Having your steering wheel suddenly locked up while driving is a terrifying and dangerous experience. In an instant, you lose control of the direction of your vehicle if you are going at a certain speed.
In this article, we’ll cover the most common causes of a steering wheel jamming while in motion. We’ll provide a thorough troubleshooting guide to help you diagnose the problem. We’ll also give tips for safely managing the situation if it happens to you.
Though a steering wheel locking up in mid-drive is rare, it can happen in certain vehicles under the right circumstances.
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Potential Causes For A Steering Wheel Lockup While Driving
Loss of power steering assist
- An engine stall or sudden power steering fluid leak can cause a loss of power assist, which makes the wheel much more challenging to turn.
- This is because a lack of fluid pressure prevents the system from amplifying the driver’s steering inputs.
Ignition switch failure
- If the ignition switch or cylinder fails, it can shut off the engine and lock the steering in the process.
- This leads to an abrupt loss of steering control while driving.
Steering column lock defect
- Some vehicles have a mechanical locking pin that engages when the key is free.
- A defect can trigger this to activate while driving and jam the steering wheel.
Steering rack failure
- The rack and pinion gearing that converts steering wheel motion into wheel turns can jam up due to broken internal components or lack of lubrication.
- This instantly inhibits further steering wheel rotation.
Seized steering shaft
- Corrosion and wear on the steering shaft or coupler can lead to a seized connection between the wheel and the gearbox.
- This results in improper steering input transfer.
- The internal electrical ribbon that transfers signals from the wheel buttons to the steering angle sensors can rupture over time.
- This triggers an immobilizer fault and steering lock condition while driving.
Low battery voltage
- Insufficient electrical power can turn off the power steering assist and cause the wheel to lock as a fail-safe.
- Even though the engine may continue to run along with the steering failures.
Wheel button jam
- Suppose the control buttons on the wheel, like audio controls, are jammed in.
- In that case, it can send erroneous signals that leads to a faulty steering lock.
Solutions For A Steering Wheel Lock-Up While Driving
- Cycling the ignition can reset faults and allow normal ignition and steering operations to resume if it is a temporary glitch.
- Try to shake the wheel back and forth forcefully to break the free a stuck locking pin or worn splines that may be binding.
- Rocking the vehicle forward and back can alter pressure on components and free up a stuck steering system.
- Refill the fluid level if it’s low to restore the hydraulic pressure, which is ideal for power assist. This can make the wheel easier to turn if a depleted assist is the issue for the lockup.
- Pressing buttons like volume control multiple times can override a stuck signal that triggers a false lock event.
- Inspect terminals and clamps for a loose connection that is intermittently cutting power and enabling a steering lock.
- Replace a damaged tumbler or ignition switch if necessary to restore the proper electrical signals and operations.
- Repair any damaged or corroded wiring in the steering column harness that could be sending erroneous faulty messages.
FAQs About The Steering Wheel Locked Up And Car Turned Off While Driving
Q: Can I prevent my steering wheel from locking up while driving?
A: Proper maintenance and repair of steering components, the ignition cylinder, and electronics can helps to prevent the locking. But it still may happen randomly in rare cases.
Q: Is it safe to drive my car after the steering is locked up?
A: Only resume driving once you get to know the cause of the lockup. A fault likely still exists and risks reoccurring, even if it is temporarily unlocked.