If your steering wheel is locked up, you know that putting the key in the ignition will instantly unlock it. But, what do you do if the key isn’t handy? Do you know how to unlock the steering wheel without the key? Thankfully, there are several solutions available to you.
In this guide, we talk about the reasons why the steering wheel locks. We also outline your options if you don’t have the key on hand. At the end of this article, we also look at if it’s possible to have a steering wheel lock up while you are driving.
Why Does the Steering Wheel Lock?
If you aren’t used to the steering wheel locking, you may believe that something has gone wrong when it happens, but it’s a normal part of the vehicle operation. The steering wheel lock is meant to be a basic safety feature, keeping people from taking your car if the key isn’t with them.
The wheel should lock when you turn off the vehicle and remove the key. This safety feature also ensures that the car can’t go anywhere without you.
Aside from these main purposes, the steering wheel can also lock if you’ve been too forceful with it or the battery dies. Either way, the key is going to unlock it once the system is running as it should. If you don’t have the key or are having trouble getting it to work properly, you need to move on to one of our other options.
How to Unlock Steering Wheel Without a Key
The best way to unlock a steering wheel without a key is to mechanically remove the ignition lock. On older models, you can also break the steering wheel lock mechanism by pulling hard on the steering wheel or using a hammer in the ignition lock.
1. Remove the Ignition Lock
The best way to unlock a steering wheel without a key and without damaging any parts is actually to remove the ignition lock from the steering column. This may require some basic mechanical knowledge and tools, though.
To reach the ignition lock, you need to remove the covers around the steering column, and under there you will find bolts that hold the ignition lock.
2. Damage the ignition lock
There is also another method where you destroy the ignition lock with a large screwdriver and a hammer. After you destroy the pins inside the ignition lock, you should be able to turn the ignition lock which will unlock the steering wheel lock. However, this will obviously damage the ignition switch, so you may want to try another method first.
3. Break the Steering Wheel Mechanism
A useful option for some older car models is to break the steering wheel column. You can accomplish this by pulling hard on the steering wheel, and you may be able to break the steering wheel lock mechanism pin.
However, this option isn’t good for modern vehicles and may not even be possible because they enforced the pins. You can cause more damage to the steering column than if you choose another one of our options. You may only want to use this method as a last resort if you have an older car.
4. Pick the Lock
Another old-fashioned method is to pick the lock and turn the ignition to unlock the steering wheel lock. However, this method may require some skills, but it is possible to pick the lock just to unlock the steering wheel lock.
The majority of vehicles made since the 1990s have systems that prevent you from being able to do this to start the car. An engine immobilizer will prevent you from starting the vehicle without the right key. Even if you can pick the lock, you will eventually need to replace the ignition to use the vehicle normally.
Although these methods are best used if you have no key at all for your car, let’s take a look at what you can do if you have the car key, but can’t unlock the steering wheel lock.
5. Use a Spare Key
If the regular key isn’t working or you lost it, you could try out another key. When you purchased the car, you should have been given multiple keys. While you don’t use one every day, don’t overlook the value of having a spare on hand.
If you don’t have the spare, you may have to move on to one of our other steps. You don’t want to attempt to put a key in the ignition that isn’t meant to be there, as it could lead to more damage.
6. Spray WD40
What do you do if the key won’t fit in the ignition? In some cases, there’s dirt built up in the ignition that needs to be cleaned out. There could also be some solidification occurring of the tumblers, causing the key not to register properly. In this situation, WD40 might solve the problem.
Carefully spray some WD40 directly into the ignition port. After it has been sprayed, try inserting your key again.
7. Canned Air
Previously, we discussed how WD40 could lubricate the lock and clean it out. However, if the key won’t enter the ignition simply because there is contamination inside, compressed air might be a better option.
Spray some of the condensed air directly into the lock mechanism. You might see dirt and debris fly out as a result. Try inserting the key once again after cleaning it out. If you don’t have a can of air, you could also use your air compressor.
8. Get a New Key
If you can’t get your key to work or you have misplaced it, you might need to get a new key. You have several options when it comes to getting a key. If it’s a simple key, a locksmith might be the best option. Most locksmiths are cheaper than dealerships, plus they can get things done faster.
On the other hand, today’s keys can be complicated and advanced. Transponder keys and smart keys are going to require reprogramming to work with your car. In some cases, it could make more sense to visit the dealership instead.
Unlocking a Steering Wheel with a Keyless Car
If you drive a car with a smart key, there’s no ignition port to become contaminated. Instead, you only have a push button that starts and stops the engine. If you have a locked steering wheel, you might be confused about how to release it, but it’s not that difficult.
Take your left hand and try wiggling the steering wheel slightly while you push the start and stop button. You will repeat this process until the steering wheel unlocks. If it seems to be stubborn, go ahead and push in the brake pedal while repeating the same steps.
Will a Steering Wheel Lock While Driving?
Having a steering wheel lock up while you are driving could be devastating, but is it even possible? Yes, in some very rare cases, the steering wheel is capable of locking up on you while driving.
However, today’s automatic locking steering systems aren’t meant to be activated unless the vehicle is in Park. The system should only activate when it needs to protect the car from theft and provide additional safety.
It’s more probable that you are having trouble moving the steering wheel, not because it’s locked up, but because the fluid is low or there’s another problem. In this situation, your only remedy is to promptly fix the problem, so you can normally steer once again.
Steering Wheel Lock FAQs
Can you break a steering wheel lock?
Whether you can break a steering wheel lock depends on the car model. In older car models, you could break the steering wheel lock by just pulling hard on the steering wheel. However, modern cars have an enforced lock, and it may not be possible to break it manually.
How can I manually unlock my steering wheel?
If you have the key but can’t unlock the steering wheel, try wiggling it a little while turning the key. If you don’t have the key, you can unlock the steering wheel by mechanically removing the ignition lock.
How do you pop an ignition with a screwdriver?
To pop an ignition lock with a screwdriver, you need to hit the pins inside the lock with the screwdriver and a hammer. When the pins are damaged, you will be able to turn the ignition lock with the screwdriver. However, this depends on the car model and in some cases it may not be possible.
Why is my steering wheel locked and the car won’t start?
If your steering wheel is locked and you are not able to start the car, it is probably because the immobilizer system cannot recognize your car key. This could be due to a broken key fob, bad battery or a broken immobilizer.