Don’t Panic: What to Do When Your Key Is Stuck in the Ignition

Don’t Panic: What to Do When Your Key Is Stuck in the Ignition

If you’ve driven somewhere and happily arrived at your destination, ready to keep your day moving, only to experience immediate panic and stress once you realize your car key is stuck in the ignition – don’t panic and definitely don’t apply lots of force to your key, as this will only make the issue worse. A stuck car key is often an easy fix and something that can be dealt with quickly as long as you know the reason behind the problem.

In this article, we will discuss the main reasons that your car key may be stuck, some simple stuck key removal tips, and advice about when to call a professional. Take a deep breath and read on to find out how to deal with a key stuck in the ignition.

Reasons Your Key Is Stuck in the Ignition

There are many possible reasons behind why your key is stuck in the ignition. Some of these are more common than others, and you should thoroughly evaluate each possibility to find the culprit behind your stuck key.

Your Steering Wheel Is Locked

The steering wheel lock is a safety mechanism that prevents your car from moving when you are not inside it and stops your car from being started if you insert the wrong key into the ignition. Even if you insert the correct key in the ignition, it possible for it to get stuck and cause the steering wheel to lock up – resulting in a key that is hard to remove from the ignition.

For an easy solution to this problem, check out our section on removing a stuck key below.

The Battery Is Dead

A dead battery can cause a lot of issues for your car, with a stuck key being on them. If your battery has died, you will not be able to remove the key from the ignition until it is working again.

To verify a dead battery, try turning on your headlights or the car radio. If neither of these things work, it is likely that a bad battery is causing your stuck key problem. As soon as you get a jump on your car, you should be able to remove your key and take your car to get a replacement battery.

The Parking Gear Isn’t Set

One of the most common issues behind a stuck key is when the parking gear isn’t set in place properly. Almost every type of car has a safety mechanism that prevents the car from being turned off while it is in a gear other than neutral (for manual transmissions) or park (for automatic transmission). Always make sure you are in the correct gear before trying to remove your key from the ignition.

Your Car Key Is Dirty

If your car key is covered in tape, debris, or dirt, it may be difficult for the key to be taken out of the ignition. This is due to the dirt on the key and inside the ignition cylinder compacting and holding the key in place. Try to keep your key clean and in good condition to prevent it from getting stuck.

Your Car Key Is Damaged

Over time, your key can get worn down by constant use and being carried around. This can create damage or slightly bend the key, which may cause issues when you try to remove it from your ignition. If your key is cracked, damaged, or bent in any way, it runs a higher risk of being stuck in the ignition. To prevent this situation, replace your car key as soon as you notice some damage.

The Ignition Cylinder Is Damaged

The ignition cylinder is the area of your car that you insert your key into in order to start the vehicle. There are multiple rows of spring-loaded pins on the inside of this cylinder that line up with the shape of your key – this is what allows you to start your car. If these pins are damaged or out of alignment, it can prevent you from inserting your key into the ignition or removing the key.

For a situation like this, it is better to let a professional deal with it than trying to force the key out yourself, as this could cause further damage.

There’s a Manufacturer Recall

Occasionally, the manufacturer of a car may put out a recall or a technical service bulletin regarding the ignition cylinder or other issue that causes stuck keys. In this situation, it could be a defect with the car that is causing your stuck key issues; you are typically able to get issues like these repaired free of cost at a dealership.

Keep in mind that this situation is rare, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of it. You can enter your car’s vin number on this website to determine if there is any recalls or bulletins for your vehicle that are causing the stuck key problem.
key in ignition

How to Remove a Stuck Key From the Ignition

These removal solutions are a simple way to address the most common reasons behind a stuck key in the ignition.

Remember that when removing a stuck key, you should not be using a lot of force or putting pressure on the key. This can cause the key to get stuck further in the ignition or break off completely.

Make Sure the Correct Gear Is Set

A very easy fix is to make sure your car is always set in the proper gear before attempting to remove your key from the ignition. If the gear is set in parking or neutral and the key still doesn’t want to come out of the ignition, try jiggling the handle of the gear shift or carefully placing your car into drive and then back into park to trigger it into releasing your key.

Move the Steering Wheel

If the reason behind your stuck key is a locked steering wheel, you can very carefully rotate your wheel to the left and right while gently turning the key. Eventually, the steering wheel should unlock, and you will be able to remove your key.

Try WD-40

WD-40 can be extremely helpful when it comes to removing a stuck key. For this method to work, you should use the thin straw that comes with the can. Place it in the space between your key and the ignition cylinder and spray a little bit in. This should break up any dust or dirt and provide just enough wiggle room for you to carefully remove the key.

How to Remove a Broken Key From the Ignition

If worse comes to worst and your key accidentally breaks off in the ignition, there are some steps you can take to try and remove it.

Use a Jigsaw Blade

A jigsaw blade is a thin blade with a jagged edge that is perfect for removing your key. You can insert it gently between the key and the ignition cylinder and turn it slightly, allowing the blade’s notches to grab onto the broken key and pull it out.

Try a Key Extractor

Key extractors are typically used by professionals and locksmiths to safely remove a broken key from any type of lock. You may prefer to purchase a key extractor over calling a locksmith, because it is usually cheaper to remove the key yourself.

Use Tweezers

Tweezers are a great option for removing a broken key that is sticking out of the ignition. All you have to do is get a good grip on the key and gently pull it out. However, if the key is stuck further into the ignition cylinder, tweezers may be too thick to get a hold of it and could end up pushing the key further in.
hand turning car key

When to See a Professional

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t get your key to come unstuck, or your key repeatedly becomes stuck in the ignition, it may be time to call a professional.

In the former situation, a locksmith is the best option as they will come to wherever your car is located and help you remove it.

With an issue like the key repeatedly getting stuck in the ignition, you should take your car to a local mechanic so they can properly diagnose the issue and recommend a fix.

The Solution for Your Key Troubles

Getting a car key stuck in the ignition is no fun to deal with, but as we’ve discussed in this article, it can sometimes be an easy fix. The best way to deal with this issue is rule out the common reasons behind a stuck key one by one until you find your solution.

And remember, don’t be afraid to call a professional if you can’t get your car key unstuck – it’s better to take the precaution than end up with the hassle of a completely broken car key!