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Steering wheels lock in position as part of a vehicle’s safety features. The main purpose of a locked wheel is to prevent vehicle movement when there is no key, or if the wrong key is inserted into the ignition. Unfortunately, ignition tumblers experience a lot of mechanical movement and force over time which can cause them to fail, preventing the steering wheel from unlocking.

If you have a keyed ignition and a steering wheel that won’t unlock, follow these steps before contacting a mechanic or replacing the ignition cylinder.

Follow these steps:

1. Turn the key gently. If the key and wheel both remain locked in place, you will need to apply pressure to the key in the direction you would usually turn it. Be careful not to apply the pressure too high up on the body of the key, as that may cause the key to twist or even break while inside the key hole. Instead, apply firm but gentle pressure until the ignition comes unlocked. (Note- If the key doesn’t turn with slight pressure, applying more will not increase the likelihood of it turning. Instead, maintain light pressure on the key and move on to the next step).

2. Apply pressure to the steering wheel. The steering wheel is locked in place using a pin on one side. When locked, the wheel will not be able to move in either direction freely, but one side will not allow any movement, whatsoever-the side with the locking pin. Determine which direction the wheel cannot move, then apply pressure in the other direction while turning the key with your other hand. (Note- Shaking the wheel back and forth could damage the locking pin and likely won’t unlock the wheel).

It is the process of turning the key while applying pressure to the wheel simultaneously that will unlock the steering wheel.
The wheel will only move slightly in the direction opposite the pin, but won’t move at all in the wrong direction.

3. Spray compressed air to dislodge any debris. Also, spray a small dose of electrical cleaner in the key hole to lubricate it enough to turn. Be careful not to spray too much into the key hole. A few short squirts should suffice. Once done, insert the key and turn it back and forth gently to work the lubricant in.If this works, you may need to replace the ignition cylinder soon as it gets progressively worse. (note-Liquid graphite may also work to lubricate the cylinder).

4. If the steering wheel does not unlock, you will need to trouble shoot the problem or call a locksmith.
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