What causes the steering wheel to lock up?

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Losing control of your car's steering is a terrifying experience, one that can lead to a crash with horrific consequences. If this happens to you, then you must try to bring your vehicle to a stop at once and determine the cause of steering wheel lock-up before you drive your car again.

There are a number of reasons why your car's steering has suddenly locked up.

Power steering pump

Most cars today have power steering with a pump utilised to help turn your steering wheel with ease. That pump contains valves as well as linkage, either of which could have become stuck due to road debris getting wedged inside. Have your mechanic check your car's entire front end to determine the cause.

Key mechanism

Not every steering wheel problem occurs when you have the transmission engaged and are heading down the road. Sometimes, drivers report that their steering wheel stays locked even after inserting the key into the ignition. When that happens, the car probably cannot be started let alone driven. More than likely the key assembly has worn out and needs to be replaced. However, before calling your mechanic, try to move the wheels to the left and to the right as sometimes the steering column "catches," a problem that can be resolved if you jiggle the wheel.

Lock pin

General Motors issued a pair of recalls for the C5 Chevrolet Corvette (1997-2004 models) due to problems with locked steering. In addition to being locked while starting, owners complained that in some cases their cars could be driven but with no control of steering. This problem is due to a lock pin that fails to withdraw fully, allowing contact between the pin and lock plate.


While the three causes mentioned here are among the top reasons why a steering wheel may lock up, there could be other reasons. Contact an mechanic for assistance, or if you are handy with repairs, consult a Haynes or Chilton repair manual for guidance.