If you ever had to deal with your key stuck in the ignition, you know how frustrating it is. And although you might be panicking at that moment, especially since you can’t leave the key while you go to work or into your home, you shouldn’t use brute force to get the key out.
If you force your car key out, you’ll have an even bigger problem, whether it’s a broken key or a damaged ignition. Instead of doing that, you can follow the troubleshooting tips below and get back on the road.
What to Do When Your Key is Stuck in the Ignition
Shake Your Key
This doesn’t mean that you should force the key out. Instead, use the index finger on your left hand to push the cylinder down. Simultaneously, shake the key with your right hand.
This will allow you to slide your key out by loosening up the pins and springs. Also, try tapping the ignition cylinder lightly with a small hammer to free up the key.
But don’t panic if this doesn’t work, as we have other solutions for you to try.
Check the Car Gear
Leaving your car in any other gear aside from P can leave your key stuck. Push your gear to P or N for a manual car, and remove your key.
The common reason for a key stuck in the ignition is your car gear. If you own a car with automatic transmission, they are designed to lock the key in the ignition whenever the snifter is not in the Park (P) or Neutral (N) position. Manual cars should be in the N position.
You might think you had slid the shifter into P when you parked, but it never hurts to crosscheck. In some cases, the gear might not go all the way over to P, so you should try pushing it further.
Unlock the Steering Wheel
If you correctly set the gear, the next thing to do is jiggle the steering wheel. With the anti-theft feature in most cars, there is pressure on the lock mechanism that stops you from removing the key.
Slowly jiggle the steering wheel back and forth and as you do this, pull on the key gently to remove it. The key should slide out easily when you do this.
Lubricate the Ignition Cylinder
If you notice that your key keeps getting stuck in the ignition, you can try lubricating the ignition cylinder. This is also a good idea if you have tried out the first two solutions.
Spray a little bit of WD-40 in the ignition lock. A WD-40 can come with a straw which should slip into your ignition lock without affecting the key. This allows you to remove the key gently, but you should inspect it for damage once you do this.
Once you remove your key with WD-40, you should clean it with adhesive remover or rubbing alcohol. You might notice some dirt, which can cause it to get stuck again.
Check for a Dead Battery
A dead car battery is a rare but possible cause of a key stuck in the ignition. You can try jump-starting the car to get it out.
You might have to check your battery in a rare scenario and jump-start the car. Modern cars depend on a battery to even power the ignition system, so the key might get stuck when the battery gets weak.
You can jump-start the car or replace your battery to remove the key. But rather than doing this, you can call for a locksmith before it gets this far.
Reasons Why Your Key Gets Stuck in Ignition
There are different reasons why your key might not come out of the ignition. Sometimes, it might be specific to your make and model, but this is a general problem that car owners deal with most of the time.
There is Debris on Your Key
It’s common practice to open packages with your car key, and while this is effective, it will lead to pieces of tape getting stuck on it.
When you put the dirty key into the ignition, it can’t engage the pins in the ignition cylinder and can get stuck.
Your Key is Worn or Damaged
Your key suffers more abuse than you’d think. When it ends up with dents or cracks, it might not even fit into your ignition.
Your key might have gotten a lot of pressure and abuse. Even if you don’t use it to open boxes, turning it in the ignition always leads to wear and tear.
Also, tossing your key on a hard surface or stuffing it in your pocket with other items gets it damaged slowly. With bents or cracks on your key, it can get stuck.
Parking Gear Isn’t Set
Before removing a key from the ignition, the gear must be set to Park (P). If you have a manual car, you should set the gear shifter to Neutral (N).
But the key won’t come out if the shifter is on Drive (D), Neutral (N), or any other gear for an automatic transmission.
The Steering Wheel is Locked
Your car most likely has an anti-theft feature that locks your steering wheel and your ignition cylinder. Be sure to check this if your key is ever stuck.
When you turn off your car and move the steering wheel to the side for a bit, the wheel lock will activate. You won’t be able to turn the steering or pull the key from the ignition.
This is an anti-theft feature that is found in most modern cars.
Your Car Battery is Dead
Your car battery powers the ignition system, so if the battery dies, it will lock up. This can cause your key to get stuck in the ignition.
If this happens, the best thing you can do is jump start it or ask a mechanic to replace your battery. Or, if you’re handy with tools, follow these steps to change a car battery.
The Ignition Lock Cylinder is Damaged
Another reason why your key might get stuck is a damaged lock cylinder. An ignition lock is designed with different spring-loaded pins that your key fits in perfectly.
But when the pins are no longer arranged, your key might not be able to get in or out.
Although this is rare, if the particular make, model, and year of your car is subject to a recall because of ignition lock cylinder problems, this can cause your key to get stuck.
The key might also be subject to a technical service bulletin (TSB). You should enter your VIN into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website to check if your car is affected.
Preventing Your Key from Getting Stuck
To prevent your key from getting stuck in the ignition, you should focus on taking good care of it. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Avoid using our key to cut the tape on packages.
- Whenever you insert the key in the ignition, turn it gently.
- Spray WD-40 inside your keyhole every six months.
Even with preventions, you might run into trouble with your key and ignition. So, the best thing to do is have a locksmith’s contact in case of emergencies.
What Happens if the Key Breaks in the Ignition?
If you’re not careful, the key can get broken in the ignition instead. But, there are different ways to get it out.
This happens to those who force their key into the ignition when it is stuck. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but there are a few things to do if it boils down to a broken key.
What you shouldn’t do, on the other hand, is use the top half of the key to get the bottom half out. This will only push the key further into the ignition.
Use a Key Extractor
The best way to remove a broken key in the ignition is with a key extractor. Professional locksmiths usually use this, and you can save more money by buying yours.
Get Needle Nose Pliers or Tweezers
If you don’t have a key extractor, tweezers are also a good solution. If your key is deep into the ignition, you can’t use a tweezer to pinch the edge and get it out.
Try a Jigsaw Blade
A jigsaw blade is another tool that can fit into the ignition and beside the key. When you insert it, turn it slightly so that it can grab the broken key and then pull it out.
If you’re not sure about using any of these tools or nothing works, you can contact a professional locksmith. You will spend some money but also get the job done well.
Hope this guide helped you figure out how to fix the problem with your key stuck in ignition. If you have other ideas or experiences that came in handy, be sure to let us know.
Jim Wicks is the founder of MotorVehicleHQ. With over two decades of experience in the automotive industry and a degree in Automotive Technology, Jim is a certified car expert who has worked in various roles ranging from a mechanic, car dealership manager, to a racing car driver. He has owned more than 20 cars over the past 15 years. Ask him about any vehicle you see on the road and he can tell you the make, model and year. He loves the aesthetics of all things cars, and keeps his vehicles in pristine condition.
In his free time, Jim enjoys getting his hands dirty under the hood of a classic car or taking long drives along the country roads. His favorite car? A 1967 Shelby GT500, a true classic that, according to Jim, “represents the pure essence of American muscle.”