absolutely must – WD-40. Then jiggle the key inside and see if the problem persists.
Try bumping the ignition lock cylinder. If the problem persists, it might be due to the misaligned wafers inside the lock cylinder. Simply insert the key but not all the way, and give it a few bumps with a screwdriver handle. Hopefully, this will be enough to release the lock.

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Nikola Potrebic

Nikola is an automotive enthusiast and writer with a penchant for petrol-burning classic muscle cars and special edition models of old, but is also excited about the modern-day EV revolution.