How to unlock a steering wheel without key: 3 easy steps

Updated Mar 10, 2022 | Same topic: Handy Maintenance Tips

Having trouble with a locked steering wheel? These might help.

By now, it’s pretty obvious that one of the most important parts of a car is its steering wheel. Without it, it’s nothing more than a motorized, road-going missile that will go wherever it pleases. And of course, this is something that you wouldn’t want to happen.  

In many older car models, however, the steering wheel can lock up due to a variety of reasons. And sometimes, you’ll find that unlocking the steering wheel without a key is the only solution left especially in an emergency situation. 

A picture of an old car's steering wheel

Older cars are cool and all, but they do have their quirks

As such, we’ll be sharing three ways to unlock a steering wheel without a key. We’ll also be talking about some methods on what to do if you have the key but it still won’t unlock. Before that though, why do steering wheels lock in the first place?

3 reasons why your steering wheel locks up while driving

One of the most common reasons as to why your steering wheel suddenly locks up while you’re on the road is that it ran out of power steering fluid, or the said fluid has gone dirty.

This usually happens in low-speed maneuvers like parking and it will feel like the wheel becomes heavier and heavier as you move it around. This can be prevented by regular maintenance. 

A picture of a car with its steering fluid leaking out

Steering fluid leaking out

Another possibility of your steering wheel locking up while driving is that one or two parts of the car’s steering mechanisms have failed. This is rare though, but it does happen.

If you’ve experienced this, then it is highly likely that the steering column or the steering arms might have been damaged. If this happens to you while on the road, slow down, activate your hazard lights and come to a stop on a safe spot. 

Moreover, a steering wheel can lock up while parked. This is because most modern cars come with an anti-theft feature that locks the steering wheel.

But then again, this can be invertedly locked-up due to a faulty locking pin or some other component. Also, you might unknowingly lock the steering wheel while moving in or out of the vehicle. This is surprising for many, but a level head and keeping calm is the key in this situation. 

A picture of a scared driver

Losing control especially on highway is scary. But regardless, try to level head when it happens

>>> Related: 7 Signs of a Bad Steering Wheel and How to Fix Them

How to get a steering wheel unlocked without a key: 3 methods

If push comes to shove, a parked vehicle’s locked steering wheel can be unlocked with something as simple as a can of WD40. The last method though is a bit complicated and we’d rather that you hire the help of a professional instead.

How to Free a Locked Steering Wheel

Method #1: WD40 

If you’ve found that you can’t turn the key and can’t unlock the steering wheel. It might be possible that the moving parts inside the key-hole itself might just be stuck and/or dirty. In this case, you should follow these steps:

A picture of WD40

For this to work, of course you'll need WD40 or a similar lubricant

  • Step 1: Clean your key. It might just be dirty
  • Step 2: Spray the key-hole with a little WD40. If you don't have any, buy them now
  • Step 3: Take the key inside and out several times
  • Step 4: Try unlocking the steering wheel again

Do note that this is more applicable to older cars from the 1990s or older.

>>> Related: 'My car won't start, steering wheel's locked. What should I do?' [Newbie Guide]

Method #2: Try inserting the key again

Sometimes, aged cars will have worn-out keyholes. For this method, follow these simple steps:

  • Step 1: Re-insert the key. If that doesn’t work on your first attempt, try wiggling the key a bit while gently rotating the steering wheel. If this works, it's either that the key is worn, or you might have to replace the ignition switch.
  • Step 2: If step 1 fails, check the key itself. If it is bent and just too worn out, it won’t be able to move the pins inside the ignition lock. If you have a spare key, this is the right time to use it. Also, consider that the pins of the ignition lock itself are also worn out. If this is the case, then proceed to Method number 3.

Method #3: The complicated way

If the first two steps failed, then you’ll have to replace the old ignition lock with a new one. This is also considered as the last resort especially if you managed to lose or break your car keys.

A picture of a diagram of a car's ignition switch and lock

A simple wiring diagram of the ignition switch and lock

>>> Related: Quick & easy guide to unlock your steering wheel

  • Step 1: For this, you’ll need to order a compatible ignition lock 
  • Step: 2: Engage the parking brake and disconnect the negative side of the car’s battery.
  • Step 3: Disassemble the steering column cover. 
  • Step 4: Usually, the ignition lock itself is positioned just after the ignition switch and will be connected to the latter. Disconnect it first and remember the matching wires. 
  • Step 5: You can then unscrew the old ignition lock and place it in the new one. Usually, it is locked in place by an allen-type screw. 
  • Step 6: Note that the new ignition locks need to be lubricated before installation. Just reverse the steps. Don’t forget to reconnect the car’s battery. 
  • Step 7: Try locking and unlocking your steering wheel to test if it works.
  • Step 8: Try starting your car to see if your installation job didn’t affect the car’s ignition switch.

Important reminders

As we’ve said, some of the methods of how to unlock a steering wheel without a key are only applicable to older cars. Also, there’s a fair chance that you might accidentally damage the components resting inside the steering column if you aren’t careful. 

To this end, we urge you to practice caution, and we also recommend getting the help of a professional. For more helpful car-related tips and tricks, keep reading here on

How to unlock a steering wheel without key: FAQ

1. What do I do if the car’s steering wheel locks up while driving?

Answer: If your car’s steering wheel locks up while driving, keep calm and try slowing down. If you can, try activating your hazard lights and flashing your headlamps to let other drivers know that something is wrong.

2. Why did my car’s steering wheel lock-up when driving?

Answer: You might have run out of power steering fluid, or the said fluid has gone dirty. It is also possible that some parts concerning the car’s steering mechanism are broken.

3. Are there automotive locksmiths in Metro Manila?

Answer: Usually, a dealership will have a certified automotive locksmith, or have one in contact. If not, then there’s Transponder Key Philippines, 5 Aces, among others.

4. What do I do if my car keys are loose and just wiggles around inside the key-hole?

Answer: If your car keys are too loose, then it might be time to replace the car keys, as well as the car’s ignition lock.

5. Why are modern car’s keys more expensive to replace?

Answer: Most modern cars use complicated systems for unlocking and starting. These are often electronic in nature, and are “married” to a car’s electronic control unit.

As such, these will have to be re-done when replacing it with a new one. Many also come with transmitters that have to be calibrated to work on your car.

Cesar G.B. Miguel

Cesar G.B. Miguel


Cesar Guiderone B. Miguel was born and raised in Iligan City, Lanao Del Norte. He graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in English degree from Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology. He previously worked as a freelance writer for various websites, as a member of the Iligan City Disaster Risk Reduction Management's training staff, and as a medical sales representative.


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