Few car problems are as confusing as having a key stuck in the ignition. You’ve removed it 1,000 times before, but for some reason, this time, it’s decided it doesn’t want to come out. What causes a key to get stuck in the ignition?
The most common reasons are also the easiest to fix. These include the car not being in Park, the steering wheel being locked, or thinking you turned the engine off, but it’s actually in accessory mode. Otherwise, the key itself may be the issue, or worse, the ignition cylinder.
Thankfully, in this article, we’ll cover the 7 most common reasons your keys may be stuck in the ignition. We’ll then share a few suggestions for resolving the issue.
7 Reasons Your Key Is Stuck In The Ignition And How To Fix Them
Your Car Is Not In Park
As a safety feature, if the automatic transmission in your vehicle is not in Park, the key will not come out. The same goes for a car with a manual transmission not being in Neutral. We won’t tell if you don’t.
On some older cars, it’s also possible that the rubber or plastic shifter track has bunched up. There may also be some debris lodged against the sidewall, which can prevent you from being able to shift into Park.
You Never Actually Turned The Car “Off”
If you didn’t know, most vehicles that have a hard key also feature an accessory mode. This typically sits a single “click” past the Off position (counter-clockwise). The purpose of accessory mode is to allow you to use certain features without having to turn the car on, like the radio or power windows.
Perhaps you were in a hurry and didn’t notice. Thankfully, all you have to do is turn the key clockwise for one click.
The Steering Wheel Is Locked
Here’s another safety feature that may prevent your key from pulling out of the ignition – the wheel lock. This usually engages when there’s some amount of force applied to the wheel while turning the engine off.
The purpose of the wheel lock is to prevent movement when no key is present, but thankfully, it’s easy to fix. Lightly apply pressure to turn the key and turn the wheel at the same time. If you don’t hear an audible “click” – try the other direction.
Be careful not to turn the key too hard. If you do, you risk it breaking off, which is another issue entirely that will require specific tools or calling a locksmith.
The Battery Is Dead
Your ignition system requires power to operate, and if the battery is entirely out of juice, it may hinder your ability to remove the key.
A good indication that your battery is dead is if you turn the key and hear a repeated “clicking” sound. In this case, you’ll need to jump-start your car. If you still hear the clicking noise, you may need to replace the battery with a new one.
Thankfully, this is a simple procedure you should be able to do at home, and you’ll only need to pay for a new battery, which ranges between $50-$120.
There’s Debris On The Key
If you’ve ever had a key replacement made, then you know how sensitive they are to imperfections. Thankfully, there may just be debris on the key that’s preventing it from turning in the ignition cylinder.
Whether you admit it or not, most of us have used our car keys like a swiss army knife. To scratch things, dig things out, open mail or boxes, or even open the occasional bottle or two (non-alcoholic, of course).
Any of these can lead to debris collecting on the key itself. A little rubbing alcohol and a bit of scrubbing should take care of the issue in no time.
The Ignition Cylinder Is Faulty
And then there’s having a faulty ignition cylinder. As with most things, ignition cylinders age, which can cause their internal mechanisms to fail. If this happens while a key is inserted, you may not be able to remove it.
The cost to replace an ignition cylinder (also known as an ignition lock), ranges from about $70 to $250.
A great way to ensure your ignition cylinder lasts as long as possible is to reduce the number of items you have on your key ring. The motion of them swaying back and forth can cause premature aging, which can increase the chances your key gets stuck in the ignition.
If you do manage to get it out, you might try spraying it with some WD-40 and then reinserting it and lightly jiggling it around a little bit. This may help lubricate the internal mechanism and keep you from having to replace it.
The Key Is Worn
The last possibility is that the key itself is worn or damaged. As mentioned earlier, most of us use our keys as an on-the-go fix-all solution for an endless number of situations that don’t involve starting a car. But even that can cause damage, so be on the lookout for signs of wear.
The big thing to look for is a crack – since the last thing you want is for your key to break off while in the ignition cylinder. In this case, you’ll want to call your local auto parts store, give them the VIN, and have them cut a new one.
Is Your Key Stuck In The Ignition? Don’t Try To Force It
Applying more pressure is never the solution when it comes to a key being stuck in the ignition. This will only lead to it breaking, meaning you’ll have to call a locksmith or use a specialty tool to dig it out.
Instead, pause for a moment and double-check that your car is in Park, that your steering wheel lock isn’t engaged, and that you’re not in accessory mode.
Otherwise, you’ll need to figure out if the issue stems from the key itself or the ignition cylinder.