3 ways to fix an ignition key that won't turn

3 ways to fix an ignition key that won't turn
3 ways to fix an ignition key that won't turn

It sometimes happens that when taking your car, you can't turn your ignition key and, as if by chance, it's always when you're in a hurry! The causes of such seizure are multiple. Sometimes this is a design flaw in the ignition system on a particular model, but more often than not it is a problem that affects any vehicle. The blocking can be located at the level of the key, the cylinder or the driver. Before you rush to the mechanic and shell out an insane amount of money, take the time to educate yourself on the methods that will help you solve your problem.


Method 1 of 3: Perform some preliminary checks

Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 1

Step 1. Make sure you are in neutral

Whether your car is equipped with an automatic or manual gearbox, in order to be able to start it, it must be put in position "P" or in neutral, respectively. If you start with a gear engaged, your vehicle will jerk and if someone passes by, you risk injuring them and damaging your engine. This is why you should always check your gear lever before turning the ignition key.

  • The gear lever must therefore be in the park position (“P”) or in neutral.
  • Sometimes you have to disengage and shift to another gear before coming back to neutral. Sometimes that is enough to solve the problem.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 2

Step 2. Inspect your wrench on all seams

If your key goes into the ignition, but you cannot turn it, it may be because of a problem with the key. Indeed, if one or more teeth are damaged, they will not be able to turn the starter contactor mechanism. Take a close look at your wrench for abnormal wear or broken teeth. These two situations explain an inability to start the engine.

  • If your key is damaged, there is no alternative but to replace it.
  • Some keys are encoded and only your dealer can help you. Look at what it says in the builder's manual.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 3

Step 3. Check that there is nothing stuck on your key

Granted, it could be a problem of broken or eroded teeth preventing you from starting, but it could also be that there is some dirt. It then prevents the rotation of the pinions inside the barrel. If you recently used your key to open a package, a small piece of adhesive may have stuck, hence the breakdown.

  • Remove any dirt from your key, reinsert it into the lock, and test it.
  • A car key should not be used for anything other than starting your vehicle. Do not use it to clean your pipe or to open a package.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 4

Step 4. See if the steering wheel is locked

Each time you remove the key from the ignition, the lock engages and locks the steering wheel and steering column. If your steering wheel moves little or not, if there is little travel, the lock is on. In this case, it is impossible to start the car without unlocking the anti-theft device, because the latter is fixed on the steering column.

  • After removing the key, just turn the steering wheel one way or another and the steering wheel is quickly locked by the lock.
  • Sometimes, once the key is removed from the switch, it only takes a few millimeters of your steering wheel to lock it in place. Sometimes we even immediately hear the locking click.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 5

Step 5. Move your steering wheel in one direction or another

Turn the key at the same time until the steering wheel is unlocked. If the key does not turn easily, just turn the steering wheel one way or the other and the key can finally turn. Do not force the key or the steering wheel, things should go smoothly. Keep turning the key to start.

  • Unless there is another problem, the key turns freely in the ignition when the steering wheel is unlocked.
  • If your key is still sticking despite an unlocked steering wheel, there is another problem.

Method 2 of 3: Troubleshoot some key issues

Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 6

Step 1. Do not fully insert the key

If your key is not turning properly, you may have engaged it a little too deep, causing the pinions in the barrel to not turn as it should. Pull it out a millimeter or two, or more, and then try turning it.

  • If this method works, your key is already worn out.
  • Even if it works, it would be wise for you to replace it as soon as possible, otherwise you could have problems.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 7

Step 2. Move your key into the ignition switch

If the previous method did not work, try the one that involves moving the key in all directions, preferably vertically while turning it. Go slowly so as not to damage anything. It is possible that with this constant backlash the teeth and the pinions will end up coinciding: the engine could then start.

  • If this method works, the teeth on your wrench are too worn to engage the barrel pinions.
  • Even if it works, it would be wise for you to replace it as soon as possible, because this maneuver is not normal.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 8

Step 3. Straighten a bent wrench

Do this with a rubber or wooden mallet. Indeed, it is impossible to turn a key which is bent. Place your wrench flat, concave side towards you, on a very flat surface that does not warp, the metal part of a workbench for example. Using a rubber or wooden mallet, straighten your wrench with repeated small strokes.

  • You often have to tap several times before you can flatten it.
  • Avoid straightening the key with a pair of pliers or a vise, you might twist it the other way, which will permanently weaken it.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 9

Step 4. Push the key back and forth in the cylinder

If dirt has entered the cylinder, it may be preventing you from turning the key. To try to dislodge it, push it all the way in, then remove your key several times in a row. Rotate regularly to see if the problem is resolved.

One of two things: either the dirt is really gone and everything is fine or it is still there and the operation will have to be repeated

Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 10

Step 5. Have a new key made

If your key is really damaged, there is no point in making a copy, since it will have the same fault: your car will not start better. In this case, your best bet is to go to your dealer to order a new one. By showing him your papers and your vehicle identification number (“VIN” code), he will be able to order it from the parent company.

  • The vehicle papers must be presented to prove that you are the owner of the vehicle.
  • If you do not succeed in having your key redone, all you have to do is dismantle the cylinder and replace it, you will have a new key.

Method 3 of 3: Repair barrel problems

Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 11

Step 1. Use an air canister

Even a small amount of debris can prevent your key from turning, so the pinions cannot be moved. Buy a can of compressed air and using the small straw provided that you will gradually insert, inject compressed air into the barrel to drive out any impurities. Give a little squirt of air several times in a row. If there was any debris, it should be gone after this treatment.

  • Do not use all of the contents of your bomb. Indeed, the intense cold which results from it could well damage the inside of the barrel, the metal being able to break under the action of the cold.
  • During this operation, wear protective glasses. The air is sent under pressure and if debris were to be expelled at high speed, it could injure your eyes.
Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 12

Step 2. Use penetrating oil

If you hear a metallic noise in the barrel, chances are it is a lubrication problem. To resolve the latter, you can inject penetrating oil (eg W40) into the contactor hole using the straw provided. There is no need to inject a lot. Two or three small squirts should be enough. Once this is done, wait a few moments, then move the key back and forth to distribute the product evenly inside the barrel.

Even if this method works, it would be a good idea to consider replacing your barrel quickly, as things shouldn't work out that easily

Fix an Ignition Key That Doesn't Turn Step 13

Step 3. Replace the barrel

If all the methods mentioned above have failed, the solution is to change the contactor which will be delivered with a new key. Your best bet is to go to your dealer and explain the problem to you. Surely, he will install the right model of contactor and you will have the manufacturer's warranty.

  • Just like having a key redone, you will need to bring the vehicle's papers and present them to the dealership to prove that you are the owner.
  • Fitting a new switch automatically leads to a change of keys, even if the old ones are in good condition.

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