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Can Steering Wheel Lock While Driving?

can-steering-wheel-lock-while-driving

Have you ever tried to swerve your car, and suddenly wondered can steering wheel lock while driving? It is quite a scary situation to imagine, don’t you think?

Yes. A steering wheel can get locked when you are driving. However, it happens very rarely and can be fixed easily.

Here is our piece on locked steering wheels. Read on to gain awareness.

What happens at the time of a lock?

A power steering system comes with a number of features. But when affected by certain factors, it causes malfunctioning in a localized area, which spreads to the whole system.

shocked-driver-for-locking-steering-during-driving

While driving, due to any number of reasons ranging from bad maintenance to sudden impact, the steering system may fail and halt its functioning. This causes the wheel to jam and freeze in its position, thus creating a lock.

What is a Power Steering System?

To understand the process of a steering wheel lock, we must first understand the types of steering wheels and their working mechanisms.

Steering systems can be broadly classified into two: Power Steering, Manual Steering.

Power steering systems come in different types too.

  • Hydraulic power steering
  • Electric power steering
  • Electro-hydraulic power steering

The average car has hydraulic power steering wheels.

What are the major differences between power steering and manual steering?

Power SteeringManual Steering
It reduces the amount of manual effort required to steer the vehicle.It requires the operator to provide all the effort involved in its functioning. The driver is responsible for 100% of the steering motion.
It is better at absorbing sudden impact and shock on uneven roads and surfaces. Moreover, the steering has a dedicated suspension system built in.It calls for a bumpy ride, as there is no suspension system in place to check bumps and holes. Natural suspension does not count for much here.
The wheels face resistance on the road. Power steering brings in a system of checks to nullify this on the driver’s side.On-road resistance to the wheels does translate to steering.
It ensures quicker steering overall.Steering is slower and more laborious.

What are the reasons your steering wheel might lock?

Why, then, does a power steering system lock? It depends.

Very rarely, power steering systems lock for no real reason at all. But most of the time, you can attribute a lock to the following factors.

car-steering-locked-while-girl-driving-a-car

An issue with the steering pump or leakage of steering fluid

This issue is prominent in hydraulic power steering systems. Hydraulic power steering systems use a configuration of linkage fluid and a steering pump that pressurizes the fluid in order to operate the wheels.

The steering fluid is used to create a hydraulic bond with the two front wheels of the vehicle. In most cases, the engine uses up the rear wheels and the front wheels are occupied by the steering system to facilitate turning. Further, the fluid also acts as a lubricant for the interior parts of the system, reducing friction and ensuring smooth steering.

The power steering pump is used for steering assist. It pressurizes the power steering fluid and induces the turning movement in the wheels according to the input from the driver. This system of components is still quite human-operated.

When there is a leakage of the fluid or a sudden stoppage of the pump, there is reduced or zero steering assist in the operation, and the steering is locked.

Suspension problems

We have known the vehicle’s suspension to act up and cause the wheel to jam in a few cases.

A problem in the rack or the column

The steering column is the long rod to which the steering wheel is attached. It is fitted to the steering rack at the other end.

The steering rack is the component responsible for the conversion of the rotational motion of the steering wheel into the angular motion of the front wheels to enable turning. Moreover, it also expedites gear shifting, which is used to toggle the sensitivity of movement by rotation of the steering wheel.

A problem in any of these two components may cause the steering to lock.

Ignition-induced lockup

Vehicles run on internal combustion engines. IC engines consist of a piston-cylinder arrangement in which there is an upward-downward movement of the piston along with the cylinder, ending in a stroke. A series of strokes end in a cycle, where there is compression or injection of fuel (depending on whether the fuel is petrol or diesel), resulting in its ignition. This starts the next cycle, a series of which is then converted from linear to rotational motion.

This mechanism is affected when there are fissures and irregularities in any of the components as a result of this cyclical movement.

This causes a failure in the ignition system and makes turning the key useless. In addition, when the vehicle is already in motion while this happens, it can cause a lockup of the steering wheel.

Sudden movements

Jerks, sudden turns, and unexpected impulse effects can also cause the steering to react in defence, by locking itself up.

How to Fix Steering Wheel Locking?

While the best way to handle a steering wheel lock while in motion is to gradually slow your car down and bring it to a halt on the side of the road, this may not always be possible.

The next best thing to do is to keep calm and keep trying to move the steering wheel gently. Do not apply excessive force while in a lock, as a sudden unlock could cause your wheel to move suddenly in the direction of the force, resulting in a sharp turn that may end in an accident or you losing control of the vehicle.

All the while, your priority should be to bring the vehicle to a stop, as it is not much you can do while in motion. Keep this in mind while trying to disengage the lock as mentioned above, and make sure to let the others on the road know that you are facing an issue so that they can maintain a safe distance.

Conclusion

While an extremely rare occurrence, a steering lock can claim lives on the road. We have listed ways to handle a steering lock, but as the saying goes, prevention is better than the cure.

Keep all parts of your car well maintained and well-oiled. Take your vehicle for regular servicing and checkups and ensure that your steering system is not suffering from fatigue.

If you are a car buff and know your way around a car, you can also try servicing your steering system with expert guidance. On Amazon, you can use quality steering fluid such as Prestone AS260 Power Steering Fluid.

Do check the specifications of your power steering before deciding what fluid to use. Happy driving!

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