Key Stuck In Ignition

No one likes it when the key is stuck in the ignition. Imagine driving to your destination only to find that the key wouldn’t come out of the ignition. It’s not like you can leave the key inside and walk off.

Moreover, it isn’t easy to understand why this happened and how to fix it. The causes are easy to find out. It is the fixing that requires more work and effort. Forcing the key out or turning it by force will be disastrous. The key might break in the ignition, which is not something we want. If the key is stuck in the ignition, DO NOT use force to pull or turn it. Leave it the way it is for the time being.

But why does the key get stuck in the ignition? It could be because -

Let’s find out the reasons for stuck keys and ways to fix the problems.

How to Fix When the Key is Stuck in the Ignition?

There are various reasons why the key gets stuck in the ignition. Let’s understand each cause properly.

Use the Right Key Always

As easy as it sounds, it’s often easier said than done, especially if you own multiple cars. Not all car keys are distinguished and marked by the manufacturers. Many look alike, making it easy to confuse us and use one for another. Sadly, we’ll only find the truth after the key gets stuck in the ignition.

To prevent this, one solution is to have different keychains to identify cars (and hope no one in the family decides to exchange the keychains).

But how do you get the key out when this happens? Try to jiggle it a bit and ease out the key. If it doesn’t work, call the locksmith or mechanic. There is no point in damaging the ignition key holder and the key. You’ll end up with two cars temporarily out of use (if you don’t have a spare key).

Don’t Use Bent/ Broken Keys

This is a golden rule everyone should follow. Don’t use broken or bent keys in the ignition. Don’t try to ‘repair’ the key on your own. Using a hammer or a tool to flatten/ straighten the bent key will result in more damage unless you are a locksmith.

A damaged key has a high chance of getting stuck and breaking inside the ignition lock if you use force. Broken keys are even hard to handle than a stuck key. A broken key has to be removed by a key extractor tool or by a locksmith. Make sure to get the ignition lock inspected if you use the key extractor tool. Tiny parts of the key could remain lodged inside and damage the new key when you insert it.

Remove Debris from Ignition Lock

This is something many of us tend to ignore. Dust and dirt accumulate near the ignition key holder and will enter inside the slot. Smaller dirt particles like teeny bits of mud/ sand/ gravel/ food crumbs/ etc. can cause the key to jam in the lock and remain there. A new key will also suffer the same fate if the ignition lock is dirty.

Use hand-held compressed air blowers to clean the ignition lock periodically. Make sure to clean the region if you have eaten in the driver’s seat or drove with muddy/ sandy hands.

The safest way to remove the stuck key from the ignition is by contacting a locksmith. Also, ensure that the debris hasn’t caused any marks or scratches on the key.

Unlock the Steering Wheel

This is the most common reason the key gets stuck in the ignition. Many of us turn the steering wheel after pulling the keys out of the ignition. It’s something we don’t usually think about. But, it then messes up the internal alignment. The components get stuck in a non-aligned position, and you must set them right for the ignition to work properly.

You can gradually unlock the steering mechanism by turning the steering in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. Do this repeatedly while applying clockwise pressure on the stuck key. Sit comfortably in the driver’s seat and focus on turning the steering where there’s some slack. You should continue until the steering mechanism aligns with the ignition cylinder. The lock will release the key once this happens.

Get a New Key to Replace the Old One

How old is the car key? Does it have too many scratches, marks, and dents? Is it bent or twisted? Even a slight change in the key’s original design can cause it to get stuck in the ignition. This is done to ensure that the car cannot be stolen by starting them with fake or random keys.

If your car key doesn’t look the same as what it was when you first bought the car, replace it with the duplicate provided by the manufacturer. It is better to get a couple of duplicates made in advance. Just keep them out of sight and safe in a secret location to avoid theft.

Jiggle and Wiggle the Key

Yes! We told you not to force the key and risk breaking it. However, you can gently coax it to come up with the ignition key lock. First, place your index finger on the key cylinder and push it down. Use your other hand (the dominant one) to giggle the key gently. This should loosen up the springs and pins near the ignition cylinder.

Continue carefully until the springs are loose enough to let go of the key. After a bit of effort, the key should come out of the ignition lock (key holder). Remember not to put extra pressure or push hard. Pay attention to how the key moves inside the lock and adjust your pressure accordingly.

Give the Gear Selector a Good Shake

Sometimes, the gear selector doesn’t recognize that the car is in parking or neutral mode. When this happens, the ignition key holder will hold on to the key and refuse to let it go. The vehicle has to be in parking/ neutral mode to pull out the key. You can shake a gear selector and put it in a neutral position again. Try to ease the key out of the ignition.

If it doesn’t work even after multiple tries, the problem could be elsewhere, or you might need the help of a mechanic.

Charge the Vehicle Battery to Full

A common reason for the key getting stuck in the ignition is a low voltage battery or a dead one. This is primarily seen in cars with electronic ignition since the battery keeps the ignition alive. The key will be stuck in the lock if the battery doesn’t have enough power to move the ignition cylinders.

If the battery is completely drained of its charging, you might have to use jumper cables from another vehicle to charge it on the road. Carry a portable battery charger in the car so that you can sort the issue even if you are alone. Don’t overcharge the battery. Using jumper cables can sometimes lead to other issues within the charging system.

Spray Lubricant over the Ignition Lock

Sometimes, spraying lubricant over the stuck key and the ignition key holder will help loosen and remove it. This method won’t work on distorted or damaged keys. You need a spray bottle with a pipe and a lubricant to try this method. You may have to let it sit for a few minutes before trying to pull out the key.

To avoid the last-minute hassle, use Dry Graphite or WD-40 lubricant on the ignition lock once in six months. This will prevent the key from jamming (unless there’s another reason).

Turn off Accessories Mode

Cars with a hard key have accessories mode where you can turn on the AC, music system, radio, etc., without powering on the engine. The key will remain in the lock when this mode is on. Turning off the accessories mode will solve the problem. Check the key’s position for this. If it is one step past the off position but not in the on position, it represents the accessories mode. Make sure not to leave the car in this mode overnight.

Quick Tips to Fix the Key Stuck in Ignition

Final Words

In vehicles with auto transmission, check the shifter switch to see if it is malfunctioning. Steering column issues can also occur. Eliminate the reasons one by one to identify the exact cause and take the necessary action.

The best way forward would be to contact a locksmith and use expert guidance. But if it is not feasible in your circumstances, try the fixes we mentioned above. Regular maintenance and care minimize the risk of such issues.