What Are the Reasons a Steering Wheel Won’t Lock and What Should You Do?

Having car problems can definitely become annoying. This is especially true when you can’t even figure out what’s wrong in the first place. If your steering wheel isn’t locking into place properly, then this can be a pretty big problem. You don’t want to continue to use the car like this and you should definitely get it taken care of.

It’s easy to understand that you need to fix the issue, but why is this happening? There are actually several reasons why your car steering wheel won’t lock into place after you’ve stopped the car and removed your key. Today, I’m going to go over some of the most likely reasons why this is occurring. I’ll also tell you what you need to do to take care of things at the end of the article.

What to do if steering wheel won't lock.

One of the most common reasons why a steering wheel won’t lock right is that the detent is broken or worn down. If you don’t know what the word detent means, then don’t worry. The detent is basically “the catch” part that makes sure that your steering wheel locks into place. If this area becomes worn down or broken, then it isn’t going to catch the steering wheel properly.

If you just can’t seem to get your steering wheel to lock into place no matter what, then this is one of the likeliest causes. Your detent can become broken or worn down over time due to regular use. If your car is newer, then this seems like an unlikely cause of your problem. Regardless, it’s going to be one of the first things that your mechanic will check when looking into the issue.

A Broken Cog

Now that you know what the detent is, you should be able to move onto the next possible cause of your issues. You see, there is a cog that fits into the detent of your steering column. Sometimes, this cog can break and it’ll wind up causing you problems when it comes to locking your steering wheel into place. This can be an annoyance, but it isn’t an incredibly big deal for a mechanic with the right equipment to fix things up.

The cog that is broken simply needs to be replaced for the steering wheel to be able to lock into place again. Assuming this is the only thing that was wrong, things should work just fine again once the cog is back where it should be. Just note that this repair job should be handled by a professional. You don’t want to accidentally damage anything else while removing the steering column or steering wheel, so it’s likely going to be best to take this problem to your mechanic.

A Broken Actuator

There are some situations where a broken actuator will be to blame for your car steering wheel locking issues. This can happen when the actuator that goes from the solenoid to the cog stops working. Actuators can break over time just like anything else. They can get worn down and eventually cease functioning, leading to problems such as the one that you’re trying to troubleshoot today.

Much like the other potential causes on this list, this is going to be fine for professionals to fix, but might be difficult for amateurs. This is due to how difficult it can be to get in there to replace the actuator. Regardless, you should just know that you’re going to have to replace this important actuator if it has gone bad. It needs to be working properly for your steering wheel to lock like it should, so it’s one of the most likely causes of your issues.

You're Not Turning the Steering Wheel Far Enough

This might sound like an obvious answer that you should have thought about, but some people do make this mistake. When you’ve taken the key out of the ignition and your steering wheel won’t lock into place, it’s possible that your steering wheel is turned wrong. You could have it too far to the left or right and this might be preventing it from locking into place. In this situation, you should try to pull the wheel to the left and then to the right to try to find the right spot.

Finding the right spot is about finding the detent that has been mentioned so much above. Your steering wheel needs to “catch” on the detent for it to lock into place. This is about ensuring that the steering wheel is in the right position, so take your time to try to find the spot. If you’re lucky, then this might be what’s keeping you from locking the steering wheel into place and you’ll be able to fix things right up by just moving things around.

Of course, this isn’t the most likely problem and many people would have already thought to do this. Turning your steering wheel and trying to get it to lock into place is the most logical response to this issue. It’s simply worth mentioning for those who don’t know that this might be the problem. If you already tried this, then you’ll want to point to one of the other potential causes in this article.

Broken Electric Locking Mechanisms

It’s also important to point out that some locking mechanisms in cars will function differently. Depending on the make and model of your car, you might be making use of an electric locking mechanism that locks your steering wheel into place. A broken electric locking mechanism could be to blame for your current problem. If the locking mechanism isn’t working right, then it isn’t going to be able to tell your steering wheel to lock into place.

This can wind up happening for many different reasons. There are situations where the wiring in the locking mechanism will break down or there could be a short. You won’t really be able to tell what is going wrong with the locking mechanism until you get in there to take a look at it. Accessing this mechanism isn’t easy, though.

These locking mechanisms aren’t placed somewhere that you can easily pull them out to give them an inspection. You’re generally going to have to remove the steering column and steering wheel to be able to get to things. This can present problems and it isn’t something that most people should do. If you suspect a broken or worn down locking mechanism of any kind, then it’s going to be beneficial to take it into your mechanic or your dealership for repairs.

Computer Malfunctions

Even computer malfunctions can wind up causing issues with your steering wheel not locking into place. Cars that are very reliant on computers to keep things working properly may encounter issues such as this. Damage to the system or a part going bad can cause communication issues. If your car steering wheel needs to lock by being told what to do by the computer, then this is always going to be a potential cause.

Loose Steering Wheel

Another potential odd cause of your problem is that the steering wheel itself could be loose. You’ll probably be able to tell if your steering wheel doesn’t feel normal. If there’s too much play in the steering wheel or if it’s sitting differently than it normally does, this could be a problem. There could be something broken near where the steering wheel is held into place or you might simply need to have it put back on right.

What Should You Do?

Honestly, the best thing to do when you’re experiencing steering wheel locking problems is to take it to professionals. You should take the car to your local mechanic or your car dealership as soon as possible. In fact, you might even want to have it towed there. This is a significant safety issue and it shouldn’t be ignored for any reason.

Even if you consider yourself a decent mechanic, this is not going to be a job that’s easy to tackle. It involves getting into some hard to reach areas of your car. Taking your steering column and steering wheel out is not easy and you don’t want to accidentally cause damage to other systems. Allowing your expert mechanic or dealership to handle things ensures that the situation will be solved promptly.

You don’t have to wait around and try to figure out which one of these problems is the one you’re experiencing. The potential causes above are all fairly common, but they aren’t going to be easy for you to fix on your own. A mechanic has the right tools and expertise to get your steering wheel to lock again. You should be able to get the repairs done so that you can have your car back without it taking too much time.

In Conclusion

Now that you know what might be causing your steering wheel locking issues, it’s going to be easier to move forward. Don’t worry too much if your steering wheel won’t lock into place. This is something that your mechanic can fix once they have the time to determine the cause. You definitely do want to take this to an expert immediately though, so remember to get this fixed as soon as you can.

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