Steering Wheel Locked Up While Parked: 4 Common Causes

Have you ever returned to your parked car and found that your steering wheel is locked up? This situation can be frustrating and bewildering, especially if you’re unsure why it happened or how to fix it.

In this article, we’ll explore why it might lock up when parked, and how to unlock it. Additionally, we’ll give you tips on how to prevent this issue from happening in the future.

What is Steering Lock, and How Does it Work?

It is a handy feature in your car that helps prevent theft. It works by stopping the wheel from turning when the key isn’t in the ignition, making it tough for thieves to drive the car away without the right key.

How it works is when you switch off your car and take the key out, a metal pin jumps into action and locks the steering wheel. To unlock it, all you need to do is put the key back into the ignition and turn it on.

Why Did Your Steering Wheel Lock Up While Parked?

Various reasons could cause this problem. Some common causes include:

Broken key

Your car key is pretty important for unlocking your steering wheel. It’s got special cuts that match parts inside your car’s lock. When you put the key in, these parts line up just right and let it unlock.

But if your key breaks off in the lock or if it’s just old and worn out. So, your steering wheel stays locked even when you’re trying to unlock it with your key. In some cases, your key might not be able to go all the way into the lock, stopping it from unlocking.

Internal wear and tear

Like anything else that’s used often, the parts inside your steering wheel lock can start to wear down over time. This is especially true for the small, moving parts that make up the lock mechanism itself.

These parts are constantly moving and rubbing against each other every time you insert or remove the key, or lock and unlock the steering wheel. Over time, this can lead to wear and tear that may eventually cause these components to fail or not function as smoothly as they should.

When this happens, you might find that the steering wheel remains locked even though you’ve inserted and turned the key correctly. Alternatively, it could even randomly lock up while you’re driving, which can be very dangerous.

Internal wear can cause the steering wheel to lock

Sticky locks

Sticky locks could be the reason if you’ve found your key is having a tough time turning in the ignition.

Normally, it’s often due to dirt or other small bits of stuff that have built up in the lock over time. Each time you use your key, it might drag in a bit of dirt or other debris. Over time, this adds up and can make the key harder to turn.

Moisture is another common cause. It can lead to parts of the lock rusting or wearing away. This is especially likely in places with a lot of humidity.

If the lock is sticky, the little moving parts inside the lock (called “tumblers”) might not move the way they’re supposed to when you put the key in.

Steering lock chamber issue

Another problem comes from your steering lock chamber. This is a part where the key goes in and works to unlock the steering wheel. It’s important for this chamber to be clean and clear for the key to work properly.

But sometimes, things like dirt, dust, or even small bits from the key itself can get inside this chamber. For example, these bits can get in the way of the key and stop it from moving properly, making it difficult to unlock.

In some cases, these tiny bits can even damage the key or the parts inside the lock. This can make the problem worse and could cause the lock to stop working altogether over time.

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How To Unlock

The method to unlock your steering wheel depends on what caused it to lock up in the first place.

Adjust the car’s safety feature

If your steering wheel has been locked due to the car’s safety feature, there is a simple way to unlock it. First, you should try to gently turn the steering wheel in the same direction that you did when it got locked.

If it doesn’t give, attempt to turn it in the opposite direction. When you feel a slight movement in the wheel, insert your key into the ignition and give it a turn.

Attempt to start the car

The lock on your steering wheel is designed to keep your car safe from theft. Therefore, one of the simplest ways to unlock it is by starting your car normally. Just place your key into the ignition and turn it to the “start” position. As you do this, you might hear a click, indicating the steering lock disengaging.

If it remains locked, turn the key back to the “off” position and then to “start” again. You might need to do this several times before the lock releases.

Attempt to Start the Car to unlock the steering wheel

Free up the ignition cylinder

If the above step doesn’t work, you might have a jammed ignition cylinder. To fix this, you’ll need WD-40, an air sprayer, and a small pick. Here’s what you should do:

First, you spray the WD-40 into the ignition where you insert your key. Next, use the pick to carefully remove any dirt or debris that could be jamming the cylinder. After that, use your air sprayer to blow out the remaining WD-40. Once you’ve done all of this, try putting your key into the ignition again.

You should spray WD-40 into the ignition

Shape and smooth your key

If the key is causing the problem, you can try to fix it using a file and some sandpaper.

Take the file and use it to gently remove any bumpy spots or edges on the key. After that, use the sandpaper to smooth down any remaining rough areas. Once your key is smooth and clean, try using it in the ignition again to see if it unlocks the steering wheel.

Preventing Future Issues

To prevent future issues with your steering wheel locked up while parked, you need to always keep an eye on your car keys. If they start to show signs of wear or damage, it’s a good idea to get them replaced before they break or stop working properly.

The same goes for the ignition lock cylinder – keep it clean and well-lubricated, and be aware of any signs that it might not be working properly, like difficulty turning the key.

Related Posts: Car Vibrates When Idle And AC Is On: Exploring 5 Causes


A locked steering wheel while parked can be a minor inconvenience or a sign of a more serious issue. By understanding how the steering lock mechanism works, why it might lock up, and how to unlock it. So, you can better handle such situations. Preventive measures like regular maintenance can also help avoid these issues in the future.


  1. Why has my steering wheel become locked while parked?

    One of the primary reasons your steering wheel may lock while your vehicle is parked could be due to insufficient or contaminated power steering fluid. Particularly during slow movements like those required in parking, the power steering system facilitates easy rotation of the wheels.

  2. Can I unlock the steering wheel without a key?

    Generally, you cannot unlock it without a key. The steering lock mechanism is designed to be disengaged with the correct key only. However, in emergency cases, a professional locksmith or mechanic might be able to help.

  3. Why did my vehicle stop running and the steering wheel got locked?

    Typically, it may lock up while the car is in motion due to issues with the power steering mechanism. Moreover, the problem with the steering rack/column or suspension, or the cause with the vehicle's ignition lock, or because making abrupt turns.

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