Mistaking a Steering Lock Problem for the Ignition Switch

2 weeks ago
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It’s a new day, and you’re ready to fly through everything that needs doing. Just as you head to take the car out, the most dreadful thing happens – it refuses to start. The key stubbornly refuses to turn in the ignition despite all efforts. What could be wrong? 

In situations like this one, carefully diagnosing the reason your car key won’t turn is the best recourse. Most of us would automatically assume a problem with the ignition switch or ignition cylinder and proceed to fix the issue accordingly. Whenever that doesn’t work, checking the wiring or car keys replacement may seem like viable alternatives.   

The best diagnosis, however, lies in identifying the basics. Sometimes the solutions are so simple they could escape notice completely. Before taking the ignition switch apart or calling an auto locksmith, check the steering wheel. One of the most common reasons a car key will not turn is a locked steering wheel.  

What is a Steering Column Lock?

As an added element of vehicle protection, the steering column lock came into being in 1955. The device aimed to protect cars from theft by immobilizing a vehicle without the correct key. 

How does it work? The code stored within the key needs to match the code stored in the security modules. Only when the two sync up will the steering column unlock and allow the driver to start the vehicle.  

The connection between Ignition Cylinders and Steering Wheel Lock

The ignition cylinder contains a mechanical attachment to the steering wheel lock to prevent vehicle robbery. Anyone attempting to steal the car won’t be able to steer it without the key.

The steering wheel can lock in one of these cases: people switch off the engine with the steering wheel turned or turn the steering wheel after turning off the engine. In such cases, the steering wheel lock can bind and prevent you from turning the ignition.

Easy tips to free up the steering wheel

The good news? A locked steering wheel column is a common problem that’s easy to fix. If you’ve determined this is the cause for your car key not turning, try a few simple solutions to unlock the steering wheel:

  • Turning the wheel back and forth generally helps to free up the ignition cylinder
  • As you turn the steering to the right and left, check what side the wheels of the car can turn and which direction has no give
  • Pull the steering in the direction of the car wheel that has room, and keep it there
  • Keep the steering wheel turned as you turn the key towards the accessory position
  • In case this doesn’t work, try rocking the steering wheel while turning the ignition key
  • If nothing happens, jiggle the key in the ignition while rocking the steering wheel 

Important things to remember

  • Stop pulling on the steering wheel when you feel resistance
  • While turning the key, do it gently. Turning the key too hard can snap the key off in the ignition. If this happens, you may need to call an auto locksmith for car keys replacement
  • To avoid being stuck with a damaged key, consider cutting a spare set much beforehand. Look up experienced car key cutting firms in your area who can help
  • Be very patient through the process

Mix up the methods mentioned above to combine different ways of moving the key and turning the wheel. In most cases, the steering wheel will unlock, and the car should start. 

Ideally, keep at-home solutions or interventions simple to avoid unnecessary damages that could end up costing exorbitant amounts to fix. Do remember those seemingly simple solutions can turn complicated according to skills and different situations. While attempting to fix the steering column by yourself, look out for anything else out of the ordinary.

If the steering wheel doesn’t unlock, and you still cannot determine why the key won’t turn, it is best to call an auto locksmith. A trusted and seasoned technician can best determine the issue and assist with car keys replacement, should you need it. If the steering column lock has deteriorated, you might need to repair the existing one. In case this is not possible, the only solution is to replace it.