Key won’t turn in ignition-is there a car problem more annoying than this?
Not only annoying but dangerous. From the possibility of getting stranded (not being able to start the car) to even the steering wheel locking up.
First sign of this problem is when you insert the key in the ignition and want to turn it, it gives some resistance. It doesn’t turn smoothly.
Final symptom, the car key doesn’t budge at all.
You should react to this as soon as the first symptoms appear, don’t wait for the bitter end.
This article will hopefully help you solve this problem on your own and in an inexpensive way. Most of what you’ll need you probably already have in the household.
Although this repair (if you can call it that) is done on a Skoda Fabia, the basic principle applies to almost all cars.
If you’re not up to reading, you can watch the video tutorial at the end of the article or on our You Tube channel.
WHY WON’T THE KEY TURN IN THE IGNITION?
Just a few words about the actual problem before we start.
If you have the time, click here for an excellent explanation on Wikipedia on how the whole mechanism actually works.
In short, the ignition lock has, within it, a lock cylinder. That’s the part where you insert the key and which turns.
The grooves on the key match the lock cylinder mechanism thus allowing you to turn the key, unlock the steering wheel and start the car.
A primary safety precaution invented in times where this was the only thing stopping a car thief. Remained to this day.
The locking cylinder and mechanism work on the same principle as the door lock on your house.
It simply wears off over time. Just imagine how many times you insert and remove the key while you own and drive the car. Thousands if not millions.
Material fatigue causes the small metal parts and springs inside to wear out.
But, besides material fatigue, there is another problem.
You see, the whole ignition lock mechanism is precisely made with small tolerances (made with a tight fit).
This makes it highly susceptible to malfunction if an excessive amount of dust and all filth deposit inside.
These mostly get inside the lock over the key, believe it or not.
Car keys are held all over the place making them good collectors of all kind of filth. Combine this with millions of insertions and presto, you get a dirty lock cylinder.
Filth and dust get inside the mechanism and start to block it, eventually to a point of total malfunction.
This article is mainly for problems with a dirty, filthy or jammed ignition lock cylinder.
WHAT WILL YOU NEED FOR THIS REPAIR?
Two things you’ll need when the key won’t turn in ignition:
Can of WD-40 spray
Of course this is the most famous spray for solving rust problems, semi-cleaning or slightly lubricating. This spray has all of these components combined. It will rinse and clean out any filth and crud that accumulated inside the lock cylinder. Also, it will keep it lubricated for some time.
If you don’t have exactly this spray, I would recommend a silicon-based spray. A good alternative that will also lubricate the inner parts of the lock cylinder.
Whatever you choose, see that it has a straw that you can put on, so you can reach the inside of the cylinder
Oil can with engine oil
Classical oil can, with the metal extension. Best fill it with common engine oil. If you don’t have that, any kind of oil for lubricating mechanical parts will do. Just make sure that the oil is new.
Spare key at hand
It would be very good to have a spare key at hand. This repair will involve frequent turning of the car key.
It will be used as sort of lever for turning the ignition lock. If the key is worn or the ignition lock gives extra resistance when turning, there is a possibility of it getting twisted and damaged.
If the key is already damaged, twisted or cracked (which can lead to braking), bet use the spare key right away and avoid the other one altogether.
The last thing you would want is the key to break. Then the broken part gets stuck in the cylinder and can be a pain to pull out. More on this one later in the article.
KEY WON’T TURN IN IGNITION-PROCEDURE FOR REPAIR
With the WD-40 spray:
- Put the car in neutral (if you drive a manual transmission car) or in park if it’s an automatic. Pull the hand brake just in case. This is a precaution since you’re working around the ignition key. Wouldn’t want to start the car accidentally.
2. Take the WD-40 spray with the straw on and insert the straw inside the lock cylinder. Don’t go to far inside, 1 centimeter max.
3. Spray up to three times and with short bursts. Don’t overdo it as you wouldn’t want to flood the cylinder. The point is to get just enough to make the lock cylinder work again.
4. Spray some WD-40 on the car key also. This is another way of getting spray inside the lock simultaneously lubricating the key a bit.
5. Start working the steering wheel around as much as it goes. At the same time, insert and remove the key. Also, move it as if you wanted to start the ignition.
6.Buy this point, if everything is OK, the key will start to turn in the ignition. If so, work it around some more until it unblocks completely.
7.If the repair is successful, it will work as good as new.
With the oil can:
This is essentially the same procedure, only using engine oil as the lubricant. My recommendation, don’t go with the oil directly inside the lock cylinder. Rather use the key as sort of “spoon “for getting the oil inside.
Put the car in neutral (if you drive a manual transmission car) or in park it’s an automatic. Pull the hand brake just in case. This is precaution since you’re working around the ignition key. Wouldn’t want to start the car accidentally.
2. Take the oil can with the metal extension and the car key. Apply a film of oil on the key and spread all over the metal part of the key (the one that goes inside the lock cylinder).
3. Insert and remove the key in the lock several times. Don’t turn just go in and out.
4. Repeat this procedure at least three times. Since you’re putting very small amounts of oil with one try, the more you repeat the better effect it will produce. The more you do it, the more oil gets inside.
5. Start working the steering wheel around as much as it goes. At the same time, insert and remove the key. Also,move it as you want to start the ignition.
6. Buy this point, if everything is OK, the key will start to turn in the ignition. If so, work it around some more until it unlocks completely.
7. As with the WD-40 option, if the repair is successful, it will work as good as new.
You also have the possibility of combining these two methods. When the WD-40 spray has evaporated a bit, you can add some engine oil.
WD-40 spray is good for unblocking the mechanism and the engine oil is good for prolonging the period of lubrication.
Just please don’t overdo it. Usually, one method or the other is enough. Excessive use can cause the lubricant to damage other parts of the locking mechanism.
If dust and filth are not the reason why the key won’t turn in ignition, it will show right away.Adding more oil or spray will not help.
WHAT SHOULD YOU ALSO CHECK IF THE CAR KEY WON’T TURN IN THE IGNITION?
Here are a few more things you should check if the key won’t turn in ignition:
Check if the car key is damaged
Damaged car keys are also a fairly common fault for why the key won’t turn in the ignition.
Also a matter of material fatigue. You see, the key is essentially a lever with which you turn on a switch. Over years of applying pressure, it weakens, it may bend and the grooves that enter the lock tend to wear out.
All of this can lead to the key not being able to activate the lock cylinder and not being able to turn the ignition switch. In severe cases, the key may even break.
So, check that the key is in good condition (no fractures, that it isn’t bent and that the grooves are OK).
Check the steering wheel lock
Very easy to do. Just insert the car key, budge the steering wheel left and right while slightly inserting and removing the car key (just a few mm).
This is standard procedure if you lock the steering wheel.
If you always have to this when starting the car you should have the steering lock mechanism checked. Over time, especially if you own the car a long time, it can cause problems.
Don’t wait on this one, check it immediately. Steering wheel locks are known to lock even during driving.
Check the ignition cylinder
If the procedure that’s explained doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to replace the whole mechanism, namely the lock cylinder.
Maybe best way to inspect it is to insert the key and wobble it around. If the cylinder lock isn’t a tight fit, it’s a tell-tale sign that the mechanism is faulty.
This job involves (all depending on the car model) taking off the steering wheel, air bag, plastic trimming around the steering wheel and eventually the locking mechanism and cylinder.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO DIY THE JOB, ESPECIALLY WATCH WHEN TAKING THE AIR BAG OFF TO DISCONNECT THE BATTERY AND WAIT FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES!!! IF YOU DON’T, YOU COULD ACCIDENTALLY ACTIVATE THE AIR-BAG AND SUFFER INJURIES!
Don’t mean to discourage all DIY enthusiasts, but to tell you the truth it’s a pretty tricky job.
Especially if you have no experience. Also, today’s cars with tons of electronics are no help.
It can be done, but experience is very welcome with this car repair.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF THE CAR KEY ACCIDENTALLY BREAKS?
As mentioned, make an inspection of the car key before you start this repair. You’ll be using it frequently to turn the ignition lock.
If the ignition lock is really stuck, you’ll have to apply a lot of pressure on the key for it to work.
Any small crack or bend can mean a broken key once pressure is applied.
However, if this problem happens, don,t panic, there is a solution:
Grab a pair of pliers (best if you have needle-nose pliers). There is a good probability that a small piece of the key will be left out.
Grab that piece with the pliers as hard as you can. Simultaneously budge the steering wheel left and right to possibly ease key removal.
If the key is “buried” inside the ignition lock cylinder, try digging it out with a small flat-head screwdriver or even a hair pin. Anything that can be inserted inside the cylinder.
Best use two screwdrivers, pins or other means to provide support from both sides of the broken piece and try to eject the broken part out.
Also, if your lucky and the broken part isn’t stuck that much, you can try with a strong magnet to pull it out. Rarely does it help but worth the try.
These are just some suggestions that helped me with similar problems.
Give it your best and try to work yourself around it. Even if you have to invent a new tool, try it.
Otherwise, a stuck car key means a tow truck, mechanic or locksmith and lost time and money.
HOW TO FIX A BENT CAR KEY?
Over time keys can bend due to frequent usage.
They are mostly made out of an aluminum alloy which is stiff and solid, but fairly brittle.
This means that it can bend a bit but after that it breaks like a Popsicle.
Although the best solution is to make a new car key, there is a way to help yourself with this problem.
It involves a hammer and a soft surface (like soft wood or plastic). The point is to flatten the key and return it to normal as much as possible.
Before starting, inspect the key for cracks. If there are any, best don’t use this fix. There is a very good probability that the car key will break.
Now, for the procedure:
Use a rubber or plastic hammer. Try to avoid metal hammers as metal-to-metal contact will probably break the key.
Find a soft surface. Best use a softer piece of wood plank or plastic.
Watch not to damage the plastic part of the key. Put only the metal part on the surface you’re going to hammer on.
Start hammering. Don’t use excessive force, rather hammer as you would when chiseling something. Short, mild and precise blows.
Repeat until the key is straight. Do this procedure on both sides.
Again, don’t hammer away like you’re forging a sword or something.
If you overdo it, the key can break and then it’s good for nothing.
Have in mind that most of today’s keys are very pricey to replace (even up to a couple hundred Euros!).
HOW MUCH DOES AN IGNITION LOCK REPLACEMENT COST? (AT A PROFESSIONAL)
If all of the mentioned DIY repairs didn’t help and still the key won’t turn in ignition, then it’s perhaps time to visit a professional.
I always emphasize DIY repair around cars but replacing this whole mechanism is a tricky job, I won’t lie to you.
Air-bag removal, steering wheel removal, taking off sensitive plastic trimming are on the menu.
This job wasn’t easy even on older type of cars, where there was no electronics, let alone new or newer models.
On these, you also have to be equipped with and OBD tool for resets and fine tuning.
If you, however decide to make this repair on your own, best inform yourself before starting. Best use a written or video tutorial specifically for your car. This will make the job far more easy and you’ll avoid causing damage.
Also, see that you’re able to finish the repair completely. If you notice any sign that the repair may go sour or start to doubt yourself, best visit a professional. When a professional sees that the key won’t turn in ignition and that you’ve tampered with it, it will raise some eyebrows (and perhaps the repair bill also).
Talking about professionals; two kind of professionals that solve these problems (at least in my country):
Of course this is the first stop. Most mechanics will be able to make this repair completely. Most important part is to find a good and trustworthy mechanic to do the job.
Ask for a guarantee on the repair and parts used.
At least this is a popular option in my country.
Certain shops (besides fixing regular locks) have specialized in replacing ignition cylinders and locks on cars. This specifically oriented work has enabled them to make repairs on all sort of cars and do it professionally. They also make new car keys and fix or replace key fobs.
If you want to know how to change a key fob battery by yourself, click here for a separate article on that topic.
Anyway to get to the main point on this part: prices.
Mostly depends on the car model and type.
Prices (at least in my country) start from 50 Euros up to a couple of hundred Euros.
50 Euros is the bare minimum and this is for lower segment cars. For premium cars, couple of hundred Euros is common to pay for a job like this.
This is labor and parts included.
Regarding the time for repair, usually a couple of hours. If everything is OK, it should be done within one working day.Again, depending on the car model and type.
Once more, ask for a written guarantee for the job done.
So, when the key won’t turn in ignition, be ready for a significant expense.