'96 Jeep Grand Cherokee Steering Wheel Locks Up While Driving

I have a 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. While driving the other day the steering wheel totally locked up. It was not like just losing power steering; you could not turn the wheel at all. I had the same thing happen 3 years ago and knew that if I turned off the car and restarted it the steering would unlock. I did that, it unlocked, and I continued on my way. A few blocks later, the wheel locked up again and this time the engine died after the wheel locked up. A few blocks more and it locked up a third time, the engine died, and I could not get the vehicle to restart for several minutes. The engine would turn over but it would not start. After finally getting it to start I pulled into a parking spot and called a tow truck. The mechanics have had it for several days and can not find anything wrong. It will not repeat this behavior and no codes come up on the computer. When this happened 3 years ago the same thing happened. The mechanics had it for several days and could never find anything wrong. I’ve been lucky so far in that this has only happened at low speeds and at places where there was not a high volume of traffic. I’m worried if it happens again I may not be so lucky. Does anyone out there have any ideas or suggestions? Thanks.

Sounds to me like there’s something wrong with the steering column. Is there any slop in it, by chance? For example, if you grab the steering wheel at 12 o’clock and push it up towards the windshield, does it move at all? It shouldn’t. If it does, and has been that way for a while, you may have damaged wiring in there, which could cause the engine to stall and not start. The locking up issue is mechanical inside the steering column. If your mechanic is not willing to tear into the steering column to try and fix the one in your Jeep, you may want to look into replacing the steering column with a used one. In fact, this option is probably more cost-effective than trying to fix the one in your Jeep. You would be looking at the price of a used steering column from a salvage yard, plus an hour or two labor to install it. Your key will stay the same since swapping the lock cylinder is also easily done.

I checked the steering column and it does not move at all. All seems to be okay there. The car has never been in an accident so I don’t think anything would have gotten knocked loose or damaged (in my old car, that had been in a few accidents, every time you went over the railroad tracks the windshield wipers would come on - always good for a laugh). My dad drove it around some more too and was unable to get it to repeat the behavior and also looked at the steering column. Any other ideas?

Could be as simple as the lock cylinder at the key the wheel locking portion of the ignition switch…they have been known to get sloppy… Other things like a loose screw fallen inside the area where the steering shaft it can lodge itself just so…and lock up… The other area to check is your U Joint on the steering shaft…before and aft of the firewall…any loose screw or nut in that assy and you get lockup also.

So…Key switch (likely)… Debris behind the steering wheel in the shaft area…(less likely). The U joints…(likely enough) …and IF you dont have rack and pinion…It could be the steering box…(due to rack unlikely) …but I think you have a rack.


I vaguely recall seeing this exact thing in a movie somewhere…your Jeep doesn’t happen to be red, does it…?