6 Reasons Your Steering Wheel Is Locking Up

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Hopefully, by the time you are reading this article you are not in the middle of the road panicking with a locked steering wheel. 

In this post, I am going to break down the main reasons that your steering wheel is locking up and what you can do to fix it. 

So sit back, grab a snack, and let’s get started. 

1. Faulty Power Steering Pump

Back in the old days, drivers would need strong muscles to turn corners. Now newer vehicles include a power steering pump to make steering smoother.

Power steering pumps can also cause issues with your steering wheel. If you’re steering pump is faulty, it can cause your steering wheel to lockup.

Below are some key signs that you have a faulty power steering pump:

 

Steering wheel slow response or difficult to turn

If your steering wheel is hard to turn or is not responsive, this can sign of a faulty power steering pump. This is typically a symptom that will progressively get worse until your steering wheel locks in place.

But, it can also be sudden if your power steering pump completely fails.

Difficulty turning or slow response times can be a sign of a worse out or damaged power steering belt.

 

Hood of the car exhibiting whining noise

If you hear winning or grinding noises coming from the hood of your car, this is a sign of low powering steering fluid.

With a lack of power steering fluid, the steering wheel is hard to turn. Over-time a lack of power steering fluid can cause the steering wheel to completely lockup.

 

Steering wheel vibrates while Idle

Another sign of a faulty steering pump is that your steering wheel will vibrate excessively.

Solution

If your power steering pump is faulty or broken then the best solution is to replace your power steering pump. Steering pumps are easy and inexpensive to fix. 

This is one solution you can take to replacing your power steering pump. 

When replacing your power steering pump here are a few things you should remember. 

  • If you are replacing the power steering pump, it is crucial to inspect the serpentine belt.
  • It is essential to ensure that all mounting hardware is tight to the cylinder head or engine block.
  • To avoid damage, never use a hammer to remove the pulley or to install it.
  • New fluid is required when flushing the power steering system. You may need multiple flushes if there are metal flakes in the fluid. 

2. Ignition Lock Assembly Problem

The ignition lock assembly or ignition lock cylinder is the tumbler used to start the vehicle when the key is inserted. The ignition lock assembly is located on the right of the steering column.

When the ignition lock assembly is broken or malfunctioning, it can cause the steering wheel to lock up without notice.

Other signs that there are problems with your ignition lock assembly is if you have issues inserting or removing your key, car ignition is not turning.

This may not be an issue if you have a newer vehicle since newer vehicles are engineered with the push button and the keyless starting system.

Replacing the ignition lock assembly is relatively simple and can be completed by a professional in 20-30 minutes. It will only cost you around $200 and $250, including labor.

3. Making Sharp Turns

Sharp turns, and erratic movements to your steering wheel can cause your steering wheel to lock up in a short amount of time.

These sharp turns can trigger the locking mechanism in the steering wheel, causing it to lock.

This is very dangerous because it can lock your steering wheel in the position that you were turning.

I recommend taking slow, gentle turns to avoid your power steering pump from getting stuck while driving.

4. Faulty Steering Column

The steering column facilitates the steering wheel’s movement and the car in the direction of the driver.

When the steering column is damaged or begins to malfunction, it can cause the steering wheel to lock up.

If you suspect your steering column is damaged, there are some key symptoms you can inspect for, including:

  • The steering wheel tilt function does not lock
  • Grinding sounds while turning the steering wheel
  • Stiff or tight steering wheel
  • The steering wheel remains shifted to one side

Solution

One way you can fix your faulty steering column is by cleaning it.

Sometimes debris and other materials can disrupt the steering column. A simple cleaning can help you solve this problem. 

Below are a few different options you can take to cleaning your steering column. 

 

Microfiber Cleaning Cloth and an Interior Cleaner

A key detail to keep in mind is to never spray the wheel directly with a cleaner. This can result in chemicals hitting the gauge cluster and leak behind the plastic.

For Tough Grime Use an Interior Scrub Pad

Be extra careful not to scrub too hard on areas on the steering wheel that are heavily worn. This can cause damage and rub off some of its colorings.

For a gentle approach, try to use a toothbrush dipped in a mixture of all-purpose cleaner with some water that is a 3 to 1 ratio.

 

Use Steam Cleaners

Although this is pricey, this is a non-chemical approach. A steam cleaner is a great alternative.

This is great for washing different parts of your vehicle. It is essential to ensure that you use a foam attachment that will not scratch any surfaces.

Apply Protectant

After all the hard work you put into detailing your vehicle, the last step is to protect it. To get more bang for your buck, choose a protectant that is multipurpose as a cleaning product.

5. Engine Control Unit (ECU) Problems

The ECU or engine control unit manages the engine’s necessary activities. One of the main functions is to regulate the vehicle’s fuel consumption to ensure optimum engine performance.

In newer vehicles, the ECU controls sensors located inside the steering wheel and steering column. If your ECU is malfunctioning, it can initiate sensors that cause the steering wheel to lockup.

Checking and diagnosing a car’s ECU is challenging. I recommend seeking professional assistance to check your ECU.

6. Engine Stalling

Another reason that your steering wheel is locking while you are driving is if your engine stalls.

If your engine stalls while your driving, it can cause your steering wheel to lock. This is because your engine will lose power triggering the steering wheel lock.

Engine stalling is easy to identify when you are driving. Typically when your engine stalls, you will power steering and your power brakes.

When you lose your power steering, this can cause your steering wheel to lock up.

Many different reasons can cause your engine to stall. To determine the reason that your engine is stalling, you should seek professional assistance.

Below are some of the reasons your engine could be stalling:

  • faulty crankshaft
  • mass airflow temperature
  • defective ignition coil
  • inadequate engine
  • coolant temperature
  • damaged spark plugs

Why does my steering wheel lock when parked?

This is usually not a major concern, and it is most likely the safety feature. It will lock up if the steering wheel is moved while the key is not in the ignition.

This feature is to avoid an intruder trying to hotwire your car, and they will not be able to steer it.

You will have to turn your wheel to the left and right while turning your key to fix this.

Other Possible Reasons:

  • Internal Wearing – other components getting worn out.
  • Damaged Key – bent or worn out key.
  • Sticky Locks – dirt from the chamber.

Steering wheel locked up while driving battery light

This means that the steering wheel locks up in the middle of driving and the battery light turns on.

A faulty belt can cause this to occur. If your belt breaks or the belt tensioner fails, your alternator can fail to supply your vehicle with electrical power.

This can result in your battery light to turn in. You can also lose power steering assist, and the water pump will not circulate coolant and can result in the engine overheating.

The solution for this problem is to change the belt or pump fluid or even the pump if necessary.

Quick FixesTo Fix A Locked Steering Wheel

Fixing a locked steering wheel does not always have to be a difficult situation. Below you will find there are a few things you can try to fix your locked steering wheel quickly. 

Tips to fix a locked steering wheel:

  • Insert the key into the ignition.
  • Gently turn the key.
  • Pressure must be applied to the steering wheel.
  • Do not rock the wheel or shake it.
  • Slightly pull out the key before turning it.
  • To finally unlock it, you must turn the wheel and the key

If the problem is not as simple as unlocking the steering wheel due to a lock bar then you can try a few tricks below.

  • Find a mechanic to repair or inform you of the cause
  • Replace your power steering pump 
  • Replace your Ignition switch 
  • Clean your steering wheel column 
  • Apply power steering lubrication oil
  • Do not take sharp turns

Conclusion

Unlocking your steering wheel is not always as easy as inserting your key and starting your engine. But don’t feel trapped anymore.

You now have a definitive list of the different reasons why your steering wheel could be locking-up. 

Not go and fix your steering wheel so you can start driving again. 

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