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A key stuck in ignition might be because of a locked steering wheel, incorrect handbrake gear, or other issues. In some cases, you can remove the key yourself or hire an experienced mechanic for others.
This guide lists all the reasons and solutions to help remove the key clung to the ignition.
JUMP TO TOPIC
- 1 Why Is the Car Key Stuck in the Ignition? (9 Reasons)
- 1.1 Car Parking Gear Not Set
- 1.2 Locking of Steering Wheel and Ignition
- 1.3 Defective or Faulty Ignition Cylinder
- 1.4 Collection of Debris on Key
- 1.5 Collection of Debris in the Ignition
- 1.6 Using Defective or Very Old Keys
- 1.7 Dead Battery Causing Ignition Lock
- 1.8 Key Stuck Due to Accessory Mode
- 1.9 Key Jammed Because of Manufacturer Recall
- 2 How To Remove a Stuck Key From the Ignition Cylinder?
- 2.1 Shift the Car Gear to the Park Mode
- 2.2 Release the Car’s Steering Wheel
- 2.3 Replace or Clean the Car Key
- 2.4 Clean up the Ignition Cylinder
- 2.5 Replace the Broken Ignition With a New One
- 2.6 Recharge or Replace the Dead Car Battery
- 2.7 Use the Car’s Override Device
- 2.8 Release a Broken Key From the Cylinder
- 2.9 Reach Out to a Locksmith or Mechanic
Why Is the Car Key Stuck in the Ignition? (9 Reasons)
The car key is stuck in the ignition because of a locked driving wheel or a damaged key. The problem also occurs if you forget to set the parking mode. Moreover, a defective cylinder or a manufacturer recall can lead to a car key stuck in the ignition.
Car Parking Gear Not Set
Modern vehicles have safety features that won’t let you pull the key out of the ignition unless the gear is set to park. This procedure avoids vehicle roll-away.
For example, the key won’t come out in an automatic transmission without setting the parking mode. If your vehicle has a digital screen showing gear settings, ensure it highlights “P.”
Sometimes, despite attempting to set the gear to park, it does not reach all the way there. Also, the key will not release in manual transmission unless you put the gear selector to “Neutral.”
Locking of Steering Wheel and Ignition
A jammed driving wheel is another safety feature in most vehicles to provide extra security to prevent theft. It activates when the car is in the following conditions:
- You remove the car key from the ignition after turning off the engine.
- You move the steering slightly after removing the key and turning off the engine.
Yet, the steering lock sometimes activates when the key is still in the ignition. The cylinder also locks simultaneously, so the key gets stuck in it. In this situation, you can neither turn the driving wheel nor the key can come out of the ignition.
Defective or Faulty Ignition Cylinder
The ignition tends to get damaged due to old age and wear. Like any mechanical and electrical component of the car, it fails with time. Therefore, a flawed ignition can be why your key gets stuck in it.
The ignition consists of several rows of spring-loaded pins, and any change in their arrangement can prevent you from removing or even inserting the key in the ignition hole.
The most common causes of ignition damage include:
- The ignition can wear out due to repeated turning of the key
- A worn key can cause unwanted stress on the tumblers and pins within the ignition
- Applying too much force while turning the key can cause the ignition’s interior misalignment
- Accumulating moisture and ice in the ignition during cold weather is a potential cause of damage to its internal components
Collection of Debris on Key
Many people use their car keys to turn the car ON and OFF, scratch things, and open packages and boxes. This results in the adhesive of the tape sticking on the keys, which then collects dust and debris from the surroundings. The accumulation of such particles interferes with the key’s structure, and the key won’t turn in the ignition.
Collection of Debris in the Ignition
The key is not the only one prone to be affected by debris. The accumulation of dust, grime, and other fragments in the ignition is likely to occur with time. They can stick to the cylinder’s tumbler, making the job of removing and turning the key harder than it’s supposed to be.
Using Defective or Very Old Keys
The key wears a little every time it’s inserted and turned in the ignition. When not used, keeping the keys in your pockets or tossing them around on hard surfaces slowly leads to an impaired key. Never insert a bent or cracked car key in the cylinder, as it tends to get stuck.
Dead Battery Causing Ignition Lock
The battery provides electrical voltage to the ignition system. A dead or drained battery rarely causes a key to adhere to the ignition. A run-down battery can be indicated by repetitive clicking when you start the vehicle, dim or flickering headlights, or slow engine cranking.
Key Stuck Due to Accessory Mode
Most vehicles have an ignition accessory position, allowing you to use some of the car features without turning on the engine, like the radio, internal lights, and windshield wipers. The accessory (ACC) mode is a single click after the OFF mode on the ignition switch.
Sometimes, you leave the key in ACC mode, for instance, if you’re in a hurry. If this is the reason you cannot pull the car key out of the ignition, try to turn on the car and switch it off by turning the ignition switch.
If you turn the steering while the vehicle is in ACC mode, it can turn on the steering wheel lock, which might not allow you to turn the key all the way to the off position and remove it afterward.
Key Jammed Because of Manufacturer Recall
While rare, there is a possibility that your particular model of vehicle is subject to a recall about the ignition. You will receive a notice called Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) regarding your vehicle’s performance or (not necessarily) safety.
How To Remove a Stuck Key From the Ignition Cylinder?
To remove a stuck key from the ignition cylinder, you can set the gear to park, unlock the wheel, or replace a defective ignition. Cleaning the debris from the ignition and the key may help. Moreover, recharging or replacing the run-down battery can also release the key.
Shift the Car Gear to the Park Mode
The most common cause of a key stuck in the ignition is that the gearshift is not set to park. In that case, one of the following methods may help:
- Shake the vehicle’s gearshift and simultaneously try to retrieve the ignition key by wiggling it.
- Wriggle the gear between Park and Neutral positions while stepping on the brake pedal, switch the ignition key backward, and pull it out.
- Ensure your gear selector is set to “P” or “Park” in an automatic transmission. In the case of a manual transmission, the shifter should be “Neutral.”
Release the Car’s Steering Wheel
The driving or steering wheel lock is a safety feature in the driving wheels of vehicles. As described above, a locked or stuck steering can cause a locked ignition, leading to a jammed key. Fix this by slightly wriggling the driving wheel to release pressure on the locked cylinder while simultaneously trying to turn the key.
If the steering remains locked, try to turn the key to the ACC mode on the ignition switch and continue to wriggle it while turning the key until it releases. You can fix it by turning the vehicle’s ignition back to the “ON” position to free the steering.
Replace or Clean the Car Key
The ignition is sensitive to the structure of the ignition key. Thus, a bent, cracked, or worn-out car key will likely cause a stuck ignition. Replace such keys as soon as possible to avoid inconvenience.
If your key is in good shape but still stuck in the ignition, it could be due to dust or gunk. Use some rubbing alcohol or adhesive remover and thoroughly clean its surface.
Clean up the Ignition Cylinder
The dirt and grime buildup can cause the ignition to lock, leading to a key attached to it. A light squirt of penetrating oil or a compressed air spray may help. As the space between the key and the lock is very narrow, you will need substances with a thin straw to fish between the key and the ignition.
After making the application, try wiggling the key. The oil will reduce friction, and the compressed air can help clear the unwanted particles between the key and the ignition.
Replace the Broken Ignition With a New One
Replacing a damaged ignition cylinder with a new one is essential for starting a vehicle. You can use the steps mentioned below to replace a shattered ignition:
- Get a screwdriver, needle pliers, and a pick, and buy a new ignition.
- Find the cylinder in the steering column and remove its screws.
- Press the release button on the cylinder with the help of the pick. It will help remove the cylinder.
- While keeping the release button engaged, insert the new cylinder.
- Install the screws to secure it and test it by inserting the key.
Recharge or Replace the Dead Car Battery
A dead car battery can also be the reason for a key clung to the ignition, and recharging or replacing the battery may help. A low-voltage battery can be diagnosed by a ticking sound when you turn the key or the methods written above. Recharge the battery to check if it is a low-voltage problem.
If recharging does not resolve the issue, jumpstart or replace the battery. Follow the steps below to release the key from the ignition lock cylinder caused by a dead or drained battery:
- Turn your headlights on to see if they are dim or not.
- If they are dim, try jumpstarting the car.
- If the car starts, you can pull the key out.
- However, if you still cannot remove the key, your car has another problem.
Use the Car’s Override Device
You can also use the override function to remove key from ignition. First, locate the override device, usually in the form of a button or tab. Read the car’s manual to pinpoint its location, as it may vary in vehicles.
First, ensure your foot is on the brake pedal for safety and to allow you to shift gears. Then, press the override button with a key, screwdriver, or other tool. This mechanism will release the key.
Release a Broken Key From the Cylinder
A broken or bent key can result from applying too much force when removing it from the ignition. It is an unfortunate situation, and there are only a few ways to retrieve the key that works in specific lucky circumstances.
Use a key extractor to remove the severed key. This tool is of many types and is generally carried by a locksmith; however, using it yourself will be much cheaper.
If some part of the key’s neck is still protruding from the ignition, use needle nose pliers or tweezers and try to grab the key. This method will only work if enough key mass sticks out of the ignition. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get a firm grip.
If you succeed, continue the above mentioned processes to remove the rammed key. If the key is entirely inside the lock, these tools will be too thick to do the job.
If the key breaks in the ignition, you can also use a jigsaw blade. It is so thin that you can insert it in the ignition alongside the key. After inserting it, turn the blade slightly so it notches, grab onto the broken key, and pull it out.
Do not insert the broken upper part of the key inside the ignition to get the lower half out, as you will only push it further inside, making removing it more challenging.
Reach Out to a Locksmith or Mechanic
Now you know how to get key out of ignition manually. If all the above solutions have proven futile, it’s time to consult a mechanic or locksmith, as you only have a few options left. They have the professional tools and expertise to diagnose and fix problems related to the ignition lock cylinder.
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