Fix it: Car Key Stuck in Ignition

I understand how infuriating it can be. Imagine you drive up to your office and find out that the key is stuck in the ignition hole. This is a terrible situation to be in. You can’t just leave your car unlocked and go on about your day. Don’t panic, We’ll try our best to help you out:

How to get the key out?

Ensure gear in parking position for automatic transmission

If you’re driving a car with automatic transmission, ensure that the drive selector is in park or neutral.

Almost all modern cars have a safety feature that locks the key in ignition if snifter is not in P or N position. It prevents accident if someone leaves the car unattended on a slope or a ramp. An unmanned car rolling into the traffic can cause some serious damage to pedestrians as well as other road users.

I am sure, it’s you common practice to slide the shifter in P when your park. But it’s easier to miss this small yet important step in today’s fast paced life.

Get the steering wheel unlocked

Another anti theft feature on cars in the steering lock. The steering rack locks up if you try to turn the wheel while key in not in ignition position. And if you have key inside the ignition then that will also lock inside.

To remove the key you need to unlock the steering mechanism first. You do this by applying clockwise pressure on the inserted key while wiggling the steering wheel clockwise and anti-clockwise. You’ll find the point when the steering lock will free up and now you can remove the key.

Check for dead battery

The modern cars depends on battery to power various modules. Ignition system also needs electric power to work properly. In a rare scenario, If your battery gets weak while the key is inserted in the ignition, it might get stuck.

To remove the key, you’d want to jump start the car or replace your car battery. You can also try lightly tapping the ignition cylinder with a small hammer to free up the key.

Lubricate the ignition lock cylinder

The ignition cylinder is a mechanical component and it needs a little bit of lubricant now and then. The pins inside the locking mechanism slide over the key to know if that’s the correct key. This metal on metal sliding can wear out the key and the pins themselves.

Best lubricant to use for locks is a dry graphite lube. That what most locksmiths recommend. Sometimes, dirt can also start depositing the in ignition cylinder. This acts as abrasive and further increase wear.

WD-40 spray can free up pins inside the lock.

WD-40 spray is great to clean this out. Just insert the this straw of wd-40 at the opening of the keyhole and give 2-3 quick sprays to wash out all debris. This also protect metal surfaces from corrrosion.

If the key is stuck then spray WD-40 in the keyhole and try to wiggle it out. Extra lubrication will help free up the ignition lock mechanism.

If all this effort goes in vain and the key is still stuck in the ignition, then please can a professional locksmith.

In the mean time, you can lock the car using spare key.

Common causes of stuck key in ignition hole

Excessive wear due to heavy key chain

We all like having keychains on our keys. But heavy keychains can cause wear inside the key cylinders. The key always stays inserted in the key hole while you’re driving.

Heavy Key Chain can wear out lockset

But the keychain hanging from it acts like a pendulum and puts force on the key. The key then keeps grinding on the pins inside ignition cylinder. The constant grinding will cause wear and tear overtime. So always go for a minimalistic keychain.

Dirt and grime on the key

Car keys can keeps collecting dirt and grime overtime. We drop it many times, open amazon packages with it, dirt and grime keeps building up. This makes the key not fit perfectly inside the lock set. Forcing dirty key in and out can make the pins out of alignment overtime. And someday the pin slips past the key and gets stuck. Use rubbing alcohol or alcohol sanitizer to wipe off grime from a dirty key. A cotton swab can be quite handy for cleaning.

Corrosion inside ignition lock

The key and ignition mechanism is entirely make up of metal. With time, corrosion can damage the lock set. This is also great reason to spray WD-40 inside the key hole once in a while

Damaged Ignition cylinder

Metal is a malleable material, and wear and tear does effect the proper functioning of Ignition mechanism.

Wear and Tear inside ignition cylinder

Main concert are the spring loaded tiny pins that glides over the key when your insert it. Since the pins are delicate, they can be damaged if you’re not gentle with it. Keeping the mechanism lubed up with dry graphite is great for its longevity.

Worn out key

The key take a lot of abuse. If the teeth on the key are starting to show signs of wear, it better to replace it before it gets stuck inside the ignition some day.

Preventative steps to keep lock set in good condition

Make sure you spray WD-40 inside the key hole once in a while, every 6 month is sufficient. Dry Graphite lube also makes the lockset work smoothly.

Don’t use car key to cut packing tape from courier packages. Turn the key gently and not too forcefully inside the ignition.

But sometimes in spite of doing all this, you might get lock trouble. So keep a contact number of a good locksmith for emergencies. What to do if your car cranks but won’t start?

Checkout: How to fix dents & scratches on your car | How to lubricate car window tracks

Siddharth Sharma
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Siddharth Sharma

Siddharth has always been passionate about Cars and Bikes. He was the kind of kid that always had the latest Auto magazine in his school bag. He had this dream- to become a professional racecar driver. Finally, in 2012 he found himself racing as a rookie driver in the Polo R Cup national racing championship. Over time he had to readjust the sail and get into automotive journalism to continue enjoying machines on wheels.

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