It can be a hassle when you get in your car, insert your key but the key won’t turn. It is not a common occurrence, but it can happen. When a car key won’t turn in ignition, it is usually caused by a locked steering wheel, a bent or damaged car key, gears of the car not properly set, jammed ignition cylinder, a faulty or dead car battery, or an issue with any of the related components. You can fix this problem by setting your car in the right gear, jiggling your steering wheel slowly back and forth, or by replacing the damaged key. You can also have it checked by a mechanic to get a proper diagnosis.
Key Won’t Turn: Why are My Keys Not Turning?
When a key won’t turn in the ignition, it can cause panic and frustration to the driver, thinking that it is caused by something serious. A key that won’t turn might not be that common but it is something that can happen, most of the time when you least expect it. You may think that it is caused by some severely-damaged components but when a key won’t turn, it is usually caused by common ignition key issues that are quite easy to fix.
The common reasons why a car key won’t turn in ignition include:
- Locked Steering Wheel
There are a lot of vehicles that have a steering wheel that locks if it has been turned or bumped after the key is removed. It is made as an added security feature to prevent car theft. Now, when the steering wheel is locked, the car key will most likely get stuck too or will not turn. It might have happened to you, accidentally locking your steering wheel when you parked your car. Remember that when the wheel is locked, your key won’t be able to turn.
- Damaged Key
Car keys wear out over time especially if you have been using them for many years. It can become damaged or bent and it might be the reason why your key won’t turn. When a bent key is inserted in the ignition, it may still be able to fit but it will no longer line up properly or engage the right pins and let the ignition turn. When this happens, pull your key out of the ignition and check your key for any signs of damage. If it has visible signs of damage like it is already bent or cracked, it might be the one that is causing the problem.
- Damaged Ignition Lock Cylinder
The car’s ignition lock cylinder is where you insert your car key to turn on the ignition. This part of the car is also subjected to wear and tear as it ages. When you insert your key in the ignition and you feel resistance or it won’t go in completely, the problem might be caused by a faulty ignition lock cylinder.
A damaged or worn ignition lock cylinder might lead to the jamming and binding of the key when it is inserted, turned, or removed. It is recommended that you have it checked and repaired to fix the problem. Sometimes, an ignition lock cylinder replacement is needed to correct it. Do not ignore this problem since it can worsen. You might not be able to get your keys since it can get stuck in the ignition.
- Gear Not Set Properly
Many automatic vehicles today have a safety feature which does not allow the key to turn if the vehicle is not in park or in neutral. Sometimes, you tend to forget that you have this feature which can cause panic when your key won’t turn in ignition. You might have parked, removed the key, and the gear has shifted without us realizing it.
- Dead Battery
Many modern cars are now equipped with more advanced electronic ignition systems. These kinds of ignition systems rely on the battery to power them. If the battery of your car is dead, your key might not turn. This issue is usually common in higher end vehicles since they are the ones that use those advanced, complicated electronic ignition systems.
If you notice that your car key won’t turn, you might want to check your battery. You can check it using a voltmeter or other tools that measure voltage.
- Obstruction Inside the Key Cylinder
Obstruction inside the key cylinder can also be the reason why your car key won’t turn. You won’t be able to turn your key in the ignition properly. Using a flashlight, look closely inside the key cylinder and check for any signs of obstruction like dirt or metal debris. The debris can obstruct the key from fully going inside the key cylinder causing it not to turn.
Key Won’t Turn: What Do I Do if my Key Won't Turn?
It can be frustrating to find out that your key won’t turn when you try to start your vehicle, especially when you are already running late for work. Fortunately, there are some ways that can help you fix the problem.
- Wiggle the steering wheel.
If the reason why your key won’t turn is a locked steering wheel, you can try to wiggle it to fix the problem. Wiggle your steering wheel back and forth as you turn your key slowly. Make sure that you don’t use much force when you wiggle the wheel. Just do it gently so you won’t cause any problems with the steering wheel and its components.
- Turn the steering wheel.
This method can also be done when you have a locked steering wheel and your key won’t turn. All you have to do is turn the steering wheel to the left or right depending on which direction the steering wheel can be turned. Turn it in that direction and hold it there. While doing this, try to turn the key to the accessory position. If the key won’t still turn, try to rock the steering wheel while turning the key. When the key turns, the steering wheel should also be unlocked and you will be able to start your car. If it does not, you may have a more serious issue. It is best that you have it checked by a mechanic.
- Check the gear shift.
Sometimes, the reason why the key won’t turn in the ignition is because your car is not in park or in neutral. This can sometimes happen to cars with automatic transmissions. Check your gear shift and make sure that your car is in park or neutral so you can turn your key.
- Use the spare key.
A bent or worn key can be the reason why a key won’t turn. Try to use your spare key if you have any. This way, you can find out if it is really the main key that is causing the problem. If the spare key turns, you need to visit a locksmith shop as soon as possible to get a copy of that backup key in case you lose it or it wears out again. If the spare key does not fix the problem, have your car checked for a proper diagnosis.
- Check the battery.
Since a dead battery can also be the reason why your key won’t turn, you also need to check your battery. You can test your car battery with a multimeter or voltmeter.
- Lubricate the lock.
When the car key won’t turn, it might be caused by a jammed up ignition cylinder. To fix the issue, you can lubricate the lock. It is recommended that you use any silicon or graphite-based lubricants instead of using WD-40. You may want to avoid using a lubricant that can cause grime, dust, or dirt accumulations. This might worsen the problem and severely jam the internals of the lock over time.
When you use or spray a lubricant in the keyhole of the ignition cylinder, make sure that you clean off any overspray or any leaking fluid from it. Wipe off and clean any visible lubricants to keep it from staining.
- Jiggle the key.
If the lubricant didn’t work and fix the problem, you can try to jiggle the key gently in the lock. Jiggling the key in the ignition can free the jammed split wafers, just enough to get the key to turn. If you managed to turn your key in the ignition, start your car and drive straight to the locksmith shop to have it checked, pulled, and fixed. It is best that you don’t remove the key after since it might cause some issues and this method may only work once.
- Hit the key.
If lubricating the keyway of the ignition cylinder does not work, it might help to use something else to unjam the lock. Keep in mind that this method should only be used as a last resort if all of the methods above did not work and you are stranded somewhere. Make sure that you did all of those methods before doing this one since they are much of a better choice and safer to do. They won’t risk damaging your locks.
This method is done by using a hammer or any vibrating mechanism. It does not need to be a hammer, you can use anything that can produce a noticeable vibration that can be put to the key or cylinder. The idea is just to get the lock’s inside to move more than just by shaking your key or car.
To do this method, you will have to insert most of the key into the ignition, leaving out around one-fourth to half an inch of the key. Then you can rap or hit the key with a tool like an end of a screwdriver or a handle of a hammer using medium force to slide the key into the ignition. If it does not work, you can use your tool to rap the ignition cylinder. When you do this, you will shake the internal components in the lock into their proper position.
This is done because inside the lock, the springs can get lost and other small parts can get stuck. You need to be very careful when you strike, particularly on the amount of force you use. While hitting the key or the cylinder might shake some things or parts temporarily and get them back into position, using too much force can damage your key and ignition. Make sure that you hit it just hard enough to break the locking mechanism, so you can turn the key properly, start the car, and drive to the nearest repair shop.
If you successfully turned your key using any of the methods listed above, you need to drive straight to the nearest repair shop and have the problem checked and repaired. This is because there is probably an underlying issue that is causing your key not to turn. Know that they are only temporary solutions and the problem will not go away. It needs to be checked to get the right diagnosis and get the right repair. If you ignore it, it can worsen and can leave you stranded somewhere next time.
- Replace your faulty ignition cylinder.
If your key won’t turn after doing all the methods listed above, the problem might be caused by a faulty ignition cylinder. To fix the problem, you might have to replace it. An ignition cylinder replacement is not that complicated to do. You just have to purchase the right product for your car’s make and model. You can do the replacement yourself if you know your way around cars or go to a repair shop.
It is important that you don’t panic and don’t get frustrated when you realize that your key won’t turn. It does not always happen but whenever it does, it can usually be fixed using some simple solutions. But when it happens and you manage to turn the key by using any of the said simple solutions, make sure that you have it checked and inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible to know what caused it and to ensure that there is no underlying problem.