Understanding the Behavior of Your Theft Protection Steering Lock System

Last Updated on November 10, 2020

The Automobile Safety Foundation argues that steering wheel lock systems are inherently unsafe. This information leads me to believe that all US manufacturers have discontinued this anti-theft feature, replacing it with the electronic immobilizer system.

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However, that doesn’t seem to be entirely true. It appears that Toyotas still had this feature as recently as 2018 and that may be the case with others as well. With the procedure below, owners can experience what it would be like. 

How to Test Your Ignition Switch Steering Lock System

Two questions regarding your car’s theft protection steering lock system:  Does the wheel lock when straight ahead or turned partially to the left or right?

Your owner’s manual or a call to your dealer may be able to answer this question. If these avenues are not fruitful you can perform this simple test:

  1. Park your car on a level smooth surface, e.g., your garage, driveway or curbside.
  2. Unfold a newspaper and place a section of about eight pages in thickness directly in front of each of the front tires.
  3. Drive forward just enough to get the front tires centered on the newspapers. Put the transmission in neutral (not Park) and set the parking brake. Turn off the engine. Do not remove the key.
    • Note: The newspapers beneath the tires will ease the force required to turn the wheel. This step will give you an idea of how difficult it will be to steer the car if your power steering fails. You will note the benefit of steering with two hands.
  4. Now with the key still in the ignition, turn the wheel to the right about one full turn; then back to center. Then turn to the left about one full turn; then back to center. The steering lock, if operating properly, will not engage during this process.
  5. Now shift the transmission to park. Remove the key from the ignition. Repeat your turn to either the left or right attempting to make one full turn. 
  6. The lock should engage with an audible ‘Click’ and the wheel will then be impossible to turn in any direction. This may occur with the wheel almost straight ahead. Or it may occur with the wheel turned from 30 to 45 degrees off center.
  7. To unlock the steering wheel, turn the wheel slightly; it will move somewhat freely a small amount in just one direction. While holding the wheel in this position, turn the ignition on. This will unlock the wheel. Return the steering to the straight ahead position. Move the car and dispose of the newspapers.

What to Expect if Your Steering Wheel Locks Up While Driving

This little exercise will show you how this type of failure of the theft protection system will make maneuvering the car impossible while rolling down the highway. This also explains why many manufacturers no longer provide this type of anti-theft system in their new cars. 

See Also: Steering Wheel Locks Up While Driving (Causes and What to Do)

Some new cars still retain a steering wheel lock system for theft protection. The scope of this article makes listing all such makes and models impossible. However you can perform the same steering lock test we just discussed to determine if your car has such a system and if it is operating properly. Here’s how:

  1. Follow steps 1 through 3 above. Then…
  2. With the engine off and the key fob in your pocket (or key in the ignition, if applicable, and ignition turned on), turn the wheel to the right about one full turn; then back to center. Then turn to the left about one full turn; then back to center. The steering lock, if present and operating properly, will not engage during this process. 
  3. With the engine off, exit the car. Close the door. Place the key fob (or ignition key) inside your home or 100 feet or more away from your car. Re-enter the car. Close the door. Repeat your turn to the left or right attempting to make one full turn.
  4. If your car is equipped with a steering wheel lock, it should engage with an audible ‘Click’ and the wheel will then be impossible to turn in any direction. This may occur with the wheel almost straight ahead. Or it may occur with the wheel turned from 30 to 45 degrees off center.
  5. To unlock the steering wheel, follow the prompts provided in the car’s information display panel.
  6. Be aware that this test will be of no value whatsoever if your car has a locking system but that system is not functioning or is defective. In this case or for theft protection system questions, contact your dealer.
 

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