What Are the Reasons a Steering Wheel Won’t Lock

Most vehicles on our roads today come with a variety of safety and security features designed to keep thieves and vandals at bay. Among these security features is a steering wheel lock; the wheel stays locked in one place when you turn off the vehicle!

However, there are situations where the wheel fails to lock, exposing your vehicle to possible theft when hot-wired. 

This is a major concern for any car owner and requires an immediate solution. So, why won’t your car’s steering wheel lock?

Causes of Steering Wheel Lock Failure

Before solving this problem, the right diagnosis pertaining to the failure must be made to ensure that the fix is working correctly. You should know that there are a number of factors that could lead to your car's steering wheel failing to lock. Below, we discuss the major reasons behind this.

1.Broken or Worn Out Detent

One of the major causes of failure of the wheel-lock mechanism is the breaking or wearing off of the detent (the detent is simply the “catch section” that allows for the steering wheel to lock into place). 

In both instances the implication is that the detent won’t be in a position to” catch” the wheel as required. This is a common occurrence that results from frequent use and subsequent wear and tear over time. 

If your vehicle is still new, it’s highly unlikely that a broken detent would be the cause of the steering wheel lock failure. Nevertheless, it won’t stop your mechanic from considering it as a possibility.

2.Failure to Turn the Steering Wheel Far Enough

In some cases, the reason why your car’s steering wheel won’t lock is that motorists are making some common mistakes by turning the wheel wrong. For instance, if you turn the wheel too far to the right or left, this might prevent it from locking. 

It a common mistake for many motorists. Finding the right locking spot involves finding the “detent” above! The wheel needs to “catch” the detent to enable it to lock into place. 

Luckily, this is a simple problem to fix that shouldn’t take too much of your time. You only need to turn the wheel to the right and back to left until you hit that right spot. Remember, the control wheel will only lock when it’s caught by the detent, so you might want to take your time!

If you try this and it’s not working, you might need to look into the other options in this article as a potential cause.

Steering wheel

3.Broken Cog

The detent pairs with a cog to enable the control wheel to lock into position appropriately. This is to say if the cog is not functioning properly, then the detent is as good as dead and you might face difficulties locking the steering wheel. 

Just like the detent, the cog is also prone to wear and tear. Usually, it fits into the detent on the wheel column and the more it’s used; the higher the chances of it breaking. This in turn leads to malfunctioning of the steering wheel-lock mechanism.

Luckily, this is another straightforward issue that can easily be resolved by an experienced mechanic. Once properly diagnosed, it will only be a matter of time before you’re out of the repair shop.

You also need to note that this is a job that should be left for the professionals. Trying to remove the cog on your own can easily damage other parts of the steering wheel column, leaving you with additional car issues.

4.Failure of the Electric Locking Mechanism

Although many vehicles have a manual steering wheel locking mechanism, some types are designed with electric ones. Therefore, if your electric locking mechanism malfunctions, the steering wheel won’t be able to lock into place. 

A problematic locking mechanism won’t tell the steering wheel where or when to lock into place. This means that aside from failure to lock; you are likely to experience unforeseen or erroneous steering wheel locks. 

Some of the issues that may affect the electric locking mechanism include short-circuiting and wearing off of wires inside the mechanism. However, pointing out the exact issue will require thorough inspection, which will warrant the services of a professional technician.

Remember that a locking mechanism is a part of the vehicle that won’t be easily accessible. It can be complicated and will require the removal of the steering wheel and column; a job that only an experienced mechanic can handle!

5.Broken Actuator

Another issue that may hinder your steering wheel locking mechanism from functioning properly is a broken actuator. The actuator is a device that links the solenoid to the wheel cog and plays a vital role when you want to lock the steering wheel. 

Any problem or malfunctions on the part of the actuator will, therefore, affect the entire locking mechanism. Just like any other parts of the steering wheel system, this device is prone to wear and tear over time. 

This leads to a deterioration in functionality that may cause problems to the steering wheel-lock. In most cases, the best way to solve this problem would be to replace the actuator. 

Nevertheless, it is a complex process that requires a professional technician to accurately diagnose and possibly replace the actuator for you!

6.Car Computer Malfunctions

The cause of the steering wheel-lock failure may also result from the computer of the vehicle that malfunction. After all, most functions on your vehicle depend on the computer to work effectively, so any mishaps can easily cause the wheel locking mechanism to fail. 

Damage to the computer system or even a minor malfunction could be the beginning of your car issues. This is especially true if the steering wheel depends on the computer to know when to lock. 

A possible solution for this would be to scan the car’s computer using a tool like OBD 2 scanner, which will inform you whether it’s a faulty computer command causing the wheel lock failure or something else that you should look into. 

Steering wheel of an electric car

7.Loose Steering Wheel

This is a straightforward issue that you should be able to notice when you’re driving your car. Sometimes, the steering wheel tends to get loose, and this will result in difficulties for the steering wheel lock. 

A loose steering wheel won’t be able to catch the detent properly, and in the event it does, it won’t stay in lock for long. This is because it can easily be dislodged by slightly shaking or turning it. 

Fortunately, it is a problem that’s simple to diagnose. The wheel won’t be normal when you drive, so the mechanic’s work will be cut out once you reach the repair shop. 

8.The Key Does Not Release All the Way

Note that for the steering wheel to lock, the key needs to release all the way. If this does not happen, the sensor of the locking mechanism might assume the key is still in the cylinder even when you’ve removed it. 

This typically occurs as a consequence of a faulty key cylinder. The cylinder may fail due to issues like accumulation of dirt and debris, normal wear and tear, as well as using a key chain that’s too heavy. 

A possible solution to this would be to clean any dirt or rust from the key cylinder. This allows you to get rid of anything that is preventing the vehicle key from releasing all the way.

However, some key cylinder issues may require that you replace the cylinder altogether to make sure that it functions smoothly. This is the only way that your car’s steering wheel locking mechanism will work!


What Causes Steering Wheel to Lock?

The steering wheel of your automobile can sometimes lock up unexpectedly in the middle of your drive, which is not only intriguing but also very dangerous. Although this is quite rare, the results can be fatal, especially when you are cruising at high speeds.

Various issues may cause your steering wheel to lock but three things stand out. The first one is when there is a problem with the power steering pump, the steering wheel can lock up while you’re driving.

Alternatively, making sharp turns during driving tends to affect the car’s transmission system. This impacts your engine and can cause your steering wheel to lock up while driving.

Finally, the third reason is that the ignition can also lock-up. In this case your car key fails to turn your engine off or on. Mechanics refer to this as “sudden lock-up” and can be very dangerous if it happens at high speeds. 

How Do You Unlock the Steering Wheel?

Once you notice that your steering wheel is locked, you must act with urgency and get the problem resolved. There are various ways you can do this, and if you have sufficient knowledge on how to go about it, then there’s no need to visit the repair shop. 

Otherwise, follow the guide below to get your vehicle fixed:

  • Contract a professional technician to identify the problem and conduct relevant repair
  • Replace the car’s power steering pump
  • Replace the ignition switch system
  • Dust and clean your steering wheel
  • Conduct routine maintenance on your vehicle
  • Lubricate the power steering wheel
  • Avoid sharp turns while driving

Do all Steering Wheels lock?

The steering wheel-lock is an anti-theft mechanism that protects your car from theft. While it is installed for almost all cars manufactured since the ’90s, it is possible to find some come cars without this feature. 


A control wheel that won’t lock is a great risk to the safety and security of your vehicle. Fortunately, the post above provides you with some of the possible reasons if it fails and provide details how to resolve them.

Whichever the case, be sure to visit the automobile shop for an accurate diagnosis and lasting solution!

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