Steering Wheel Locked Up
It can be disconcerting, even frightening, when the steering wheel fails to respond suddenly. The good news is that these problems are not only rare but often have affordable solutions as well.
Following is a list of the four most common reasons for your steering wheel to lock up or bind. You can experience this while driving, but you can also experience it while the engine is turned off and your car is parked.
Reasons about why steering wheel locked up
There is a possibility that your steering wheel could lock up while you’re driving, even though it’s doubtful. You may experience steering wheel lockups for several reasons, as follows:
· Failed power steering
In the unlikely event that your power steering system fails, your steering wheel may not lock up, but it will likely feel cumbersome – to the point where you may feel that your steering has locked up. Vehicles equipped with power steering mechanisms have been designed to operate only when hydraulic pressure is applied to assist in turning the wheels.
The loss of pressure can also occur due to damage to one or more power steering pipes, resulting in the loss of power steering fluid and pressure. The steering wheel should still be functional in such a case, but you might need to use much more force to turn it than usual.
· Failure of the electronic ignition system
A malfunctioning electronic ignition system in your car may cause the pin to engage with the key while you are still driving. This pin is only supposed to engage when the ignition is turned off; however, it can engage due to a failure of the electrical ignition circuit or to a mechanical failure of the pin itself. You would not be able to use the steering wheel again no matter how much force you exerted on it.
· The steering column or rack-and-pinion assembly has developed a mechanical fault
The steering mechanism can lose its ability to steer if one of the many mechanical components fails. It could also be due to a failure or damage in the steering column itself (the rod and universal joint that connects the steering wheel to the rack-and-pinion assembly), a failure in one or more of the gears, or a failure in one or more of the tie rod arms that connect the rack and pinion to the wheel.
In addition to sudden, sharp loads on the steering assembly (perhaps due to driving over a large rock or hitting a severe pothole), a mechanical failure may result from fatigue failure in one of the components (where excessive cycling creates negative and positive stress on a component). It is good news that this is highly unlikely, as most steering components in modern vehicles are highly protected and designed to last the vehicle’s lifetime under normal or even heavy usage.
What should you do when the steering wheel is locked up?
The obvious recommendation is to stop your car as soon as possible and try to get your vehicle off the road. It is best to leave your car where it stands if this is not possible and retreat to a safe place away from traffic. Break down services should tow your vehicle to the nearest repair center if you cannot drive the vehicle there.
· Make sure your power steering fluid is full
A small reservoir (75mm in diameter) with a clear liquid inside is found under the hood of all vehicles with power steering. You will find this fluid by checking under the hood. There should be a label on the reservoir and a maximum and minimum level indicator on the side. Check first to see if there is anything inside this reservoir; then see if the fluid level is between the maximum and minimum.
A lack of fluid in the reservoir indicates a leak in the system. The reservoir can be refilled with power steering fluid (available from most garages and service centers), and the level should remain the same. The steering should then work again. A rapid drop in the level of the fluid is an indication of a leak in one of the hydraulic steering pipes.
· Look under your car for the steering mechanism
Look underneath your car to see if the rack and pinion steering assembly or any tie rod arms connecting the front wheels have been damaged. Look closely at any exposed components as these are the most likely to have been damaged mechanically. Your car’s steering column will be concealed within the dashboard, so you won’t be able to examine it directly.
· Check your car’s wiring
Your car’s battery may have been shorted due to bad wiring or excessive heat near the engine. Smoke or burn marks around the wiring should indicate this if this is the case. The ignition system can malfunction due to an electrical short, which can lead to the failure of the steering lock mechanism. Any signs of an electrical malfunction should be reported to a repair shop so that you can disconnect the battery.
What will it cost to fix it?
It will depend on the specific problem you have how much it will cost to fix it. A leak of hydraulic power steering fluid would cost between €25 and €75 at a repair shop for the pipe or seal to be replaced and the power steering fluid added to the reservoir. You may only have to spend five to ten euros if you can do it yourself.
The pump or other hydraulic components may be damaged if your system runs completely dry. Changing the pump is much more expensive, and you could expect to pay around €150 at a repair shop. Repairs at a service center may cost between €200 and €400 if structural damage has been done to the rack-and-pinion assembly beneath your car.
When the steering lock mechanism needs to be replaced or repaired, you could expect to pay between €200 and €300 at a service center. There is also a high likelihood of this depending on the car model you drive since some manufacturers only sell the whole steering column as a single unit, so you cannot just replace the lock mechanism. In this case, the price you could pay would be significantly higher than €300.