How to Unlock Your Steering Wheel

car steering wheel and ignition key
Unlocking your steering wheel is usually a simple adjustment.

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If your steering wheel is locked, you won't be able to start your car: either your ignition switch won’t turn or, if your car has a start-stop button, you'll see a warning light about the steering lock.

Fortunately, it’s easy enough to unlock your steering wheel and get your car started with the following simple steps.

Cars With an Ignition Cylinder

The steering wheel lock is directly connected to the ignition cylinder. To unlock your steering wheel, use your left hand to wiggle the steering wheel left and right with significant force. At the same time, use your right hand to turn the ignition key from the LOCK position to the ACC (accessory) or START position.

Cars With a Start Button

The steering wheel lock is essentially an electronic deadbolt. Wiggle the steering wheel with your left hand, using significant force. At the same time, use your right hand to tap the start-stop button. Do not step on the brake. These steps should put your ignition in ACC mode and unlock your steering wheel without starting the engine.

Additional Solutions

The steering wheel lock can wear out, break, or glitch in other ways. On vehicles with an ignition cylinder, try spray lubricant or a different key. If the ignition cylinder is worn or broken, replacement might be necessary. On push-button start vehicles, check that the key fob battery is good, or try a different fob. If you still can’t unlock your steering wheel, you may have an electrical or electronic problem.

The best way to prevent a locked steering wheel is to steer the wheel where you want it, rest the vehicle on the parking brake, release the steering wheel, put the transmission in PARK, and shut off the engine. Then, don’t touch the steering wheel until you’re ready to start the engine again.

Causes of a Locked Steering Wheel

Most of the time, a locked steering wheel does not mean there’s a problem with your vehicle, but simply that you have engaged one of its safety features. The lock only activates if the vehicle is turned off and you turn the wheel a few degrees left or right, at which point the lock will engage with one of the lock slots, preventing it from moving any further.

There are two good reasons for the steering wheel lock to engage. First, it’s an anti-theft device: if someone breaks into your car, the steering wheel will be locked in one direction. Second, it's a safety device: when you park on a hill and turn your wheels toward the curb, the locked steering wheel will keep the vehicle from steering down the hill in the event that the parking break fails.