Jeep Wrangler Steering Won’t Lock/Unlock

Are you experiencing problems with your Jeep Wrangler steering not locking up when you remove the key? How do you know if your model Jeep is equipped with a passive steering wheel lock? Which components need replacement when you have steering lock issues? Are you planning on flat towing your 4-wheel drive and have concerns about the steering locking up? Has your steering wheel locked and refuses to unlock at all?

Jeep Wranglers that were built prior to 2009 were equipped with the mechanical steering wheel lock mechanism. If your steering wheel fails to lock up your ignition lock assembly needs replacement.

So when the steering wheel fails to lock after you’ve removed the key, how can we rectify it?

Jeep Wrangler Steering Wheel Won’t Lock

So you’ve removed the key, however, your Wrangler steering wheel no longer locks up. The Wranglers are equipped with a passive steering wheel locking mechanism. It is an anti-theft device that is designed to stop the steering wheel from turning without the key inserted. So, if for example, you don’t lock your steering and a thief attempts to steal your vehicle and turns the steering wheel a half-turn in any direction, without the key in the ignition, the steering wheel will lock.

If a thief attempts to steal your vehicle and turns the steering wheel a half-turn in any direction, without the key in the ignition, the steering wheel will lock.

Let’s briefly look at the correct locking and unlocking procedure.

Steering Wheel Locking Procedure


If you want to manually lock the steering wheel, follow the below steps.

Manual Lock Procedure

  • With the engine running align the steering in the straight position and rotate it one-half revolution to the left or right.
  • Turn the engine off and remove the key
  • Turn the steering slightly in both directions a few times until the locking mechanism engages
  • Once you hear the lock click in place the steering will be fixed in position.

Manual Unlock Procedure

  • Insert the key and simultaneously rotate the steering wheel slightly
    to the left or right, to disengage the lock.
  • If you turn the wheel to the right to engage
    the lock, you must turn the wheel slightly to the right to
    disengage it.

The same applies to the left – If you turn the wheel to the left to engage
the lock, turn the wheel slightly to the left to disengage it.

  • You now proceed to start the engine

If you’ve carried out the manual locking procedure as outlined above and your steering wheel lock still fails to engage, then we need to investigate the locking mechanism.

Faulty Key/Lock Ignition Assembly on the Column

The steering wheel locking mechanism is located on the steering column and functions very similar to a regular door lock assembly.  It consists of a plate located on the bottom of the assembly that the key mechanism inserts/slides into. There is a spring located directly underneath the plate that engages while the engine is switched off and in park mode. It is separate from the steering clock spring.

A clock spring, on the other hand, is a special rotary electrical connector that allows a vehicle’s steering wheel to turn while still making an electrical connection between the steering wheel airbag and/or the vehicle’s horn and other devices and the vehicle’s electrical systems

Locking Steering discontinued
All Jeeps built prior to 2009 have a manual locking steering mechanism. The Pre-09 User manual says the following:

Your vehicle may be equipped with a passive steering wheel lock (manual transmission only). This lock prevents steering the vehicle without the ignition key. If the steering wheel is moved a half turn in either direction and the key is not in the ignition, the steering wheel will lock.


Jeep has phased out manual steering locking mechanisms since 2009. This is effective across all models of Jeeps and can be seen in the Case Number as taken from the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep technician helpline.

Case Number K05695435
Vehicle Issue Steering wheel does not lock.; Turn the steering wheel to the full right, hold and turn off the vehicle to see if the steering wheel locks.
System or Component Will Not Lock / Engage; Customer Concern (No DTCs); Column, Steering Wheel; Yes – Continuously
Recommendation 2009, Wranglers no longer have locking steering columns, compare this with another 2009 Wrangler. No repairs are needed.
Modification Date 06/29/09 2:00 PM

So if you own a pre-09 model Wrangler and the steering doesn’t lock, take note that it is designed to operate that way. You do not have a problem.

If however you own a pre-09 model and are interested in flat towing, then the next section is for you.

Steering Lock and Flat Towing

Flat-towing anything can be a daunting task, even for the most experienced drivers. Flat towing a 4WD adds another level of complexity with the steering thrown into the equation. No doubt, if you are preparing to flat tow your Jeep Wrangler for the first time, you’ve most likely familiarized yourself with the Owner’s Manual to get some insight regarding the best practices.

The owner’s manual will specifically state, amongst other things, that the key needs to be left in the ignition while towing, and turned to the ‘Accessory’ setting. This will prevent the steering from locking up while driving.

Automatic Transmission Ignition Interlock System

What about automatic transmission Steering wheels locking up? If you own a pre-09 automatic and you’ve somehow managed to lock the steering in a certain position by turning the steering full in one direction and switching off the vehicle, this section could shed some light.  

In this instance, your ignition key might not be able to unlock it. No amount of shaking and yanking will release the steering. The automatic transmission gear will be “stuck” in the park, which is normal.

Why is this the case?

Let’s see what the 2018 owner’s manual has to say.   

It states the following, under the section, Steering wheel locked- if equipped, (Automatic Transmission Ignition Interlock System)

This system prevents the key from being removed unless the shifter lever is in PARK. It also says ‘It also prevents shifting out of PARK unless the key is in the ON/RUN position, and the brake pedal is depressed.

So 3 things need to happen before you can unlock the steering and start the vehicle.

  1. The vehicle must be in PARK
  2. The ignition must be in the ON/RUN position
  3. The BRAKE PEDAL must be depressed.

What happens when your Jeep Wrangler Clock Spring Goes Bad

The component responsible for connecting various electrical devices to the steering wheel is called the clock spring. When your clock spring starts playing up, it usually results in a string of issues.

  1. Airbag Safety system warning appearing
  2. Horn functions intermittently or only when the steering is turned in a specific direction
  3. Radio Volume buttons malfunction
  4. Cruise control malfunction

These are all signs that point to the Clockspring that needs replacement.


Step 1Remove knee blocker cover and knee blocker
Step 2Remove lower column shroud
Step 3Remove the steering coupler bolt and column mounting nuts and lower column.
Step 4Remove upper column shroud
Step 5Disconnect and remove the wiring harness from the column
Step 6Remove column.
Step 7Remove switches and clock spring.
Step 8Install replacement clock spring


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Jeep Wrangler key/Lock assembly

Jeep Wrangler 07-18 remote start kit

Jeep Wrangler JL/Gladiator Key fob replacement

Jeep Wrangler Clockspring replacement

Jeep Wrangler Ignition Switch Actuator Pin


We’ve identified the device known as the Key Lock assembly to be the faulty component when your Jeep Wrangler fails to lock its steering. We know this is an issue on all pre-09 model Wranglers and Jeeps in general. If you drive an automatic transmission Wrangler and your steering has jammed locked, you need to investigate the Ignition interlock system. Make sure you are following the correct procedure when attempting to unlock the AT steering by placing your foot on the BRAKE, turning to the ON position, and Making sure it’s in PARK.

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

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