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What to Do If Car Key is Stuck in Ignition

Problems with your vehicle’s locks and keys can sometimes be so significant that they leave you unable to drive your vehicle. One of these potential issues that is more common than you may think is a car key getting stuck in the ignition lock. While you may have a hint that this problem is going to happen, such as if the key has started to stick here and there recently, usually it comes as a shock when you’re completely unable to remove your key from the ignition cylinder. If you’re facing this situation, take a deep breath and make sure you keep calm. Then, read on to learn more about why car keys get stuck and what you can do to amend your situation. 

Causes of Stuck Car Keys

There are several different reasons why your car key might get stuck in the ignition lock. Knowing the reason behind why your key is stuck can potentially assist you in being able to free it. To determine the cause of the problem, and therefore what steps you should take, try to assess the symptoms. Common causes of an ignition key getting stuck are mechanical issues, safety feature complications, or wear and tear to the key or ignition itself. An older vehicle will probably be more likely to have the key stuck in the ignition or other similar problems, but sometimes a manufacturing error can cause a vulnerability that causes this problem to occur in a newer vehicle. 

To prevent your key getting stuck in the ignition cylinder in the first place, or a repeat of this frustrating scenario in the future if you’ve already experienced it, inspect your key occasionally for signs of damage or wear to the teeth. These changes to the key’s structure can prevent it from fitting into the lock’s pin system correctly. Replace your key as soon as you notice any damage, you have trouble inserting it, or it begins to stick even if you can get your key free. It’s a good idea to have a spare key always handy in case your original key becomes too worn down to use. Occasionally clean out your ignition cylinder lock with a can of compressed air. If you have reason to suspect that your ignition cylinder needs repair or replacement, contact a qualified locksmith professional. 

Steps to Take

1. Make Sure the Car is in Park 

The first step you should take when your key appears to be stuck in your ignition is to ensure that your vehicle is completely in park. One safety feature that most ignition cylinders employ in vehicles with an automatic transmission is that they lock the key in place when the vehicle is shifted to any gear other than neutral or park. If you think about it, this is an important safety feature to prevent accidents. However, it can be annoying when it works against you as the driver. Make sure that the shift lever is set to park or neutral. 

2. Check the Steering Wheel

Most vehicles manufactured in recent decades have a safety feature that causes the key to be locked in place when the steering wheel is engaged. This can occur whether your vehicle is on or off, depending on the position of the steering wheel and if any pressure was applied to it. Try turning the steering wheel side to side to see whether or not this safety feature is engaged. If it is unlocked, the wheel should turn freely. However, if the steering wheel barely moves or won’t budge, that indicates that the steering wheel is locked. In this situation, the key will not be able to be removed until the steering wheel is unlocked and the ignition is disengaged. 

Luckily, this problem usually has an easy solution. Lightly turn the key with one hand while you move the steering wheel back and forth with the other hand. Eventually, this will disengage the mechanism and unlock the steering wheel, thereby freeing your key. If this does not work, you may have a more serious problem on your hands. Try another method. 

3. Try to Free the Key

When you’re attempting to get your key out, you want to take care not to damage the ignition cylinder. Don’t use excessive force when attempting to remove the key. This can cause additional damage to the key or the ignition cylinder that houses the lock itself, which may wind up costing you more in the long run. Use a moderate amount of pressure and wiggle the key in every direction, pulling it back and forth and side to side. If you happen to have a pair of pliers handy, you can attempt to use these to hold the key as you’ll be able to get a better grip, but be careful not to bend the key. 

4. Suspect an Ignition Cylinder Problem

Ignition cylinder problems commonly develop with older vehicles over time, just from the natural wear and tear of being used day in and day out. Symptoms of an ignition cylinder problem include your vehicle refusing to start, stalling at random intervals, and your key getting stuck inside the cylinder. While the former two could also certainly be problems with your engine, a professional can help you narrow down the cause. If you suspect an ignition problem, contact a locksmith right away. 

If Your Car Key is Still Stuck

If you’ve followed the above procedures, yet your car key is still stuck, it’s probably time for a professional intervention. Urgent attention is necessary, especially if you’re stranded because of your car key being stuck, which is usually the case. A 24-hour emergency locksmith company, such as Griffin Master Locksmiths of Griffin, GA, can provide you with immediate assistance if you’re having any kind of problem related to your ignition cylinder.  

If the ignition cylinder is damaged or in need of replacement, a locksmith is fully qualified and capable of providing ignition cylinder repair or replacement. Even if your car key contains a transponder chip, as many cars on the road today do, you don’t have to turn to the dealership. The right locksmith will be able to cut and program a new transponder key that fits your vehicle for the fraction of the cost of most dealerships.