What do I do if the key is stuck in the ignition switch

What do I do if the key is stuck in the ignition switch

You might have come across a situation where, before starting on a trip, you realise that the key won’t turn in ignition switch. Sometimes it happens that you manage to turn it after all, but when you arrive at your destination you aren’t able to remove it from the switch. In this article, we look at the reasons why it gets stuck and suggest the simplest methods for fixing the problem.

10 reasons why the ignition key won’t come out of the ignition switch

Your steering wheel is locked

Almost all modern cars are equipped with a protective anti-theft system. In certain cases, it locks the steering wheel and ignition switch to prevent intruders from driving your car. Locking is triggered when you rotate the steering wheel with no key in the ignition switch, or when you attempt to use another or severely worn key. Sometimes the problem is caused by an attempt to rotate a key that isn’t fully inserted in the cylinder. In addition, the protective system can be triggered when the wheels of the car are fully turned to one side, for example when you park it on a steep incline, or if the front wheels are resting against the curb or some other obstacle. Usually when the locking function is switched on you can hear a distinctive click, and cannot get the key out of the ignition switch at all.

What to do: Gently turn the steering wheel from side to side while trying to turn the key in the switch. This will help to unlock the steering wheel. Do not pull the key too hard so as not to break it.

The key is deformed

If you carry it in your pocket or wallet, or use it for other purposes, it may bend. Sometimes this means the key won’t turn or come out of the ignition, or cannot even be inserted.

What to do: Have you noticed that your key is bent? Do not attempt to use it, to avoid damaging the cylinder of the switch. Start the car using a spare ignition key. If you don’t have one, contact an auto locksmith. Their specialists will restore the shape of the old key in no time, or make a copy. If you have inserted a bent key in the ignition switch and it’s stuck there, seek professional help to have it removed.

The door lock is frozen

This can happen if it’s cold outside, and water has accumulated in the lock cylinder.

What to do: If your car has been parked outdoors in the freezing cold or in a non-heated room for a long period and you suspect the lock might have frozen, try to thaw it out. To do this, warm up your key using a lighter or a candle, and insert it in the lock. Repeat this step several times. You may also use a special lock de-icer. To avoid further problems, ensure stable operation of the ventilation system. Before putting your car into long-term storage, ventilate the passenger compartment to reduce the temperature inside and prevent condensation.

The car battery is flat

In some cars, when the battery is discharged, the key is locked in the ignition switch.

The car battery is flat
What to do: Switch on the headlights. If the lights don’t go on, the problem is likely to be the battery. Using a voltmeter, measure the voltage at the car battery terminals. If it’s below 11.7 V, then the battery is completely discharged and you’ll probably need to replace or restore it. If you don’t have a multimeter, try jump-starting the car. If it works, then the problem is with the battery. If not, then the failure is of some other kind.

The key teeth are worn

Low quality products made of non-durable materials suffer from abrasive wear rather quickly. The key becomes loose in the switch, and cannot properly interact with the movable parts of the ignition switch cylinder.

What to do: Compare the key you are using with the spare one. If you see signs of wear, replace it. If the old key is stuck in the ignition switch, try gently turning it back and forth and jiggling it in and out. You’ll probably manage to find the movement that actuates the mechanism.

The switch cylinder is defective

It also wears over time. This can happen even faster due to many drivers’ habit of attaching heavy keyrings and other ornaments to the keys. When the car is moving, they create an additional load on the parts of the mechanism.

The switch cylinder is defective
What to do: If you succeed in getting the key out of the ignition switch, use the spare one. If that gets stuck too, then the switch cylinder is worn. Contact a garage to have it replaced.

The switch cylinder and key are dirty

Using the wrong lubricant results in dirt accumulating inside the mechanism, and it may become stuck over time. Usually, the notches of the key get dirty if it is used other than as intended, for example for tearing off packaging tape when opening parcels.

What to do: To clean the switch, use WD-40 or another penetrating oil by spraying it directly into the keyhole. If possible, blow out the cylinder with compressed air. After blowing out and cleaning the switch, lubricate it. Wipe the key with a lint-free cloth dampened with WD-40, alcohol, or solvent.

Wrong gear selection

In cars with automatic transmission, the key will be locked in the ignition switch until you put the selector lever into Park. To unlock the switch in vehicles with a manual gearbox, the gear shift lever should be in neutral.

Wrong gear selection
What to do: When you park your car, make sure that the automatic transmission selector lever is in the Park position. If it isn’t, but you’ve already stopped the car and shut down the engine, press the brake pedal and put the selector lever into the Park position. Try to carefully extract the key. If it’s impossible, check whether the selector lever can be locked in this position at all. If you can move it even after the engine has been shut down, take your car to a garage to have the torque converter, automatic transmission cable and lever, and the brake pedal locking mechanism checked.
If your car has a manual transmission, press the clutch pedal, put the gearshift lever in neutral, and get the key from the ignition switch while jiggling it slightly.

The key hasn’t been put into the proper position

Sometimes drivers forget to turn the key into the “lock” position.

The key hasn't been put into the proper position
What to do: Look at the ignition switch. It has several marks that correspond to different modes: “ignition on”, “engine start”, “lock” (or “park”). Make sure that the key is in the “lock” or “0” position. If necessary, change its position.

The component is broken

Applying too much force when trying to turn the key in the ignition switch can cause it to break. It’s difficult to extract the part of the key left in the mechanism.

What to do: Try to remove the fragment using a special extractor. If you don’t have such a tool, seek professional help. Don’t use improvised means to extract the broken tip, as you may damage the cylinder.

Conclusion

In spite of its simple design, the ignition key is a very important item and requires the proper attention from the driver. A car can only be started if this component is in good working order. If your key is stuck in the ignition switch, follow our tips.

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