Why can’t I turn my ignition key?

Diagnose ignition key problems with our expert advice

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Why is my ignition key stuck and won’t turn?

If your ignition key is jammed in place, there are a few typical reasons for the problem and remedies to try to release it. Wear and tear, dirt or damage are some of the factors that come into play, as are some mechanical operations that could cause a temporary jam.

If your key sticks regularly, it could be due to a build-up of debris in the ignition. A small application of lubricant (such as WD40) should ease matters, but it could also be a sign that your ignition cylinder is on its way out.

Whatever you do, never use brute force to try and force it out. A broken or snapped key creates a whole host of horrible problems—problems you can avoid with a little patience and care.

What are the common causes of a jammed ignition key?

Your car isn’t actually switched off

Risk level – Low

What to do – Check the position of the key in the ignition.

This is so simple, but it happens. If you don’t fully turn the key to the off position, the cylinder won’t release it. Give it a quick wiggle and make sure it’s turned all the way before calling a locksmith or the recovery services—you’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment!

The ignition cylinder is damaged

Risk level – Low

What to do – Have it checked or replaced at the first sign of trouble.

You insert and turn your car key in the ignition cylinder every time you drive your car; that’s thousands of operations over their lifespan. Over time, both components will suffer signs of wear and eventually stop working as they should.

The key is worn, damaged or dirty

Risk level – Low

What to do – Keep it clean and check for damage—replace when necessary.

If there are any signs of damage on your key—if it’s bent, cracked or dented—then that’s going to stop it turning as cleanly as it should in the ignition.

The steering wheel lock is on

Risk level – Low

What to do – Lightly move the steering wheel and your key at the same time.

The steering wheel lock is designed to prevent unwanted movement while parked. If the lock engages before you’ve removed your key, this could trap it in place. Delicately turning the key and the steering wheel at the same time should free the stuck key.

Your automatic isn’t in ‘Park’

Risk level – Low

What to do – Check your transmission selection.

Some automatics won’t let you remove the key if the car isn’t in ‘Park’. To remove the key, make sure you’ve selected the correct option—you might need to apply a little movement if some debris has become trapped in there, but it should ease in fairly easily.

Your battery is flat

Risk level – Low

What to do – Check your battery.

Your ignition is dependent on electrical power, and some systems, when the battery is completely flat, will prevent you from removing the key. Charging the battery should fix the problem; to avoid further instances, you’ll need to replace a faulty battery if it’s on its way out.

Does a new ignition switch require a new key?

Yes. A new ignition will come with a set of new keys, and they’ll have to be programmed to work with your car. You’ll need to retain your existing key to open the doors if you aren’t replacing all the locks along with the ignition cylinder.

How much does it cost to replace an ignition key?

The cost of replacing an ignition key starts at around £130 to £150. However, where additional parts need changing to accommodate a new key or ignition, the total cost can rise to thousands. The average replacement key cost, according to Checkatrade.com, is £252.

How do I get a new ignition key?

You can get a new or replacement ignition key from an auto locksmith, local car dealership, garage or mechanic, and occasionally, your insurance service. As well as providing a new key, they’ll need the tools to program it to your make and model.

Can you get a key made for a car with the VIN number?

You can have a new key made using your VIN (vehicle identification number), but you’ll also have to provide proof that you own the car.

How long does it take to replace an ignition cylinder?

Depending on the make and model of the car, replacing the ignition cylinder will usually take between 15 minutes to an hour.

How do I remove a key that’s broken off in the ignition?

If you’ve snapped your key in the ignition, chances are, getting it out is going to be a job for the professionals. However, there’s a key extractor tool (used by locksmiths) that could help, or you might even get lucky with a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers if there’s enough of what’s left of the key showing.

If all else fails, it’s time to call a locksmith—and if you can find a specialist auto-locksmith, then that’s even better.

If your car key is stuck in the ignition and refuses to come out, we can help with that. Book in with Fixter, and we’ll send a mechanic who can remove the key or replace the cylinder. Our prices are very competitive and can save you around 30% compared to dealership prices.

 
 
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