You go to start your vehicle, but when you turn the key, nothing happens. It’s stuck in the ignition cylinder and won’t budge. This frustrating scenario can happen to any driver. Keys can get jammed in the ignition lock due to mechanical issues, wear and tear, or just plain bad luck. Don’t panic; there are several techniques you can try to use to safely retract that stuck key. With some clever troubleshooting, you can get your ignition freed up quickly to be back on the road.
Table of Contents
- Don’t Force or Break the Key
- What To Do If Key Is Stuck In Ignition?
- What To Do After Extracting a Stuck Key
- What Causes Car Keys to Get Stuck in the Ignition?
- Preventing Ignition Key Sticking Issues
Don’t Force or Break the Key
The absolute worst thing you can do with a stuck key is try forcing, wiggling, or snapping it out with pliers. This will destroy the key and severely damage the ignition cylinder as well. You must be methodical and gentle to avoid costly repairs. With careful finessing, you can remove the key undamaged with basic tools.
What To Do If Key Is Stuck In Ignition?
This guide will walk you through on what to do if your car key is stuck in ignition.
Method 1: Jiggle and Turn Technique
Often, a key gets stuck because the internal ignition lock pins are misaligned and unable to rotate freely. You may be able to bounce them back into place with some careful physical persuasion.
- Grab the key head firmly but gently with pliers to avoid damage. No side pressure.
- While maintaining light outward tension, slowly rotate the key back and forth. Do not force it.
- The goal is to jiggle the pins inside the lock so they realign.
- As you feel it start to rotate more freely, try turning the ignition fully again while pulling outward on the key.
With finesse and patience, this method can vibrate and coerce the stuck cylinder parts back into functioning normally. The key should be able to retract fully again once the pins are freed up.
Method 2: Lubricating with Graphite
Lock cylinders and keys are precisely mated moving parts. Graphite powder makes an ideal lubricant; it embeds itself between the mating surfaces to reduce friction and release binding parts.
To use this effective fix:
- Obtain powdered graphite, available at any locksmith or hardware store. Do not substitute other lubricants like WD-40.
- Insert the powder carefully into the ignition cylinder opening using a straw or precision dropper tool.
- Insert the key fully and turn gently to spread the graphite throughout the inner mechanisms.
- Remove and reinsert the key a few times while adding more graphite.
- Attempt starting the car or retracting the key fully after lubricating.
The superior slippery properties of dry graphite will often free up even severely stuck ignition components. The residue will continue providing ongoing lubrication for the lock as well.
Method 3: Tap the Steering Column
Sometimes a sharp tap on the steering column can provide just enough force to jar the stuck cylinder and bounce things back into place.
- Locate the section of the steering column that houses the ignition lock.
- Using a rubber mallet or hammer with cloth over it, give the bottom of the column a single firm downward strike.
- Try the key immediately after to see if the bump helped set things free.
- A few more moderate follow-up taps may be needed to get it unjammed.
This impact method works much like knocking on the bottom of a stuck ketchup bottle; it provides a targeted impulse that can dislodge stuck parts without damage.
Method 4: Use an Emergency Key or Locksmith Extraction
Many modern keys have removable emergency heads that are stored inside the main key. The emergency head is designed to override the ignition even if damaged or stuck. Locate this head and insert it instead of the stuck main portion. If no emergency key exists, call a professional auto locksmith. They have specialized tools to remove stuck keys and cylinders without harming the ignition. Their services are affordable compared to ignition repairs or replacements. Never try picking the lock yourself; leave it to the experts.
Method 5: Detach and Remove the Ignition Cylinder
In rare instances, the ignition cylinder itself may need removal to extract a damaged or broken key tip stuck inside it. This involves:
- Detaching the cylinder housing from the steering column This requires taking off the shroud with basic tools.
- Once removed, take the cylinder to a professional locksmith shop.
- They will drill into the cylinder and extract the stuck portion, then replace it with a new cylinder keyed for your vehicle.
- This avoids having to replace the entire ignition and electrical switch assembly.
With the fixed or replaced cylinder, reinstall it in your ignition, and your vehicle will be back in business.
What To Do After Extracting a Stuck Key
Once you’ve successfully freed a stuck key without damage, a few additional steps can prevent it from happening again:
- Spray electrical contact cleaner or brake parts cleaner into the ignition cylinder opening. This dissolves built-up contaminants.
- Insert the key in and out repeatedly to distribute the cleaner and prevent re-sticking.
- Apply some dry graphite powder to the cylinder, as noted earlier.
- Consider having the cylinder professionally rebuilt or replaced if sticking recurs and the key and lock are undamaged.
While a stuck key can be inconvenient and stressful in the moment, a bit of finesse and the right technique will have you back on the road quickly. With some care and lubrication, your ignition lock will be restored to smooth functioning.
What Causes Car Keys to Get Stuck in the Ignition?
Keys getting stuck in the ignition cylinder is a common problem drivers encounter. While a nuisance, understanding what causes this will help you prevent and remedy stuck keys.
1. Normal Mechanical Wear
As the vehicle ages, small amounts of metal wear from the key and cylinder during normal use. This increased clearance between the parts allows the key to bind up more easily. Wear is unavoidable over time.
2. Internal Cylinder Contamination
Dust, dirt and grime buildup inside the lock cylinder inhibits smooth operation. Pieces of this debris can get trapped and block the key from turning or retracting fully.
3. Attempting to Remove Key Before Vehicle is in Park
Trying to remove the key when the steering column lock pin is still engaged puts pressure on the cylinder and can lead to sticking. Always shift fully into park before removing ignition key.
4. Damaged Keys
Chipped, warped or cracked keys will have trouble sliding cleanly through worn or dirty cylinders. The defects cause binding and sticking.
5. Electrical Switch Failure
Some ignitions have safety interlocks related to electrical switches like the brake pedal. If those switches malfunction, the key locks in place as a fail-safe.
6. Extended Non-Use of Vehicle
Keys left in seldom-driven cars for months at a time are more prone to sticking. Lack of cylinder rotation allows internal rust and gumming.
By understanding the most common causes, you can take prevention measures to ensure easy key removal every time.
Preventing Ignition Key Sticking Issues
While keys sometimes get stuck unavoidably, you can minimize likelihood through proper care and maintenance:
- Don’t overload keychain with heavy items that strain cylinder when driving.
- Frequently use electrical contact cleaner spray to flush out cylinder debris.
- Apply dry graphite lubricant periodically to maintain smooth cylinder rotation.
- Fix any body or ignition electrical switches not functioning properly.
- Replace visibly worn or damaged keys.
- Have cylinder replaced if it shows excessive wear, becomes difficult to turn normally, or has recurring sticking.
- Drive the vehicle regularly to prevent sticks from long periods of sitting idle.
Making ignition cylinder care and key maintenance a routine helps ensure smooth function and easy key removal every time you drive. Be alert to any changes in cylinder rotating smoothness so potential sticking issues can be remedied fast.
Don’t let a stuck key ruin your day or create a costly repair bill. With some skills and the right techniques, you can safely free it without damage. Try methods like lubrication, jiggling, tapping or locksmith extraction first. If gentle efforts don’t work, look deeper for underlying issues like worn parts, contamination or broken components. With persistence and care, an extraction done properly preserves your ignition lock in good working order. Don’t force it – stuck keys can always be removed, even if unconventionally. You’ll be back on the road in no time.