Why Won’t My Key Turn in the Ignition?

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When attempting to start your car or truck, it is extremely frustrating, and concerning, to find that you cannot get the key to turn the ignition switch. Before panic sets in, let’s focus on what needs to be done to get you back on the road. This will depend on the actual issue, so try your spare key first, make sure your battery is charged, and skip to the part that describes your situation the best.

Key Won't Go All the Way In

When the key fails to slide completely into the ignition switch, there is little that can be seen, so the only tools you have is your awareness of how far the key normally goes in if it feels wrong, and basics about what may be blocking it.

Clean With Air – Start by spraying air into the ignition switch with the key out. This can be compressed air or air in a can. If the ignition switch is blocked by dirt or debris, this normally blows the blockage out of the key-hole. If not, there may be an issue with the ignition lock cylinder, which is the mechanical portion of the ignition switch that you insert the key into.

Use Your Cell Phone or Electric Razor – When checking the ignition lock cylinder, knocking on the cylinder lightly, or using your cell phone, electric razor, or anything that produces vibrations to vibrate the key as it is inserted may free sticking components of the lock cylinder, allowing the key to slide in freely.

Check the Key for Wear – If the key looks rough, old, worn, or bent, it might be a good idea to go and replace the key. We do not recommend straightening a key, as it may weaken and break in the ignition lock cylinder portion of the ignition switch. Any mobile locksmith, most parts stores, and all dealerships can make a key to fit your vehicle, and give you simple instructions on using your new key.  Remember, the anti-theft system on your vehicle must accept the key, so purchasing a used key and ignition switch will not work in most cases.

Give a Light Tap – There is never a good reason to whack a key with a hammer, but gently tapping the key into the ignition switch may move obstacles, even if they are part of the lock cylinder. It is important not to hit the key, but gentle, fast taps may do the trick.

Key Won't Turn and Steering Wheel Won't Move

Parking on a hill, with the tires turned, or anytime the weight of the car is forcing the steering wheel to turn, there is a great chance that the key will not be able to turn. When there is weight on the steering wheel, the steering wheel lock becomes heavily stuck in position, preventing the key and steering wheel from turning. What can you do?

Wiggle – Put the key into the ignition, attempt to wiggle and turn the steering wheel in the direction that is most difficult. If the steering wheel lock is too tightly engaged, this may free it, but you may need to enlist help to turn the steering wheel in some cases. Remember, wiggle or jiggle the steering wheel, but put only light pressure on the key to keep from causing further binding.

Check the (Automatic transmission) Gear Selector – The shifter, key, steering wheel lock, and brake pedal must all be in their proper position to turn the keys on some vehicles. On many, it is simply the steering wheel and key, but some vehicles prevent the key from turning when the selector is not in park or neutral. This may cause you to assume the steering wheel lock is to blame, when, in fact, the transmission is not in park or neutral, or there is a combination of these factors. To help eliminate the gear selector, with the parking brake on, wiggle the selector back and forth while listening for a click from the shifter. Even if you don’t hear the ‘click’, keep trying to wiggle the selector while turning the steering wheel and key. This sounds a bit like a magic show, but it can be done with little effort.

Considering Repairs For A Key That Won't Turn

When these methods have failed, there is little chance that the vehicle lock cylinder is operational. Again, this is a common fault, and the more the vehicle is used, the more wear will be experienced by the lock cylinder and keys.

Once the lock cylinder of the ignition switch has failed, replacing the lock cylinder and keys is necessary, and the vehicle will have enough memory to store the new keys for the new ignition lock cylinder, as well as the old keys, which will be used for the doors and trunk.


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