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How to Unlock A Steering Wheel in 3 Easy Methods

Steering wheels sometimes lock in position as a preventive measure and as part of your car’s safety features. But sometimes, steering wheel locks because of an abnormal force exerted during your last driving, a defective lock assembly due to corrosion, a worn out key, and other reasons beyond your control. You can certainly do something to unlock a steering wheel before you call a qualified mechanic to spare you from a costly repair when you still don’t know yet the problem.

In this article, we will present to you three of the most common methods on how to unlock a steering wheel. Read on, car lovers!

What you will need to unlock the steering wheel

  • Ignition lock assembly (optional)
  • Screwdriver
  • 9/32” Allen wrench
  • Grease
  • Your car’s key
  • Lubricant
  • Safety goggles
  • Canned air (optional)

What you should do to unlock a steering wheel

Method I: Unlocking the steering wheel

1. Inserting your key into the ignition

If there was a bit forced on the wheel when you turn the last time you use your car, unlocking it will only require you to use your key the usual way you use it, but be more gentle. Do it repeatedly until the steering wheel is freed. If not, there would be a more complicated problem. Go to the next step.

How to Unlock A Steering Wheel put car key into Ignition

2. Turn the key left and right

If your first try does not succeed, you may try to unlock the wheel by turning the key in the ignition cylinder while turning the steering wheel left and right. Most steering wheels will be freed this way that has been locked by accident. When you hear a click, this will be an indication that the wheel is unlocked permitting the key to turn and start the ignition.

3. Use your spare key

In some instances, the steering wheel might be locked because of a worn out key. Cars are mostly provided with more than one key. Get your spare key and insert it carefully into the key cylinder and see to it if the steering wheel unlocks.

4. If you don’t have a spare key

When you don’t have a spare key, you can still unlock your steering wheel using your old key, by what else? Trial and error. Steering wheels are locked in placed via a pin on one side.

When the wheel is locked, it will not be able to move freely in either direction. However, one side will permit movement anyhow (but mostly the side with a locking pin). Find out the direction where the wheel does not move and then apply a little pressure in the opposite direction while at the same time you turn the key using your other hand.

Method II: To loosen tacky locks

1. Lubricating the ignition lock cylinder

In other cases, a steering wheel may lock because of frozen solid lock tumblers resulting from corrosion, accumulation of dirt or dust, rust, and other debris that solidify inside the lock assembly. Squirt a substantial amount of lubricant into the keyhole (using the provided straw on the lubricant canister) making sure that this lubricant penetrates inside the ignition cylinder.

Then, insert the key and turn it back and forth gently until the lubricant frees the lock cylinder. If the lubricant works, it is advisable that you replace your ignition lock assembly soon as this will get worst over time.

2. Using can air

If a lubricant can’t take off hardened or larger debris, you may want to spray it with dry air or the more commonly used can air. Spray a short burst of canned air into the key hole (be sure you are wearing protective goggles to spare your eyes from flying debris).

After spraying air into the ignition, insert your key and gently slide it in and out so that debris may disintegrate. Repeat this process until the ignition is totally free of debris then turn the key if it unlocks the wheel.

3. Replacing damaged or worn out key

If your key does not turn after inserting it into the key hole of the ignition, check your key if it is not bent or damaged. A nicked, chipped or rounded tooth on the key will not enable it to engage deeper into the ignition cylinder. It may not go to the necessary depth to able ignition, which will also disable the steering wheel and prevents you from unlocking it.

If you don’t have a spare key, do not try to duplicate a damaged key. Instead, contact your dealership and they will cut a copy of your key.

Method III: To replace ignition lock component

1. Buy a new ignition lock assembly

This will be your last resort if everything fails. Most ignition assemblies can be easily replaced at home and can be done by doing it yourself, or if you would prefer, you can ask your expert mechanic to do it for you. To get the correct replacement parts, you can order from your local auto parts store or online (Amazon has the ideal deal so far).

If you are ordering online, be sure to give the exact make, year,  and model of your car so you get the precise replacement.

2. Disassemble the steering wheel column panels

If you decide to DIY and save you an enormous amount of money for a mechanic’s fee, you can do it easily by following these simple steps. Start by loosening the screws that hold the lower wheel column. The cover has tabs, press these tabs to release its lower half from the top. Disassemble this lower half of the steering wheel cover then its top half. Then set aside.

3. Locating the release tab

While you press the release tab, turn the key. When you can spot the old ignition lock cylinder, you can now locate the release tab on one of the sides of the cylinder. Use a 9/32” Allen wrench into the release hole while rotating the key backward. Utilize the ignition key in pulling out the whole assembly of the old lock ignition cylinder.

4. Ensure the new and old lock cylinders matched

If you are sure that both lock cylinders matched, you can install the new one into the steering column. See to it that the new ignition cylinder is fully greased. Also, ensure that the lock tab is fully set before you install the new ignition cylinder.

When the new cylinder is installed, see to it that the key turns fully while the steering wheel can be locked before you install the panels.

5. Re-installing the column panels

When everything is in place, re-install the column panels in reverse order when you removed them. Be sure that all clips are engaged and locked thoroughly, and all screws are tightened.

Some pro tips to lighten up your day

Use the most advanced lubricant like the WD-40 Multi-Use Product - Multi-Purpose Lubricant with Smart Straw Spray, this is a multipurpose lubricant that will not harm metal parts. While for a more reliable canned air, use Dust-Off Compressed Gas Duster, it is an electronic-friendly product.

While for a safer and low maintenance ignition cylinder, the best replacement is the ACDelco D1470E GM Original Equipment Ignition Switch. You will find all these products on Amazon with free shipping so you won’t bother shopping somewhere else.


Did you enjoy this tutorial? Knowing how to unlock a steering wheel is certainly not a hard thing to do. If you can do it yourself, why not? You can certainly save some good amount of cash if you know how.

And the moment this happens to you, everything would be easy. Just make sure you order the best maintenance products and accessories for your car, as this would also form part of a good investment.

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