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Key Stuck in Ignition & Won’t Turn: How to Fix

Getting your car key stuck is one of the most perplexing (and annoying) things you will experience as a vehicle owner. While its causes are pretty straightforward, they are not exactly easy to fix. In fact, they can lead to catastrophic outcomes when left unaddressed or misdiagnosed.

A key stuck in the ignition is often caused by a locked steering wheel, a broken ignition cylinder, or a low-voltage battery (among others). Getting your battery charged, keeping your car key clean, and ensuring your ignition lock is not plugged or damaged are ways to fix this problem.

Here are 9 tips on how to fix a key stuck in the ignition:

  1. Use the right key
  2. Fully charge your battery
  3. Unlock the steering wheel
  4. Ensure the gear shift is not out of line
  5. Fidget with the ignition
  6. Rid the ignition lock of any obstruction
  7. Spray lubricant into the ignition lock
  8. Replace your ignition key
  9. Call an expert

Getting your key stuck in the ignition can be extremely frustrating – hence, it is important to be familiar with and understand its causes. We will do just that in this article, so stick around as we go over each.

How to Get Key Stuck in Ignition Out (9 Tips)

Ignition Key

1. Use the Right Key

If you own multiple cars, you might accidentally use the right car key on the wrong vehicle. This situation does happen – even to the best of us. Amusingly, car owners are not entirely to blame, as not all OEMs put distinguishing marks on their car keys.

2. Fully Charge Your Battery

One of the more apparent reasons car keys get stuck in the ignition is a dead or low-voltage battery. Especially for vehicles with electronic ignition systems like CDI (Capacitor Discharge Ignition), the battery is practically their “life source.”

The layout of some of these four-wheelers needs energy to twist the ignition key and turn over the engine. Hence, the low voltage will cause the ignition cylinder not to release your car key.

Having a fully-charged battery (or one with sufficient voltage) is necessary. Keeping a NOCO GENIUS PRO50 Battery Charger & Maintainer (view on Amazon) in your trunk or glove compartment would also be good.

In unforeseen situations, you may need jumper cables from another vehicle. Check your vehicle’s electrical charging system while at it, as this will help rule out potential charging system issues.

3. Unlock the Steering Wheel

Another common cause of a stuck car key is a locked steering wheel. Vehicle owners mostly do this unknowingly – turning the steering wheel after pulling their car keys out of the ignition.

Luckily, this dilemma is easy to fix. Unlock the steering mechanism by turning the steering wheel clockwise and counter-clockwise while applying clockwise pressure on the stuck key.

Either turn away from where there is pressure on the ignition cylinder or towards where you feel slack. This method does take some time. But once the steering mechanism lines up, the ignition lock should free up your car key.

4. Ensure the Gear Shift Is Not Out of Line

Most vehicles with automatic transmission require the drive selector to be in park (neutral for manual transmissions) before putting the key in the ignition. If you have this type of vehicle but fail to meet this condition, your car key will most likely get stuck.

Giving the shifter a quick visual inspection should tell you if this is the issue. But be careful – there are cases where the gear shift would appear correctly in park or neutral even if it isn’t. Either that or the fault is not in the position of your drive selector but your shifter switch.

To avoid overlooking this, be meticulous when inspecting your shifter. Should you discover that it is out of line, keep the gear shift in park position while shaking it gently. This method would cause your shifter to get back in the correct position if it were slightly off. Otherwise, do necessary repairs if this step does not get your car key un-stuck from the ignition.

Tip: If you have an older car model, inspect its rubber/plastic shifter track and determine whether these parts have already bunched up or not. If they have, repair or replace them as needed.

5. Fidget With the Ignition

Another way to remove a key stuck in the ignition is to jiggle or fidget with the ignition. Depress the key cylinder using your left hand’s index finger while gently rotating the car key with your right.

Like unlocking a car’s steering mechanism, this method may also take some time as you need to jiggle the car key repeatedly while stepping down on the brake pedal.

Driver Hand on Key in Ignition

Some American and Japanese cars (including Toyota) warrant a similar approach, except that you omit depressing the brake pedal. These specific vehicles have an extra lock switch inside the ignition, with a button that needs to be pressed simultaneously with the car key. Other models require you to push the ignition key while turning it to pull it out.

9. Rid the Ignition Lock of Any Obstruction

Accumulation of dirt and debris can render your car’s ignition lock defective as much as it does your car key. Even if your key is brand new, it will eventually get stuck in the ignition if the ignition cylinder (or even the keyhole) is plugged. The blockage prevents the teeth in the ignition lock from correctly lining up, ultimately stopping the driver from being able to start up the engine.

Clearing your vehicle’s ignition lock with a Dorobeen Compressed Air Duster (view on Amazon) should enable you to start the engine seamlessly. But if your ignition key continues to get stuck, have your local mechanic look into the said component to see if it has incurred damage and needs a replacement.

7. Spray Lubricant Into the Ignition Lock

Try this alternative if you are not entirely convinced that your old car key is to blame. However, remember that this step only applies to keys that are not severely worn or distorted. Using a spray bottle with a pipe, lubricate the lock and see if doing so helps free up the car key. If it doesn’t, proceed with the remaining tips in this guide.

For preventive measures, spray an ample amount of WD-40 or Dry Graphite lubricant inside the ignition keyhole once every six months. Some online sources recommend using an anti-seize silicon spray like B’laster 16-SL Industrial Strength Silicone Lubricant (view on Amazon).

8. Replace Your Ignition Key

It’s easy to forget how old your car and ignition key is. Even if car keys are made of durable material, they wear over time (especially the ridges). When this happens, your key may no longer perfectly match the grooves of your vehicle’s ignition lock. As a result, the key gets stuck.

Turning your engine over using a backup key should help confirm if your primary key no longer fits. You are only likely to have a problem if you do not have a backup key copied from the main one when it was still new. Depending on how worn-out your key is, you may need to ask a locksmith to create a backup key from scratch.

Another situation is that your car key may be bent. It does not take tremendous pressure to cause an ignition key to misalign or deform. The best way to confirm this is to place your car key on a flat, level surface. If it cannot press evenly against the hard surface, you would know its shape is what’s causing it to stick inside the ignition.

Avoid using a hammer to flatten a crooked car key, as this will do the key’s electronic components more harm than good. Reverting to a locksmith to make you a new code key will be the better route. Furthermore, stop using your car key to open up packages, as the adhesive from the tape aids in the buildup of lint, dirt, and grime on your ignition key.

9. Call an Expert

If you have tried all previous steps but still cannot get your car key out of the ignition, it is high time to resolve the issue with the help of experts. A seasoned locksmith or professional mechanic should be able to figure out what is causing your car key to get stuck.

On most occasions, car keys get stuck because the ignition lock needs to be replaced. In other cases, the ignition switch has been previously replaced, but the immobilizer feature that comes with it was not reprogrammed.

Key Stuck in Ignition Causes

Relative to the previous section, below are the most common reasons behind your key getting stuck in the ignition (on position):

Key in Car Ignition
  • The battery is dead or low on juice.
  • The steering wheel is locked and puts pressure on the ignition cylinder.
  • Ridges along the ignition key no longer match the lockset due to wear, age, and heavy keychains.
  • The ignition lock/cylinder is clogged or damaged.
  • Ignition wafers are damaged, causing the car key to get stuck.
  • The ignition key is dirty, deformed, or misaligned.
  • For cars with automatic transmissions, the gear shift is not in park or neutral.
  • You have a defective shifter switch (applicable to automatic transmissions only) or a blown fuse.
  • The extra lock switch inside the ignition cylinder is not being depressed correctly.
  • You left the vehicle in “accessory mode” overnight.
  • The steering column is malfunctioning.
  • The car key is stuck in the ignition because it is the wrong one (hey, it happens!).

Conclusion – Key Won’t Turn in Ignition

To recap, here are tips on how to fix a car key stuck in the ignition:

  1. Use the right key
  2. Fully charge your battery
  3. Unlock the steering wheel
  4. Ensure the gear shift is not out of line
  5. Fidget with the ignition
  6. Rid the ignition lock of any obstruction
  7. Spray lubricant into the ignition lock
  8. Replace your ignition key
  9. Call an expert

While some of these items entail slightly nudging the steering wheel and ignition cylinder, applying brute force to these components is never recommended. If anything, doing so may only aggravate the situation for older vehicles. It may cause the car key to break or snap while still stuck inside the ignition. You would not want this outcome to happen, which would mean more expensive replacement and repair expenses.