Steering Wheel Lock Up While Driving – Causes & Solutions And More


You might have heard the phrase “Bolt from the blue”. A locked up or stuck steering wheel may feel the same.

Driving the steering wheel locked up maybe the worst thing you might feel driving. For various reasons, when driving, a power steering locks up. It’s unwise to ignore these no matter how basic the explanations might be. 

Some of the most essential control mechanisms of a motor vehicle is a steering wheel. If the steering wheel screws up when driving, this is very disturbing and terrible.

There is a possibility that your steering wheel locks up in the middle of driving. While it is a very uncommon phenomenon, it can happen to any vehicle. Today, all motor vehicles have an automatic steering lock mechanism. But, this automatic steering lock mechanism works only when the vehicle’s ignition system is off. It gets into operation only when the car is stationary. 

The automatic steering lock mechanism is for anti-theft and safety purposes. It also protects the power steering mechanism from any damage. The power steering system might get damaged if someone forces the steering wheel, especially when the ignition system is not working. 

The intensity of the power steering lockup is not much if the steering wheel gets locked after placing the key in the ignition system. If this happens, you can jiggle the steering wheel just a little so that the steering wheel lock deactivates itself. There is nothing strange if this happens, and it is nothing about which you should worry.

All modern vehicles come equipped with a power steering mechanism assisted hydraulically. This power steering mechanism works with a hydraulic pump. This hydraulic pump gets driven from a belt attached to your car’s engine. 

The hydraulic pump plays a vital role in supplying oil pressure to your car’s power steering mechanism. There is a rotary valve present at its core. This rotary valve perceives when a turn is made with a steering wheel and gets into action using the hydraulic pressure. With the help of hydraulic pressure, it can turn the steering wheel in the direction you desire. 

Therefore, we can say that if this mechanism does not work at its best, your power steering mechanism could change completely. Sometimes, you may even experience a complete locking up of the power steering system. Before discussing the steering wheel lock up, let us dive right into some information on the steering wheels. 

Types Of Power Steering System

There cannot be a vehicle that does not have a power steering system. All vehicles come equipped with a sound steering system that makes the task of steering heavy vehicles uncomplicated. 

The vehicles come with two types of steering systems. These are

  • Hydraulic 
  • Electric

Let us discuss these steering systems in detail. 

Hydraulic Power Steering System

You can find hydraulic steering systems in many old cars. This system uses an engine that gets driven by the pump. This pump derives its power from the accessory belts. One can find these accessory belts on the front of the engine. 

The hydraulic steering system has one reservoir which is full of hydraulic fuel. Most of the problems in the steering system are a result of leakage in this reservoir. Therefore, you should get in the habit of getting this reservoir checked regularly. 

When you turn on the ignition, and the engine starts running, the reservoir pumps the fluid through the steering racks. 

So, while turning the steering wheel, the steering rack helps you move. The steering rack makes the process of turning the wheel mechanical by changing the position of the front wheels. 

You can also find a shaft connected to the steering rack. This shaft is known as the steering column. The steering rack helps you control the car through the steel arms connected with the front suspension. 

Electric Steering System

There is another type of steering system that you can operate with the help of electricity. The electric steering system is of paramount importance to the steering rack as it is helpful in steering motions to the front suspension. The process is similar to the power steering system driven with a belt. 

There is one benefit of the electric steering system, and it is that it does not have many components. Because there are not too many components, it does not require much maintenance throughout the car’s life cycle. 

Every car comes with a steering wheel to ensure theft protection. We shall discuss the steering wheel lockup after discussing these theft prevention systems. 

Steering System Anti-Theft Systems

Since the 1960s, automobile manufacturers have started equipping vehicles with theft protection systems. All the vehicles that you brought home came with theft protection systems mandatorily. 

You could find steering system theft protection with the help of the keyed ignition switch. This ignition switch found its place at the steering column. It was, however, placed in the dash before. 

When you switch off the engine, you remove the key from the ignition switch. The theft protection mechanism automatically puts a solid key pin into a detent in the steering column when you do this. This pin will avoid the moving of the steering wheel unless you turn on the ignition switch and start the engine. 

This theft protection mechanism became popular. There were still many designs that required the steering wheel to rotate 30 to 45 degrees. You could move the wheel in the left or right direction. When a potential thief is trying to steal your vehicle, this might come as a surprise to him. 

Signs That Tell You That Your Steering Wheel Might Lockup 

You should pay attention to certain things while you are driving. These early signs of a steering wheel lockup might help you get the issue resolved before it is too late. 

These signs are:

  • The power steering belt also drives the alternator in some hydraulic power steering systems. If your power steering system is about to lock up, you will see the instrument panel light turn on in the case of belt slippage. 
  • The belt slippage may warn you instantly by messaging or chirping when you turn on the ignition switch and the engine starts following the steering wheel. 
  • If there is a leakage in the reservoir, it may cause the hydraulic hose to fail. You can easily detect this failure by checking for any red or brown fluid drops where you park your car. This fluid could point to the hydraulic hose failure of a leakage from the rack and pinion. If you notice a low fluid level in the reservoir, it could signal the upcoming problems with the steering wheel system.
  • The wear and tear and the car’s age can also cause an unexpected lockup of the power steering system. 
  • If the hydraulic pump has aged and squealed, it could be a sign of an impending lockup of the steering. Even if you have got the belt repaired to rectify the slippage, and it keeps squealing, it could be a signal that the pump may fail soon.

The steering wheel would not be able to move the vehicle because it is locked when driving.

Going through a lot of research we have found some major problems that may cause you this awful trouble. But it is never enough. 

7 Causes of Steering Wheel Lock Up While Driving

1. Sharp Turns 

If you take sharp turns quite often, your car’s transmission system will get affected. 

If you attempt to do many quick turns in a limited period, you would definitely lose the steering wheels. Sharp curves will also damage the engine of your vehicle and will cause your steering pump to be sticky.

2. Electric Power Steering Failure

Electric Power Steering Failure

The EPS (Electric Power Steering) motor malfunction could fail sometimes to let you steer your wheels due to malfunctioning. As it is powered by electricity from your car’s power supply it is common to misfire the signals it needs to steer the whiles. But there is a slight advantage, or it could be said as good luck that you will feel your wheels heavy, very heavy but it will not lock. Yet a heavy wheel will be very much difficult to manage and you may end up experiencing an accident.  

3. Ignition System

Ignition System in car

Let’s talk about another malfunctioning. You know that when you and your car’s key is out of the car and ignition no one can steer your wheels. But due to Ignition malfunctioning, your car can fail to detect that car keys are in the ignition. So it could lock up your string wheel.

4. Steering Lock Bar

Steering Lock Bar

As we explained, as you turn off your car, the car locks itself up which is known as Lock Bar. Due to factory defects like the improper casting of the steering lock bar may cause in locking the steering wheel while driving. So you should check everything from the start. 

5. Lock Assembly Problem

Have you ever notice that before your car locks itself up, it makes a sound almost squeaky? But we would suggest you think, does your car make any sound like that before locking up? If the answer is “No” then there is a problem with the lock assembly system.

On failing of assembling the key, without any notice, the steering wheel may lock all of a sudden. Therefore the main cylinder can not correctly follow the commands by adjusting the position of the switch. It can cost your life while speeding on the high way.

6. Power Steering Pump

Nothing can compare to human interaction. Back in the day’s cars did not have the feature of Power Pump for Steering. You should have used your arm muscles to turn the wheels.

Nowadays you can have cars with a power pump to steer your wheels which contains a lot of valves and linkages in the pump. If you drive on roads that are full of debris it may cause your pump to lock up while driving.

7. Other Causes 

 Engine stalling

As it is said it will be never enough to talk about the cause for locking up your steering wheel. But if we come up with one of the most important causes, we should mention Engine stalling. 

It causes failure of the power steering and it locks up the steering wheel.

Currently, there could be a lot of reasons behind the engine stall. These might include a mass airflow sensor, defective crankshaft or camshaft position sensors, defective coolant engine temperature sensor or switch, damaged spark connector, defective coil(s) or wire ignition, insufficient fuel pressure, and so on.

Solutions of Steering Wheel Lock Up While Driving

Now as we have come up with some major problems. Now let have some solutions. Let’s take it from the bottom !!

1.  Considering other causes

A fault in installing your car engine can end up in an accident, so take the following steps to save yourself and your loved ones. 

  • Have your car tested carefully by an experienced mechanic before you buy your vehicle. 
  • It might also cost you money to repair or replace faulty components. Yet life is more precious than that. 
  • Don’t hurry when buying a car, because life depends on you and your loved ones. 

2. Solution for Power Steering Pump

A moaning noise from your hood will alert you of the effects of a defective power steering engine. Replacing or fixing the power steering pump would be the safest way for you to avoid the Crash Because STEERING WHEEL LOCKS UP. 

Having a strong process experience, you can do it yourself. In order to fix the steering pump, the main device you will require is a special pulley puller, but not a common one.

You will need : 

Dorman 419-602 Belt Tensioner Pulley

The Dorman Belt Tensioner Pulley is designed to maintain the serpentine belt tension for belt life – while maintaining the alternator working, the water pump running, and the power steering pump and A / C compressor.

  • Steel or plastic construction for long-term heat, shock and corrosion durability 
  • The adjustment stops the sound of a tired belt tensioner pulley, pinch or groan. 
  • Parent substitution every time for the right match 
  • Produced to high-quality standards for electronics

The BIG RED  is equipped with Complete 360-degree rotors without turning and bending; Rotating parts are mounted on roller ball bearings in order to reduce the vibration and increase the performance. 

  • A 1 ton (2000 lb) lifting power manual lift chain hoist, complete with a hydraulic load brake for a specific use. 
  • Chains of 1/4 in diameter are constructed of high-quality stainless steel 20Mn2 with a black oxide finish for extra corrosion and grime strength; load-sharing gear enables heavy lifting.
  • Ideal for industrial settings and job applications such as factories, construction sites, garages, workshops, warehouses, farms, docks, wharves, and mines

3.  Solution for Lock Assembly Problem

You must have gone through the phrase “ Better an empty house than an ill tenant”. A bad or damaged assembly lock is just like that. You better not drive your car than driving with one.

So change it as soon as you find out the problem.

Here is some Assembly Lock for you : 

Beck Arnley 201-1971

Beck / Arnley pieces meet international nameplate OE type, fit, and work requirements. With a network of multinational vendors, our quality experts collaborate with you to add the right component with confidence.

  • Matches OE form, fit, and function
  • Comes with two non-programmable keys
  • Pre-lubricated internally to ensure smooth operation
  • Quality construction using premium materials for durability
  • Application-specific to ensure a correct fit for your vehicle

Arnley / Beck parts comply with the OE form and fitness and work requirements of the international nameplate. Our product experts work together with a large network of manufacturer partners so that the right component can easily be mounted.

  • Matches OE form, fit, and function
  • High quality material and componentry for optimal performance
  • Comes with two non-programmable keys
  • 100% tested for both mechanical and electrical performance
  • Application-specific to ensure a correct fit for your vehicle

4. Solution for Steering Lock Bar

Like assembly lock, The Lock Bar can also be changed or needed to be changed. But before that do consult with a good mechanic who is an expert on this. Maybe a clean up can do the work. But if you want to change your cars’s Lock Bar then check the following : 

Dorman 905-512 Steering Shaft

Dorman ‘s Steering Shaft Bearing is constructed of high strength, longer duty life components. Substitution returns the steering to full functionality.

  • Plastic construction for long-lasting durability
  • Replacement eliminates knocking and grinding noise
  • Direct replacement for a proper fit
  • Vehicle try-on testing has been conducted on this part to ensure trouble-free performance

5. Solution for Ignition System failure

Bad parts mean bad performance. A rusty key assembly point may cause this problem. You may have to apply too much pressure to the key to start the ignition. But as soon as you find out this problem you better change your Ignition system.

6. Solution for Electric Power Steering Failure

If your car’s steering wheel is powered by or controlled by EPS and if this locking problem occurs due to EPS then you should avoid driving your car until you have fixed this problem.

Consult an expert mechanic or if you are able to do it then, it is the best.

7. Avoid Sharp Turns

As mentioned above sharp turns may hurt your car engine and other parts. It mostly affects steering and suspension shafts. So first thing first tries to avoid sharp turns as much as you can. Despite this problem occurs check for damaged parts and change them as soon as possible.

What Can Be Your Course Of Action When The Steering Wheel Locks Up?

If your power steering mechanism fails and your steering wheel locks up in the middle of driving, then you must stop your car immediately. It should be your regular course of action to take the car off the road to avoid any fatality. 

If you can’t take your car off the road, don’t drive it. You can get off your vehicle and move to a safe place free from any risk to your life. In any case, you should not attempt driving your motor vehicle to a repair center if the power steering wheel locks up. Instead, you should leave your car where it is and call the repair center to get it towed away safely. 

We understand the frustrating nature of the situation, especially when you are in the middle of your destination. You might even feel tempted to fix your power steering wheel mechanism yourself. However, you should always get help from experienced mechanics. 

Their professional assistance will be able to fix your power steering mechanism. But, if you want to look at some things that you could fix, maybe reading this on will help you.  

Can You Resolve The Power Steering LockUp Issue On Your Own?

Here are the things you can fix yourself when there is trouble with your power steering mechanism. 

Inspecting The Level Of Power Steering Fluid

Modern vehicles come with a small reservoir under the hood. It is a clear reservoir about 75mm in diameter and has a clear liquid inside it. This clear hydraulic fluid is the power steering fluid. 

This power steering fluid has a label on it, and you can also find the minimum and maximum indicator level on any side of the reservoir. 

Now, what you have to do is to check if there is any liquid inside this reservoir. If there is any, check its level and ensure it falls between the minimum and maximum indicator levels. 

If the fluid reservoir is empty, you can assume a leakage in the system. You can correct this situation by filling the fluid reservoir with the power steering fluid. You can get this power steering fluid from any garage or your motor vehicle’s service center. After filling this reservoir with the fluid, you should wait to see if the fluid’s level stays the same in the reservoir. 

If there is no change in the level, then there is a possibility that the car’s steering might function properly. However, if the fluid level drops down in no time, there is a leakage in the hydraulic steering pipes that might be giving you a lot of problems. 

Check The Steering Mechanism Under Your Car.

If your steering system locks up, you might want to take one look underneath your car. You must check for any damage to the rack and pinion steering assembly. Also, look at the tie rod arms as these rods connect to the front wheel. 

Now, you should look at the components which fall within your sight. There is a high possibility that these components have undergone some mechanical damage. However, you cannot check the steering column as it will be out of your sight in the dashboard of your car. 

Scrutinize Your Car’s Wiring

Another thing that you can check when you suffer steering wheel lockup is your car’s wiring. Most of the time, there is a situation of bad wiring or excessive heat in your car. This issue of bad wiring and excess heat generates near your car’s engine and might even cause an electric short from your car’s battery. 

It could cause the ignition system to function inappropriately, causing the locking of the steering wheel. If you witness any signs of an electrical malfunction, your first course of action should be to disconnect the battery. After this, you can call the repair center to get your vehicle repaired by professional mechanics. 

A locked steering wheel can feel heavy and calls for a quick resolution. It will be favorable if you resolve the problems of the power steering lockups to avoid any injury to life and property. If you ever face such a situation where the steering wheel locks up in the middle of the journey, you can resolve it in the following ways. 

How To Fix A Locked Steering Wheel In The Middle Of Driving?

A rare instance can occur when your steering wheel locks up all of a sudden while driving. When that occurs, you can try the following ways to fix the issue with your steering wheel. 

Substitute The Power Steering Pump

A faulty power steering pump makes whining noises from the hood. If you experience such whining noises, there is an issue that needs addressing. It is a sign that the power steering pump of your car needs replacement or substitution. 

You might need to hire a professional mechanic if you can’t fix it yourself. However, this situation might not arise because it is not a complicated task to substitute the power steering pump. 

All you need is a pulley puller to fix this issue, and you are good to go. You will be able to replace the power steering pump using a pulley puller, and it might resolve the issue of locking up the steering wheel while driving. 

Changing The Ignition Switch Cylinder

When we talk about the locking up of the ignition switch cylinder, we cannot ignore the relationship between the steering wheel and the ignition switch cylinder. The ignition cylinder and the steering wheel are connected directly, and the steering wheel might lock up because of the flaw in the cylinder.

You can check this flaw by using your hands to force the cylinder and detach the lock. Now, you can use one of your hands to turn on the ignition switch to a start position. If you find any dirt and debris in the cylinder, you can clean it by using canned air. 

Once this debris clears itself, the problem might resolve to a large extent. If the issues with your steering wheel persist, you might have to change the entire ignition cylinder. In any case, you can consult your car expert to guide you in the right direction. 

Clean The Dirt From The Steering Column

The steering column of your car is one place that can accumulate dust and debris. Mostly it is because of this dust, debris, and other unwanted particles that your steering wheel locks up all of a sudden while driving. 

If it is the steering column of your car that gives you trouble while driving, you should get it cleaned on a priority basis. You can contact your car service provider to get it cleaned and avoid any major complications. 

Inspecting Any Ecu Malfunctions

It can be hazardous to drive your car if the ECU does not function properly. Inappropriate functioning of the ECU can cause your steering wheel to lock up, putting you at risk. 

If this happens, you should avoid driving your car and take it to a repair center as soon as possible. ECU malfunctions suggest circuitry problems and need repairs on priority.

Other Tips To Follow When Your Steering Wheel Locks

If you want to avoid the possibility of an unexpected lockup of the steering wheel, you can follow these tips.

  • Get regular services from an expert mechanic for your car.
  • Not keeping faulty or inappropriate parts in your car as they can cause inconvenience
  • Do not take sharp turns at the curves
  • Use lubricants on the components of your car that need lubrication.


What can you do if the power steering wheel locks up when you are in the middle of the journey?

If the power steering wheel of your car locks up in the middle of the road, there is no need to panic. You can still control your car by placing both your hands on the steering wheel firmly. 

If you still can’t control it, then you can get out of your car and call the service or repair center. They will tow away your car and fix the issues with the power steering system. 

Why has the power steering system of my car been locked?

The power steering system of your car can lock up because of many underlying issues. These issues include

  • Sharp turns
  • Electric power steering failure
  • Leakage in fluid
  • Issues with the ignition cylinder 
  • Ruptures of power steering hydraulic hose 
  • Problems with the steering rack

Apart from these, several other causes can lock up your power steering wheel system. 

How can I avoid steering wheel lockups?

You can avoid the locking of the steering wheel by ensuring a regular service check for your vehicle.

Wrapping up

Take care of your car as your child. You and your loved one’s life depends on its wellbeing. Don’t let ignorance become the cause for you and your family’s grief.

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