Steering Wheel Locked Up While Parked – What to Do

How do you get your car out of the parking area if its steering wheel is locked? This has happened to many people and could happen to you as well. You need to be armed with the information contained in this article about steering wheel locked up while parked – what to do.

Your steering wheel has locked up probably because the power steering fluid is already dirty, or there’s not enough power steering fluid in the system. There are times when the steering wheel locks up while you are doing slow parking lot maneuvers.

You can insert your car key into the ignition and as you turn the key, do it with slight pressure. Hopefully, it will wake up the ‘sleeping’ power steering system and unlock your steering wheel when the engine starts. If it doesn’t budge, you have to replace your steering wheel.

Read on to learn more about why your steering locks up when parked and what you can do to fix the problem.

Steering Wheel Locked Up While Parked

steering wheel locked up while parked

It’s scary when your steering wheels lock up while parked. How can you steer your car away from the parking lot if you can’t move it? Why does the steering wheel lock when parked?

There are several reasons why this happens. But don’t worry, there are fixes to this problem.

Lack of Power Steering Fluid

One usual cause of this problem is the system’s lack of power steering fluid. Another cause is dirty power steering fluid. When confronted with this problem, you can insert your car key into the ignition.

Then as you turn it to start the engine, apply a slight amount of pressure. Hopefully, this jogs the power steering system and unlocks the steering wheel.

Ask a Qualified Car Mechanic to Check the Power Steering System

If it does, you still have to ask a qualified car mechanic to check the power steering system of your car so they can see the root cause of the issue. This issue can resurface again if you do not have it checked.

The usual cause of this issue is the low level or lack of power steering fluid. If the fluid is lacking, the power steering system won’t be able to build enough pressure for the wheels to move when you try to turn it.

Refilling the fluid reservoir will fix the problem – temporarily. The issue may again return if you will not ask a car mechanic to check your power steering system. There could be an underlying reason why you can’t turn your steering wheel.

Causes of Steering Wheel Lock

There are many reasons why your steering wheel locks while your car is parked. Some are common, while others are not what you expect to happen. The good thing is: that there is a fix to all of them:

1. Engaged Safety Feature

This is one of the most common reasons you can’t turn your steering wheel. You forgot that when you parked your car, you activated a safety feature of your car. And then you again forgot to de-activate it when you entered your car to get out of the parking lot.

This can also happen if you have turned off the ignition and then turned the wheels slightly to the left or the right. It will result in one of the lock slots getting blocked, leading to your steering wheels getting stuck.

2. Intentionally Locked the Steering Wheel

Ignition Lock Feature

If your car has an ignition lock feature, you can’t turn the steering wheel unless you unlock it. You can activate this feature by turning the wheel to the left or right after removing the key from the ignition.

A locking bolt is engaged, which will prevent the steering wheel from being turned when the key is not there. So, a car thief can get your engine started, but they can’t move your car an inch without the key. That’s why some cars have this as a safety anti-theft feature.

You Cannot Turn the Steering Wheel Until You Insert the Key into the Ignition

If you’re not yet familiar with this feature and accidentally activated it after parking your car, you won’t be able to turn the steering wheel until you insert the key in the ignition.

Release the Tension

When unlocking this feature, be aware that some tension is exerted on the lock cylinder. This prevents the turning of the key.

So, you need to release this tension. To do that, you have to turn the steering wheel slightly. You should feel it slightly move in one direction. Hopefully, this will release the tension and enable you to turn the key and disengage the lock cylinder.

3. Malfunctioning ECU

The Engine Control Unit or ECU of your car is its brain. It tracks, controls, communicates, and sends signals to your dashboard about what’s happening to every device that makes your car run. If it is malfunctioning in some areas, it will cause certain features of your car not to work.

For instance, if the ECU is malfunctioning in the area of the power steering system, it will send conflicting signals to your dashboard. It may also lock the steering wheel, preventing you from turning it.

4. Damaged Steering Column

If there’s some damage to the steering column, the steering wheel will be locked. A part of your car connects the ignition system to the steering wheel. Over time, it can jam or wear out because of the accumulation of dirt and other debris.

Even if you can move the steering wheel, if there’s damage to the steering column, you will not be able to turn the steering wheel smoothly. If you are already experiencing this, ask a mechanic to check the steering wheel. Don’t wait until it locks up on you while you are driving.

5. Damaged Key

If there is damage to your car key, like it is bent or is already worn out, the ignition may not accept it. Even if you succeed in inserting it into the keyhole, you still won’t be able to move the steering wheel in any direction.

6. Dirty Lock

Dirt and debris can enter the keyhole chamber and lock it. When that happens, they will interfere with the action of the key when you try to turn it. You also won’t be able to move the steering wheel.

How to Fix Steering Wheel Lock

why is my steering wheel locked and my key won't turn

Not being able to turn the steering wheel seems to be a major car problem. You need to disable the steering wheel lock. Yes, it is a problematic issue, but it is not that difficult to fix.

There are several effective fixes to this problem, and you have the benefit of choosing the right fix that corresponds to your particular problem:

1. Disable the Key Lock Manually

The first solution you need to use should be the easiest. It should give you the highest chance of unlocking the steering wheel. Here are the steps that you can follow:

  • Insert the key inside the ignition cylinder.
  • Try to turn the key slightly. Don’t twist it hard, or it may break and leave parts of it inside the key chamber.
  • Now, try turning the steering wheel to the right or the left with slight pressure. Hopefully, this will unlock your steering wheel.
  • If it still won’t move, there is an underlying cause of the problem. Your best option is to call a qualified car mechanic who can make the right diagnosis and then perform the right fix.

2. Unlock it Through the Ignition

Here is another way you can manually disable the lock. In this method, you will be turning the car key and the steering wheel simultaneously.

  • Insert the key inside the ignition cylinder.
  • Gently turn the key. Don’t twist it hard as you may break it.
  • If this doesn’t start the car, check which side the locking pin is on. You can observe where the steering wheel is not moving at all. Is it to the left or the right? That’s where the locked side is.
  • Now, apply pressure on the steering wheel on the free side while simultaneously turning the key gently.
  • Hopefully, your car will start, and the steering wheels can be turned. Do not rock the steering wheel, or you may make things worse.

3. Push to Start

Here’s a unique method of unlocking your steering wheel. This is how to disable the steering wheel lock without a key. It is by pushing your car to start it. You can have someone push your car manually while you are starting it, or you can use an ATV with a winch.

If you have a locked steering wheel, you will notice the following things in your car:

  • You will see a message that says your steering is locked on your dashboard.
  • The push to start button of your car will start flashing.
  • If you press the start/stop button after stepping on the brakes, your car won’t start.

Step on the brakes and push the start/stop button to unlock the steering wheel. At the same time, try to move the steering wheel to the left and the right. Hopefully, this will unlock it.

4. Un-jam the Ignition Cylinder

Before performing this process, you need to have the following things: an aerosol cleaner and a can of WD-40. This process will clear your key lock.

  • Get the aerosol cleaner and spray some of its contents into the lock chamber.
  • Then apply WD-40 inside the ignition cylinder. You can also use a light lubricant like liquid graphite.
  • Now, slide the key gently in and out of the chamber. Do this about ten times.

Again, why does my steering wheel lock when in park? When your parked car’s steering wheel locks up, it lacks power steering fluid or has a dirty power steering fluid.

How to Replace the Ignition Lock Assembly

If you tried all the fixes above and still your wheel can’t be moved, you have to replace the ignition lock assembly. In most vehicles, the ignition lock assembly can be easily replaced. If you are a DIY enthusiast, you can do it at home with the proper tools.

But if not, you can let a car mechanic do it. Before you start, you need a new ignition assembly, the same as the old one in your car.

Once you have the right ignition assembly, you can replace the faulty one. Here is the usual method that car mechanics use to do this job:

1. Remove the Ignition Assembly Cover

Most of these covers are split plastic covering the ignition lock assembly and the steering column. You can only remove this cover if you adjust the wheel to its lowest position. Hopefully, your steering wheel is tilt-adjustable. Most modern cars have this feature.

Now, remove the fasteners that hold the plastic cover in place. Some vehicles can include the parts above and below the steering wheel. In other cars, the cover is separate.

2. Release the Ignition Assembly

To do this, you have to use an Allen wrench, particularly size 9/32″. Remove any trim components that block access to the tumbler release hole and the ignition wire harness connector. Insert the Allen wrench into the release hole and turn the ignition key backward at the same time.

Use the ignition key to pull the entire assembly toward the passenger side. Also, make sure to unplug the ignition switch wire connector as you pull out the ignition cylinder.

3. Grease the New Ignition Switch

After removing the ignition assembly, prepare the new one by greasing it adequately. They are sold pre-lubed and are ready to be installed. But still, you need to see if it is well greased before you install it inside the ignition chamber and that the rotation, in both directions, of the cylinder is smooth.

4. Make Sure the Internal Lock Pins Are Moving Smoothly

You can do this by correctly fully inserting the car key several times in and out of the keyhole. The key should not get stuck into or out of the keyhole.

5. Install the Cylinder

Once you have done all the greasing and checking of the cylinder, slide it into place. Make sure it is locked in place.

Rotate the cylinder forward using the car key until you hear it has clicked in its place. Also, make sure that the ignition wire switch is plugged into the new cylinder before sliding it into place.

6. Reconnect the Switch Plug

Once the cylinder is locked in place, you can reconnect the switch plug. And then reinstall whatever trim components that you have removed before.

7. Start the Engine

Now you need to test if what you did is correct. Before mounting the steering column and its plastic cover, you must check if the engine will start and the steering wheel lock will disengage.

You can do this by putting the key inside the keyhole. And then, turn the key while applying pressure to the steering wheel in the other direction of the lock pin. Hopefully, the steering wheel lock will disengage and allow you to turn the steering wheel.

Frequently Asked Questions

steering wheel locked up while parked push to start

Many people ask what they can do if their steering wheels are locked and can’t be moved. Here are the answers to these often asked questions:

Why Can’t I Move My Steering Wheel When Parked?

Perhaps the power steering liquid in your power system is already dirty.

Or maybe there’s not enough power steering fluid in the system, so the pressure cannot build up when you try to turn the steering wheel. This can also happen when you maneuver your car at low speeds, just like what you do when parking.

What Are the Causes of Steering Wheel Lock?

There are many reasons why you have a locked steering wheel. Here are some of them:

  • A locking feature was accidentally engaged.
  • You intentionally engaged the locking feature, but you forgot it.
  • The ECU of your car is malfunctioning.
  • The steering column is damaged.
  • You are using a damaged key.
  • The lock is filled with dirt and other debris

How Can I Unlock My Steering Wheel?

The simplest way to unlock your steering wheel is by using the ignition. Insert your key into the ignition and try to start the engine. Perhaps the wheel will give in. You can also apply slight pressure to the key as you turn it in the keyhole.

If you find not enough power steering fluid in the system, you can top it up. Or, if the fluid is already dirty and cloudy, you can replace it altogether with new fluid. Hopefully, one of the said solutions will solve your problem.

In Closing: Locked Up Steering Wheel While Parked

If your steering is locked up while it is parked, probably, there’s not enough power steering fluid in the system. It could also be that the power steering fluid is already dirty. Your steering wheel can also lock up while performing slow parking maneuvers. 

This problem can be fixed by simply topping up the power steering fluid if you find not enough of it in the reservoir. If the fluid is dirty and cloudy, you can replace all of it with fresh fluid. This article has also shown you the other ways you can unlock your steering wheel.

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