Steering Wheel Lock Failure

2009-2011 Nissan Owners With Push Button Ignitions Left Stranded

Nissan owners have been fed up with not being able to start their cars. In fact, you probably don’t want to get them started on it. However, a new service campaign means defective steering locks will at least be fixed in the 2009-2010 Altima and Maxima.

The Problem: Defective Electronic Steering Column Lock

For years, there have been widespread defects in the Electronic Steering Column Lock (ESCL) that disabled the push-button ignition in a wide range of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.

The ESCL’s primary job is to keep the steering wheel locked until you bring your key fob in range of the vehicle. It’s meant to prevent theft. Once the ESCL detects the your key fob, it unlocks the steering wheel and lets you go on your merry way.

But it doesn’t always work.

You might as well have one of these on (kids ask your parents)

Even with the fob present and working[1], the ESCL won’t detect it and, therefore, won’t release it’s iron grip on the wheel. In essence, it thinks you’re a thief and it won’t let you leave. That's why you'll also see this problem referred to as a defective anti-theft passlock.

At least it doesn’t call the cops (save that for a future “Internet-connected” model).

“A snowy morning on my way to work, stopped at the convenience store, came back out and tried to start the car, a key light was flashing on the dash, brake was hard to press. The car would not start, doors would unlock with the fob but the car would do nothing. I Googled the [problem and] I was shocked at all the complaints on the same malfunction

The Most Affected Models

Model Generation Worst Years
370Z 1 2009, 2010, 2011
Altima 4 2008, 2009, 2010
Cube 3 2009, 2010
Maxima 7 2009, 2010

Nissan's Service Campaign

About 243,000 owners received good news when Nissan agreed to issue a ESCL service campaign for the 2009-2010 Altima, Altima Hybrid, and Maxima.

While it's not a recall, as part of the "service campaign" Nissan has agreed to replce the originaly steering lock with a new electronic steering column box for free:

"The electronic steering column box will replace the ESCL assembly but will no longer lock the steering wheel when the car is parked and turned off. The automaker says the steering wheel locking function is not necessary because the Altima and Maxima are equipped with anti-theft immobilizers to help prevent theft."

Owners who have already paid for repairs will be reimbursed, if they can show proof of the repairs.

Nissan’s Previous Warranty Extension

This isn't the first time Nissan has done something about their defective steering column lock.

In 2013, the automaker felt the problem was serious enough to issue a warranty extension in 2013. The extension bumped up the 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty to 72 months and unlimited miles.

Unfortunately, the extension appears to have ended on March 31, 2015.

An archived shot of Nissan's ESCL warranty extension

Nissan owners not covered by the new serviuce campaign are still quite upset:

  1. Their vehicles have the same ESCL parts as the Altima and Maxima
  2. Many said they never heard of the problem or the warranty update, but had the ESCL fail after the original extension expired.

Now they’re wondering why Nissan never told them about it:

“They didn’t let the owners know so it could be fixed before the extension expired on March 31, 2015. Mine broke 11 weeks later.”

Other Solutions and Hair Pulling

The problem can be quite expensive to fix. A new ESCL will set you back about $500 and it takes a couple hours of expensive-mechanic-work to replace. That’s not to mention the cost of a tow truck, or all those perishable groceries you lost when your car decided not to start in the shopping parking lot.

On average, owners are paying between $700 and $1000 for these repairs.

DIY Solutions

A quick search on Google for “Nissan steering wheel lock” can lead you down a rabbit hole of questionable advice. Anywhere from smacking your ESCL with a hammer while pushing the ignition, to cutting wires or disabling fuses.

We can’t officially recommend smacking or cutting up your car (tempting as it may be).

Any Hope of a Recall?

As of right now there is no indication Nissan will recall this problem.

And don't bet on The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which will only force automakers to issue recalls on safety problems. They don't think this qualifies.

You can help tell them why you think they’re wrong, by adding your complaint.


Actions You Can Take

This step is crucial, don't just complain on forums! The sites below will actively manage your complaints and turn them into useful statistics. Both CarComplaints.com and the CAS will report dangerous trends to the authorities and are often called upon by law firms for help with Class Action lawsuits. Make sure to file your complaint on all three sites, we can't stress that enough.

  1. Step 1: File Your Complaint at CarComplaints.com

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases. Add a Complaint

  2. Step 2: Notify the Center for Auto Safety

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits. Notify the CAS

  3. Step 3: Report a Safety Concern to NHTSA

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues. Report to NHTSA


  1. You can test to see if the key fob is working by trying out your keyless entry or door locks.  ↩

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Nissan Consumer Affairs

P.O. Box 191 Gardena CA 90248