Key wouldn't turn in ignition.
August 16, 2007 8:57 AM   Subscribe

The key in my wife's Camry wouldn't turn until I jiggled the steering wheel.

The key was locked solid, wouldn't budge at all. Eventually I gave the steering wheel a good shake and then it worked fine. Key turns normally right now.

The steering wheel was more or less straight; that is the key hadn't been turned off with the wheels hard to one side or the other. If it matters, we don't have a heavy keychain or anything so seemingly no inordinate wear the lock mechanism but it is a 10-year old car.

I read this previous post but it didn't seem exactly the same. Ours didn't wiggle at all.

Is there any chance this was just a fluke? The local mechanic said it'd cost $200-300 to fix and that seems a bit pricey. On the flip side, its my wife's car and we have an eight month-old and I don't want her to get stuck anywhere. Any thoughts?
posted by codswallop to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
It could be the interlock that locks the steering wheel. Did you have to shake the wheel, or was it more of a turning to one side and the other?
posted by Futurehouse at 9:04 AM on August 16, 2007

Sometimes the steering wheel anti-theft locking mechanism binds up and you can't get the key out. It happens on lots of cars and the fix is usually to jiggle the steering wheel. I wouldn't worry about it until it starts happening all the time, and by then your ignition key switch will probably be so worn out you could start the car without a key anyway.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:04 AM on August 16, 2007

It's actually a feature, not a bug. Many years ago, it was mandated that a vehicle's steering wheel could not be allowed to turn when the key was not in the ignition (which at the time killed the all-cool dash mounted ignition!). The mechanism used in most cars to "lock" the wheel also will back-drive the ignition cylinder in some instances. I've found it happens more if I turn the key to the key-removal position while I'm still applying turning pressure to the wheel.
posted by notsnot at 9:08 AM on August 16, 2007

I agree that it's a very common thing to have happen--I've had it happen on every car I've ever driven.

A friend of mine recently had it happen for the first time, and she freaked out....very simple fix though, you just have to wiggle the wheel, like you said you did.

I've had it happen once or twice where both the key and the wheel lock--those are always a little harder to get out of, but if you simultaneously jiggle the wheel and the key, it'll eventually work.

Nothing to be afraid of, and a $200-300 repair would be a rip-off for something that doesn't happen often and is easy to fix.
posted by DMan at 9:08 AM on August 16, 2007

Happens to my 93 camry once in a while. When it first happened the car was relatively new and I called my camry dealer and he said it was intentional. Whenever it happens now I just do what you did. By the way, this 93 camry of mine is unstoppable and will outlive me and everyone I know.
posted by neustile at 9:09 AM on August 16, 2007

My car enables the steering wheel lock if I turn the steering wheel while the key is not present (for example, by knocking it while trying to drag shopping bags over from the passenger seat).

After this, the car behaves as you describe.
posted by emilyw at 9:13 AM on August 16, 2007

If the wheel gets stuck enough not to allow you to move it at all in order to start the ignition, try putting the car in neutral and rolling it back a bit until you can move the wheel and start the car.

But otherwise a yank on the wheel while jimmying the ignition should work (as said above).
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:17 AM on August 16, 2007

I would just like to corroborate the people upthread who have said this is designed in, much like the irritating whistle of brakes that are past their prime. I had this happen to me in a parking lot as it was getting dark and I called my dad in a panic. He pretty much treated me like a foolish child about the whole thing and assured me that the solution was to not act so weird that the car thought I was trying to steal it.

'95 Corolla, BTW.
posted by crinklebat at 9:50 AM on August 16, 2007

This happened to me a lot with my '88 Corsica when I had it (I miss that car). And it happens sometimes now with various cars that I carshare. I wouldn't worry about it, just remember that you have to really crank the wheel hard to get the key to turn, and that sometimes you have to turn the key and the wheel at the same time. No worries.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:59 AM on August 16, 2007

'94 Pickup, '03 Tacoma. I get the same thing.
posted by LionIndex at 10:02 AM on August 16, 2007

Turn the key so you're applying gentle pressure at whatever point it's stopping, then shake the wheel. Trying to do this in reverse order (wheel then key) is about nine times harder, especially if you're a smallish person without a lot of arm muscle.

And yeah, "feature" not "bug".
posted by anaelith at 10:17 AM on August 16, 2007

It is a feature part of the steering wheel locking mechanism. You're supposed to unlock it by moving the steering wheel and turning the key in the ignition. The steering wheel locks if you stop the car, remove the key and move the wheel on purpose - in some cars you can hear the "click" it does. The people charging you to "fix" this "problem" are trying to get money out of your wallet and sell you some snake oil.
posted by fredoliveira at 10:30 AM on August 16, 2007

Thank you all, you are the finest assemblage of humans ever...assembled.

It just seems weird that we've been driving this car for 11 years really and never noticed it. But, upon reflection, it _did_ feel more locked than broken. I'll recommend to the missus that we roll with it and see what happens.

Thanks again.
posted by codswallop at 10:42 AM on August 16, 2007

This behavior is described in my Saturn's owner manual.
posted by Partial Law at 11:23 AM on August 16, 2007

It's called steering lock, and, as it was related to me, it's a feature put in place to prevent runaway cars in hilly areas. In places like San Francisco drivers are urged to "curb your wheels," or turn the wheels so that if the parking brake fails the car will come to rest against the curb rather than careening down the hill. Steering lock ensures that the wheels stay curbed.
posted by lekvar at 11:42 AM on August 16, 2007

If this was steering lock, wouldn't you have noticed by now? Every car I've owned has had one.

A tale though. I had a Ford, had a "knack" to start it. You had to turn the key and jiggle the steering wheel just so. Kept getting worse 'til one day it just wouldn't work. I was parked in a no park zone (just for a minute, honest), on a Monday morning rush hour. Had to pay for a tow, grovel to a parking attendant to avoid a fine and pay £50ish for the repair from a very cheap (in a good way) mechanic who managed to salvage some parts from the disintegrated starting lock.
posted by zingzangzung at 2:17 PM on August 16, 2007

'99 Corolla, same thing -- just to chime in. All my other Corollas have done it, too, as does my mom's Ford Taurus (but hers is way more obnoxious about it) and my former roommate's '99 Corolla...
posted by at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2007

There is a steering lock on most cars. If you happen to have the wheel cranked to one side so there is pressure on the key mech. when you remove the key, it will do exactly as you described. i've had it happen in nearly every car I've owned.

Don't worry about it, just know that if the key won't turn, the first thing to try is to put pressure on the wheel in one direction or the other..

not broken...!
posted by HuronBob at 5:20 PM on August 16, 2007

This happened to my Camry once and I ended up having to catch a ride to school that day. When I got home later that day we called a tow truck to tow it to the dealer because we couldn't figure out why the heck the key wouldn't turn. The tow truck driver arrived and after we explained our situation she sat in my car and immediately got the car to start. Embarrassing. She explained that something happens when the steering wheel it turned a certain way (sorry, this was about five years ago) and if you turn the steering wheel to the left while turning the key at the same time it'll get 'un-stuck.'
posted by zippity at 8:25 PM on August 16, 2007

Nah, it's a mechanical problem. We used it several times today and it kinda hiccupped several times; didn't want to go but then it did.

All the steering wheel lock posts made me hopeful, but we would've noticed before now.

posted by codswallop at 9:44 PM on August 16, 2007

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