What to Do When Your Car Key Gets Stuck in the Ignition



Having your car key stuck in ignition is something that no driver wants to experience, but it is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence. Before you call for help from a professional, there are a few things that you can try to get the car key out safely. Take a look below to see how to solve and prevent this problem.


Check your car

Even though it may sound obvious, you might be surprised to learn that one of the most common reasons why keys get stuck in the ignition is that the driver doesn’t wait for the car to turn off completely before removing the key. 

If you look at the car’s ignition, you will notice that there is no “off” position, and that’s because the “lock” section that’s positioned toward the bottom of the ignition circle replaces the “off”.

Thus, when turning off the engine, you should turn the key toward the bottom of the “lock” section since any other position other than that will make the car believe that it is still on. This means that it will not allow you to remove the key until you turn it off the correct way.

Moreover, for automatic transmission cars, if the driver forgets to place the shifter into “park” or “neutral”, the ignition mechanism of the car will lock in place. This is a safety mechanism that is designed to remind the driver that he or she needs to place the shifter into “park” or “neutral”.

Once you make sure that the shift lever is in the right position, the ignition mechanism will unlock, and you should be able to get the key out. Again, we know that these two reasons seem very obvious, but there are many drivers who get their keys stuck because they forget to turn off the car correctly or put it into P or N position.



Inspect the key

Sometimes, the key can get damaged, and the older the car and the key are, the more likely it is that the reason that the key is stuck is due to wear and tear. Most car keys are made from soft metal that can get weaker with time.

If the key is stuck in the ignition, the first thing you can do is to apply some lubricant or oil spray to the key and the ignition switch. If the reason why the car key is stuck is due to wear and tear, then applying some lubricant is the simplest and easiest way to get the key out.

One way to prevent a damaged key from getting stuck in the ignition in the first place is to inspect it regularly. Sometimes, something can get stuck to the key, and this can cause it to engage the pins in the ignition improperly.

If you tend to use your car key for things such as opening packages, you should clean it off debris and dirt regularly. You should also not use the key for anything else other than starting your vehicles, especially not for something that can damage it, such as opening bottles.

Once you notice that your key is slightly bent or has formed a small crack somewhere, you should have it replaced immediately. Even the smallest damage can make it tougher to remove the key from the ignition.


Look for obstruction in the keyway

There are cases where the key can get stuck in the ignition because the keyway is blocked. The blockage can be caused by a multitude of reasons, such as dust, debris build-up with time, food and drink spillage, and much more.

The obstruction in the keyway can get your key stuck, and in this situation, there are two things you can try before you call a professional. The first thing is to turn and pull the key gently several times. Your goal here is to try and dislodge the debris that is blocking the keyway and prevent the car key from getting out.

You can also try to spray some lubricant through the hole to help dislodge whatever is blocking the ignition cylinder. The second thing you can try may sound strange at first, but it can work. You will need to cool down the key. Most car keys are made from soft metal, which can expand when warm and contract when cold.

If wiggling and pulling the key doesn’t seem to help the obstruction budge, then you should try to get a zip lock bag with ice or a frozen bag of veggies out of the freezer and place it around the ignition cylinder and the key. The cold temperature will cause the soft metal to contract, which might help you get the key out.

You should keep the frozen bag on the key until the metal feels cold to the touch. If these two methods don’t work, then you will need to get help from a certified locksmith.

If you ever suspect that there’s something stuck in the ignition cylinder, you should use canned air to remove the obstruction before you use your key. Insert the nozzle of the can directly into the keyway and spray in short spurts until you’ve removed all the debris.



Check the steering wheel locking system

If you’ve tried everything we’ve mentioned so far, and your key is still stuck, the next step is to check if you’ve engaged the steering wheel lock. You can check this by trying to turn the wheel left and right, if you can’t do it, then the lock mechanism is activated.

This safety mechanism is designed to prevent vehicle motion. The same mechanism is also used to make sure that your car won’t be able to operate if the wrong key is inserted into the ignition cylinder. Sometimes, when you turn off the car with the wheels locked in different directions, the applying pressure on the steering column can cause the key to get stuck.

To solve this problem, you should try to move the steering wheel back and forth while pulling the key at the same time. It is important to be gentle since you don’t want to break the key, as this will only make things worse.

Once the locking system is disengaged, you will hear a click, and you should then be able to free the key out of the ignition. If this doesn’t work, then you might have to call the help of a professional since you will need a jack to lift the front of the car to relieve the pressure on the steering column.


The battery may be dead

Most modern cars come with a safety feature that will lock the key in the ignition if the onboard computer does not receive the required power. This security mechanism is in place to make sure that unauthorized use of the car cannot happen.

This means that if your battery is dead, then the key can get stuck. While there are tools to help you figure out how much juice your battery has, the easiest method is to try and turn on your headlights. If they won’t turn on, then this is a sign that your battery is dead.

If the battery is dead, then you will need to call for someone to jumpstart your car, and you will then need to replace the battery. Once you replace the battery, the key will be easy to retrieve out of the ignition but only if the root of the problem was related to the dead battery.


Know when to call a professional

If you’ve tried all of the methods described above, and you are still unable to retrieve your key from the ignition, then the issue may be more complicated. However, there’s no need to fret since you can still get the key out, but you will need to get help from a professional. When everything else fails, you shouldn’t hesitate to call a mechanic workshop.  

Sometimes, the ignition cylinder can get damaged. Inside the ignition cylinder, there are rows of spring-loaded pins, and these need to match with the shape of your key. If the pins get damaged, they can prevent your key from getting out. In such a situation, the ignition lock will need to be replaced, and this is a task that only a professional can do.

When using an old car key, the wear and tear that the metal is subjected to makes it more likely to break in the ignition. This is the worst case of all since there is nothing that you can do to salvage it.

Even if you do manage to get the broken key out of the ignition, you will still need a professional to take a look and assess if any damage was caused to the ignition cylinder.

Car keys don’t need to be old to break in the ignition. Sometimes, this can happen even to a new key due to things such as inserting it at the wrong angle, excessive force, or just plain bad luck.