Steering locked in position is a part of a vehicle’s safety features. The main aim of a locked wheel is to stop and restrict vehicle movement when there is no key, or in case any wrong key is inserted into the ignition. Turning the key in the ignition is required for unlocking a steering wheel.
Ignition tumblers have a lot of mechanical movement with a force over time to cause subsequent failure. It prevents the steering wheel from unlocking. Finding yourself in a situation like that where a steering wheel won’t unlock, attempt to unlock it through the ignition. after that you may contact a mechanic for the replacement of the ignition cylinder.
Let’s understand the mechanism and process of unlocking the steering wheel.
- Unlocking Steering Wheel
- Loosening Sticky Locks
- Replacing the Ignition Lock Assembly
Steering Locked : Unlocking Steering Wheel
Insert the key into the ignition. Steering wheel may get locked because of force on the wheel as the car turned off during the last trip. Unlocking will need the use of the ignition key in the same way, while starting the vehicle.
Insert the key into the ignition to turn. In case the key turns and starts the vehicle, the wheel gets unlocked with the ignition cylinder.
Turn the key gently. In case both key and wheel remain in place, it will require application of pressure to the key in the usual direction of the turning the key. Never apply a high pressure on the body of the key. It will twist the key or lead to key break inside the key hole. Apply firm & gentle pressure till ignition unlocks. Contact an automotive locksmith to repair the ignition cylinder.
Apply pressure to the steering wheel. The steering wheel is locked with a pin on one side. The wheel will be unable to move in any direction freely. But there will be a resistance in the movement. Determine the direction in which the wheel cannot move. Apply pressure in the opposite direction to turn the key. Applying pressure to the wheel simultaneously will unlock the steering wheel. The wheel will slightly in the direction opposite the pin, but not in the wrong direction.
Never shake or rock the wheel. Never shake the wheel back and forth to attempt unlocking. It will diminishes the chances of successfully unlocking the wheel. Try to apply steady pressure in one direction to unlock it. Shaking the wheel back and forth could even damage the locking pin.
Pull the key slightly out before turning. Key will begin to wear out to turn in the ignition. Engage the pins required to initiate the vehicle by inserting the key by pulling it back out slightly up to 1/16 of an inch, or approximately the width of a nickel. Try to turn it again. In case it works, the key is likely over worn. Replace the key as soon as before it stops working.
Turn the wheel and the key at once. Apply pressure to the wheel in the right direction while simultaneously turning the key which may take a few tries to unlock both. It will allow the wheel to move freely and the vehicle to start. Do not force the wheel or the ignition to turn if both seem like it won’t work. It may break the steering pin, key, or internal components. When the two get unlocked, the vehicle can be driven.
Steering Locked : Loosening Sticky Locks
Apply electrical cleaner in the key hole. When ignition cylinder gets seized, spraying electrical cleaner into the key hole may lubricate it to turn. Never spray too much into the key hole. Only small squirts are enough. Insert the key to turn it back and forth gently to help the lubricant to work.
Replace the ignition cylinder soon as it may get progressively worse. Liquid graphite works best to lubricate.
Spray canned air into the ignition. Debris in the ignition prevents the key from turning. It prevents the steering wheel from unlocking. Buy canned air from hardware supply store to insert its nozzle directly into the key hole. It takes a few short sprays to clean debris. Use eye protection before spraying canned air to prevent particles from getting into the eyes.
Gently slide the key in and out. Debris stuck to the key gets inserted in hole. It can caught in the pins of the ignition cylinder. Insert the key completely, then slide it back out. Repeating the process will move any debris caught in the cylinder. The issue will continue until the debris is cleaned completely out from the ignition cylinder. Use canned air to clean out the lock cylinder.
Ensure the key is not bent or damaged. When key won’t turn while inserting it into the ignition it may be due to damaged key. Rounded or chipped teeth of the key can not engage the pins in the ignition cylinder to the depth necessary to spin it. The key failing to turn in the ignition prevents the wheel from getting unlocked. A replacement key is required for the damaged key to turn the ignition cylinder. Never copy a damaged key. Try to get a new replacement from the authorised dealership for the make and model.
Steering Locked : Replacing the Ignition Lock Assembly
Buy a new ignition lock assembly. Ignition assemblies are easily replaced by mechanics. Order a replacement assembly from local auto parts store before getting started. Ensure to give the exact year, make and model of the vehicle to get the exact replacement. Buy a new ignition lock assembly prior to the failed assembly is removed. Compare the two parts to verify the replacement. They must look exactly identical match then only try to attempt re-installation.
Remove the cover of the ignition. Generally, vehicles have a split-plastic housing to cover the steering column and ignition lock assembly. Remove plastic cover by first adjusting the tilt-wheel to lowest position and removing the fasteners holding the cover. The cover may include the portion above and below the steering wheel, while in some other models the ignition cover will be separate. Remove the fasteners from the column cover. Try to separate the two halves to remove the plastic.
Use Allen wrench to help release of ignition assembly. Check the ignition assembly to remove trim components which prevents access to the ignition wire harness connector and tumbler release hole. Insert a 9/32” Allen wrench into the release hole by turning the ignition key backward. Use the ignition key to pull out the entire assembly by pulling it towards the passenger side of the car. Unplug the ignition switch wire connector to remove the ignition cylinder.
Ensure the new ignition switch is well-greased. After removing the ignition assembly, compare the new switch to ensure the match. New ignition switches are pre-lubed so they are ready to install. Verify the presence of grease to ensure the new key fits for the cylinder rotates smoothly in both directions. Ignition cylinder when not properly greased, apply liquid graphite to the cylinder. Buy grease at local auto parts store if need be.
Ensure that the internal lock pins can move freely. You can make sure the internal lock pins move properly by inserting the key completely in and out of the keyhole several times. The key should not get caught or stuck on its way into our out of the key hole.
Sticking lock pins are lubricated using powdered graphite that is applied directly inside the keyhole.
Graphite comes in small tubes designed to “squirt” the powder with enough force to reach the back of any keyhole. It can be added when needed.
Slide the cylinder into place and reconnect the switch plug. New assembly matches the old one when properly lubricated. Slide the cylinder into position to ensure locking in place. Reconnect the switch plug and reinstall trim components removed previously. Rotate the cylinder forward with the key for the head to click into place. Ensure to plug the ignition wire switch into the new cylinder before sliding.
Start the engine for ensuring the lock disengage. Check to ensure the engine starts and steering wheel lock disengages before securing the steering column and plastic cover. Insert the key to turn it to apply pressure to the wheel in the opposite direction of the lock pin. Steering column bolts have torque specifications. Try to get it in the vehicle’s repair manual under specification section. When no torque specs are found, tighten the bolts firmly with a long handled ratchet for leverage. Ensure column bolts are secured and does not vibrate loose while driving.
Hope the above article will help to unlock the steering wheel.