How Do You Fix a Locked Steering Wheel on a Jeep Cherokee?

It’s happened to nearly all of us at one time or another. You get in your car, put the key in the ignition, and begin to turn the key, except that it won’t turn.

It will rotate a fraction of an inch and then stop, frozen in place by a force you can’t override. Chrysler Jeep owners are familiar with the issue, particularly Jeep Cherokee owners.

How Do You Fix a Locked Steering Wheel on a Jeep Cherokee?

How do you fix a locked steering wheel on a Jeep Cherokee? You fix a locked steering wheel on a Jeep Cherokee by replacing the ignition cylinder. That is the permanent solution. It’s not a do-it-yourself repair job in most cases.

A temporary fix can often be achieved by rocking the steering wheel back and forth while turning the key.

Another technique that sometimes produces results is to push the key as far into the slot as possible and try to rotate the starter switch.

Stuck Steering Wheel – Jeep Cherokee

The notion that Jeep Cherokee owners experience a lot of locked steering wheel instances is due to simple math – there are a lot of Jeep Cherokees on the road.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Jeep Cherokee are the numbers 1 and 3 best-selling Jeeps, based on figures compiled in 2017.

In all likelihood, the percentage of Jeeps experiencing issues with locked steering wheels is no greater than with other makes and models. In fact, it’s probably less than many makes and models.

The Ignition Cylinder

The problem with a locked steering wheel isn’t the wheel. It’s the ignition cylinder.

The ignition cylinder is called upon several times every single day, in all kinds of weather in all kinds of situations – thousands of times a year. Dirt, debris, sweat, soda pop, milkshakes, french fry salt, grease, sugar, and more can collect through the slot that you push the key through.

A key works when lock pins rise up to fill the corresponding gaps in the key’s surface. When all the pins are engaged, the mechanism is able to turn. When they don’t, it won’t turn.

Grungy ignition switches are often so gunked up, the pins don’t slide into place, so the lock cylinder won’t turn.

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The Ultimate Repair – Replace the Ignition Cylinder

While temporary, get-you-out-of-a-jam solutions exist for a locked steering wheel, keep in mind that they are temporary. 

Chances are great that the problem will return, and the longer you go without seeking a permanent repair, the more often the steering wheel will lock up again.

It could finally reach a point that no amount of tricks or techniques will unlock the steering wheel. When this happens, you truly are stuck, and you’ll have to have your car towed to a repair shop.

Unless you are particularly adept at mechanical repairs, this is not a DIY project.  The list below shows the process by which a lock cylinder can be replaced.

Perhaps the most difficult part is removing the steering wheel, which has been packed on fast to the steering column for years.

Special tools are often needed to remove the steering wheel, and that eats into the money you might save by doing the job yourself.

Replacing the lock cylinder.

  • Disconnect the positive battery lead.
  • Remove the steering wheel.
  • Remove the wheel lock.
  • Remove the turn signal mechanism.
  • Remove the lock cylinder.
  • Insert the new lock cylinder into the place where you removed the old one.
  • Reconnect the positive battery lead, but don’t tighten all the way.
  • Test the new lock cylinder with a key to make sure the car will start.
  • Disconnect the positive battery lead.
  • Reassemble the turn signal mechanism, the wheel lock, and the steering wheel, tightening all set screws until everything is tight.
  • Reconnect the positive battery lead, tightening the retaining bolt snugly.

Removing the Steering Wheel

Probably the biggest obstacle to the project is removing the steering wheel. By design, it’s not supposed to come off easily. Auto parts stores sell specialized steering wheel removal tools. Some even rent them or loan them.

Essentially, you have to be able to pull on the steering wheel while pushing on the hub in the center. The tools they sell for this task have pairs of opposing bolts that work in opposite directions.

You can even fabricate a device with bolts and a wood block that would work if the bolts work as expected.

Again, it goes to the amount of trouble you would be willing to go through to save a trip to the repair shop.

Removing the Wheel Lock

The wheel lock is a metal disc that presses against the steering wheel base to prevent it from turning.  It is pulled back when the key turns, releasing the steering wheel to turn freely. 

It is removed in much the same manner – with a special tool – but it should be easier to remove than the steering wheel typically is. There is a C-pin that you pull with a pair of pliers to allow the release of the unit.

Removing the Turn Signal Mechanism and the Lock Cylinder

You don’t have to totally remove the turn signal mechanism, but you do have to loosen it to the point where you can move it out of the way of a set screw that holds the lock cylinder in place. The screw is tricky to get to and to turn, so be patient. 

With one hand holding a slotted screwdriver and the other on the cylinder exterior, turn the screw to the left until the cylinder is loose enough to be removed.

Installing the New Cylinder

There are notches in the mounting area that must line up with tabs on the cylinder, or the cylinder will not go all the way in.

You will, of course, have new keys for the lock cylinder. Temporarily reconnect the positive battery lead. Insert a key into the slot and turn the ignition. If you have done everything properly, the car should start.

Put it All Back Together

In reverse order of disassembly, reassemble everything you removed or loosened or moved out of the way.

While you have everything open and have access to the inner workings of your steering wheel and post, clean any grunge that has accumulated.

Reconnect the positive battery lead, close the hood, and you’re good to go!

Let the Pros Do It

Leaving your Jeep Cherokee with a trusted auto repair facility for an ignition cylinder lock replacement is highly recommended.  As repair costs go, it’s not that bad – around $200 on average.

There are variances to the final cost of the repairs from shop to shop, and typically, dealers’ repair bills run a little higher, but it is still worth it to have your car repaired at a shop unless you have plenty of time and mechanical skills (and maybe a special tool or two).

The Temporary Fixes

Among the most frustrating mishaps a driver can encounter – after a flat tire and dead battery – is a locked-up steering wheel.

These instances never occur at a convenient time, and being able to summon professional help on a timely basis isn’t always possible.

But in more cases than not, you can get the steering wheel unstuck. 

The first and most popular method is to work the steering wheel back and forth while doing the same with the key slot.

The problem is the wheel lock is clamped down too firmly on the steering wheel flange. The motion should lift the wheel lock from its grip and allow the wheel, and the lock cylinder to turn.

If this fails, push the key in firmly to make sure it contacts all the lock pins. It may help to “hammer” it in with a rubber mallet (which you may not have if you’re on the road), or use something that will shove it deeper into the slot.

Lastly, don’t assume that once you get going again, that the problem was a fluke that won’t ever be repeated.  If it happened once, it can happen again.  So go for the permanent fix as soon as you can.

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