Car Key Won’t Turn in Ignition

Ignition lock failure is not a common occurrence, but it can happen. This is usually apparent when you get into your vehicle, insert the key, and the ignition will not turn to start. In older vehicles, your key’d ignition system is entirely mechanical, from the lock cylinder all the way until the cylinder activates the ignition switch. On modern cars with keys, most are equipped with chip-keys that are theft deterrents, and must be properly mated to the car through software usually only available at the dealership. To learn more about “my key is stuck” problems, read on!

Why Won’t Your Key Turn in Your Ignition? 

Wondering why your key won’t turn in ignition? For many vehicles, once you remove the key, the steering wheel, if turned or bumped, will lock. This is made as a theft deterrent. Many folks though panic if they accidentally lock the wheel when leaving the car, then find the ignition appears to be locked when they re-insert the key and try to start it. To overcome this is simple – grab the wheel with one hand and wiggle back and forth while attempting to turn the key. The steering wheel will quickly unlock and the car will start.

If your car is not in park or neutral, you may not be able to turn the key. Even if the car is in park, manipulate the shifter a little bit to make sure the car really is in this gear. Then, try to turn the key again.

If you’ve tried the basics and the ignition cylinder is still locked, there are several other things you can check. If the car key is bent or worn out, it may not line up properly in the ignition to make the car start. If it is bent, you could use a hammer, preferably of rubber or wood, to gently flatten the key and try to start the car again. If the key is worn out, use your spare. You can also get a spare by contacting your dealership and provide them with your vehicle identification number (VIN) to get the key replaced. You can also have a new key made. 

Check to make sure there is not any obstruction in the key cylinder. Use a flashlight to inspect the key cylinder. If the key cylinder has failed, you may see metal debris inside. Many times, the keys tumblers inside can get gummed up or stuck. To remedy this, take WD 40 or penetrating lubricant, and attach the small straw that comes with the can to the nozzle. Then, shoot a very small amount directly into the key hole. Next, insert the key in and out for about 30 seconds, which will work the penetrating oil into the tumblers and lubricate them. If the key still won’t turn after this, the next step would be to replace the ignition cylinder yourself, or contact a mechanic to help you out. 

As stated before, most modern vehicles have an ignition key that must be programmed and properly mated to the vehicle. It’s important that you do research on your vehicle to determine whether your ignition key falls into this category, because sometimes, the keys programming or integrity could fail, leading to a key that the car simply does not recognize. In many of these cases, the dealership must be involved to reprogram the key. It doesn’t hurt though to also check with your local shops to see if there’s a specialty shop that can do this work.

How Do You Remove an Ignition Cylinder When the Key Won’t Turn? 

On older vehicles pre-2000, most ignition lock sets operated and installed in much the same ways, with some variations. Disconnect the battery and remove the airbag from the steering wheel next. You will need to remove the steering wheel in most cases, which will involve a steering wheel puller, and in the case of most GM vehicles from the 1970’s all the way into the 2000’s, you’ll need a lock plate remover. Both of these tools are available for rent in AutoZone’s loan a tool program for absolutely free.

Once you have the airbag and steering wheel out of the way, you can gain access to most ignition locks. From here, there are many variants on the locks themselves. Many manufacturers have a set screw or button to push that allows you to remove the lock cylinder by sliding it out of the column. Some older Ford vehicles require the ignition lock to be in the run position to remove, where if your lock is jammed, or you’ve lost the key, leaves you with an extra challenge. Follow your repair manual on online guide to your specific car and swap out the ignition cylinder.

Once you have your new lock cylinder installed, you can test it out. Try to turn on the car. If it works, you can reconnect everything else including the airbag.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace an Ignition Lock Cylinder? 

If your key won’t turn in car, you may need to replace your ignition lock cylinder. Replacing an ignition lock cylinder can vary, as older vehicles generally cost around $40.00 for the part and 1-2 hours of labor, taking your cost to around $250. On newer vehicles, the lock cylinder is electronic in the sense that it reads the key’s programming. These cylinders, and the keys and programming cost much more. You can search our list of Preferred Shops to check for someone who can do the job.

Your Key Won’t Come Out of Your Ignition

If your car key won’t turn, it may be because of the transmission being left in Drive or Reverse when the vehicle was shut off.   

Wear and tear may also cause the key to get stuck. Years of abusing your key may cause it not to function properly. If your ignition lock cylinder is about to fail, this may also cause you not to be able to take out your key. Misaligned springs and pins can make it difficult to remove or insert the key.

Perhaps your car is subject to a recall due to the ignition lock cylinder. To discover if this is true, you can put your VIN number in the NHTSA website to check your car’s status in regard to recalls.

Despite the many difficulties that may come with a key not turning in the ignition, there is always a solution. AutoZone has everything you need to address the issues with your ignition cylinder or can get you to the people who can help.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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