A hand inserting key into ignition.

Most of us have probably experienced the car key refusing to turn in the ignition. And it usually seems to happen at the worst possible time, such as when you are in a hurry or already having a bad day. What is the right thing to do? It can get confusing, especially because it often appears like there is no visible problem.

Diagnosing the Problem

If your car key does not turn in the ignition, don’t fret. There’s always a reason for the issue. Without a doubt, it is frustrating, but the good news is that most difficulties are common. They’re usually easy to fix as well.

You can diagnose the problem to know how to handle it.

There are three main factors to consider when determining why the key refuses to turn:

 

1. Components

The ignition has different components and at least one of them could be the culprit. In such a case, it’s usually easy to fix.

The method of repair depends on what you are dealing with:

  • Steering wheel: Most vehicles lock the steering wheel when the key is removed from the ignition. It’s why the steering wheel gets stuck, which means your car will not budge.
  • Gear selector: It is possible that you have a car that does not allow movement when it is in park or neutral.
  • Battery: Another component that affects whether or not the ignition will turn is the car battery. The vehicle will not move, and the key won’t turn if the battery is dead.

 

2. Keys

Your key could be the exact problem of why the ignition isn’t turning. It could be bent, worn out, or it’s not the right key for your car. To learn more about car keys, please read our blog post here.

 

3. Ignition Lock Cylinder

You may know this part of the car as the key cylinder. It may be the reason why you’re having issues with the ignition and key. Check that there are no obstructions and stuck springs. These two leading causes can stop the key from turning.

Like anything else, you cannot simply correct the problem with your car key and ignition if you do not know the root cause. Diagnosing the issue first will help you narrow down the solutions that you can try to fix this frustrating problem.

Two pairs of vehicle keys and lock cylinders.

 

What You Can Do to Fix the Car Key Issue

Looking at the possible reasons for the car keys not turning in the ignition, we will now give you the best ways to solve it:

  1. If your diagnosis is that it’s the steering wheel’s fault, did you know you can get out of this sticky situation? All you have to do is to jiggle the steering wheel from left to right or vice versa. At the same time, you should do this step and attempt to turn the car key. In doing so, you relieve the pressure on the lock, which will then cause the key to turn.
  2. If you believe that the problem is with the gear selector, you will need to shake the shifter ever so slightly. This way, you know it is in the right position before you try turning the key again. Please note that this method will only work if you have a car that has an automatic transmission.
  3. If the battery is dead, your key may not turn. It’s a standard feature found in high-end vehicles. They often use complicated electronic ignition systems. Always check the battery to see if it is indeed the problem.

Sometimes, the issue is not with the car but the key itself. If it doesn’t turn in the ignition and you believe the problem is not any of the vehicle’s components, inspect the key:

 

1. Is it bent?

If you have a bent key, it may be able to enter the cylinder. However, once inside, it is not aligned properly. The car will not start, no matter how many times you try to turn it. If you see that it is visibly bent, you can flatten it down using a hammer. Make sure the type of metal you use is the non-metal variant so that you do not damage the key. Ideally, go for a wood or rubber hammer. You can even cushion the blow by placing the key on a piece of wood. When trying to straighten it, carefully tap on it until you see that it is aligned. Then, you can start the car again.

 

2. Is the Key Worn Out?

If you have an older car, it is possible that your key is worn out. It’s the most common reason why car keys do not turn in the ignition. The pins inside the cylinder will not drop correctly, stopping you from starting the car successfully. If you have a spare key available, use it first. If it’s not around, you can get your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which you can find on the side windshield. If it is not there, chances are it’s inside the door jamb. Write it down and contact your dealership so you can get a new key. For newer cars, you may have to get the attached code to your key, which you should give to your dealership instead of the VIN.

 

3. Do You Have the Correct Key?

Using the wrong key – believe it or not – is a common mistake that people make. Even if you have been driving for a long time, you could mistakenly grab the wrong key from the table or the keyring and insert it into the cylinder. Some keys do look similar, so this blunder can easily happen to anyone. Double-check the key you’re using and start the car again.

 

4. Is the Key Dirty?

Just cleaning the key can make a huge difference. Use a cotton swab with some rubbing alcohol to get rid of any foreign material on the surface.

Close up of damaged car key.

 

 

Lock Cylinder Issues

While looking for ways to start the car, you may have encountered sources saying that you should tap the key with a hard object, such as a hammer, while it is still in the ignition. We do not recommend that you do this because of the risk of breaking the key and the cylinder as well. If you do, a piece of the key could be left inside the cylinder, which is even more damaging.

In some cases, the key doesn’t turn because of the ignition lock cylinder itself:

1. There’s an Obstruction Inside the Key Cylinder

In such a case, it is almost impossible to turn the key correctly. Use a flashlight and look inside the cylinder. Find any obvious obstruction, such as metal debris. Clean the cylinder but make sure to protect your eyes from flying debris. You can use appropriate cleaning products, such as compressed air. Always read the instructions before you attempt to proceed. The area should also be well-ventilated. At times, you may have to spray more than once. After removing the debris, you will find that the key will slide in smoothly.

 

2. The Springs Are Stuck

The pins and springs in the cylinder adapt to the shape of the car key. If it doesn’t turn, it could be due to the pins or springs that may have been stuck. Using a small tack hammer, knock the key ignition, which will help loosen the pins. Be sure to hit gently. Your aim is not to jumble the components inside but only to produce vibrations that encourage the springs to move. Once they are free, you can insert the key again and turn it.

A hand turning the key in ignition

 

Other Tricks You Can Try

If you want to turn the key or remove it from the ignition, here are other things that you can do:

  • Check that the car is in the “Neutral” or “Park” position. Automatic transmission vehicles have a safety feature where the vehicle “locks” the key in place. You cannot turn it if it is not in park or neutral, which is the only way to take out the key. If this feature does not exist, the car can drive itself off.
  • Did you turn off the car properly? Look at the car ignition first. You will see a few sections with their own labels. If you do not see the “Off” label, you will see “Lock” in its place. This section is typically at the lower part of the ignition circle. When “Lock” is on, the system tells the car it is still running. It’s why you cannot remove the key.
  • The lock status of the steering wheel can also be an issue in some cases. Try to turn the steering wheel left and right first. It should move when you do this step; otherwise, it means you have engaged the lock for the steering wheel. It’s yet another safety mechanism that stops vehicle motion unless there’s a key in the ignition. The same system is what prevents you from using a different or wrong key. You may be able to insert that key, but you cannot use it to unlock the steering wheel. The only way to do that is to use the correct key.
  • You may not have thought about lubricating the ignition socket, but it does work at times. If nothing works, it could be a problem with the socket, which may be too dried up or stuck. Use a silicone-based lubricant, let it dry and wipe off the excess fluid. Try twisting the key again.

Man holding a key and lock cylinder in focus

All the methods above are guaranteed to work depending on the cause of the key refusing to budge. If they do not work for you, there is no need to panic. The best solution is to always go to a real key and lock professional. You do not have to go anywhere else because you have come to the right place. Diamond Lock & Security can help further diagnose the problem. Then, we will take care of the necessary repairs for you.

Contact us today to stop your frustrations about your car key issue.

Author:

Rod Croot

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