Unless you are parked or have a steering wheel lock installed, there should be know reason for your steering wheel to lock up while driving. Once it becomes locked in position, attempting to drive on the road is virtually impossible.
Depending upon the severity of the malfunction, you may be able to switch the car on and off to unlock it. However, if the steering wheel remains permanently locked up and refuses to move, it will need recovering by a tow truck that lifts the front axle.
If you have experienced a steering wheel that has locked up whilst you are driving your car, below are some of the potential causes.
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Causes of a Steering Wheel Locking While Driving
1. Powering Steering Pump Issues
One of the most common causes of the steering wheel locking up while driving is due to the power steering pump. It can become jammed, which may be caused from frequent sharp turns, low power steering fluid or complete failure.
Although while you are driving, it may feel like your steering wheel is completely locked up, it may not be the case. As with many classic cars, you can still steering your car without power steering fluid and all that is needed is a bit of muscle.
A method of self-diagnosing power steering failure is by listening under the hood for any abnormally loud whining noises. This is a sign of the pump attempting to function but failing.
2. Hit a Pothole or Sharply Turned
Abrupt sharp turns or unavoidable potholes can occasionally cause the steering wheel to lock up while driving. The sudden movement can cause the power steering pump to jam (as mentioned above) and damage other steering components. Unless you are taking your car on track or rally driving, you should be able to avoid sharp turns and potholes.
3. Faulty Ignition Lock Cylinder
The ignition lock cylinder begins to wear from age and can become very problematic. While driving, it may also suddenly lock up whilst taking a sharp turn, which can be very dangerous depending upon your speed and location.
Although fairly rare, the ignition lock may begin to give you symptoms that it’s failing. You may be lucky enough to take the key in and out of the ignition and restart the car but this isn’t always the case. If the steering wheel locks in position is due to the ignition lock cylinder, you may find yourself needing to change the ignition system and the key.
4. Problems with the Steering Rack
The steering rack is a major component that connects the steering wheel to the steering system of the car. If there is any issue with the rack, it can cause multiple issues with the cars steering such as locking up while driving and it may be difficult to repair at the roadside.
5. Electronic Malfunctions
Electrical malfunctions can happen unexpectedly and as most steering systems use plenty of electronics, it can also cause unwanted steering problems whilst driving.
If this has occurred previously while driving and you have managed to get the car home or to a garage, we advise you use a car scan tool. This will hopefully lead you to the exact issue that caused the problem as it was an electronic malfunction rather than mechanical.
Without having fully functioning steering, its not safe to drive on the road and it’s advised to have a recovery truck take your car to the garage. The five causes listed above are the main reasons for your steering will to lock up while driving. However, as car become more complex, there may be a whole host on additional causes.