7 Causes Of A Key Stuck In The Ignition and How To Fix It

If your car key is stuck in the ignition, it can result in a panic situation where you can make bad decisions. Learn how to handle it like a professional.

Key Stuck In Ignition

Keys get stuck in the ignition when the gear selector isn’t in Park or there’s a problem with the release button. It could also be caused by a locked steering wheel, the key position in an accessory mode, or a worn-out key. Otherwise, you might be dealing with a bad ignition lock or a low battery. 

There are a few problems as annoying as getting your key stuck in the ignition. Your immediate response might be to try muscling the key out, but that can lead to more damage. For that reason, you must understand why the key is stuck in the ignition, so you can choose the appropriate fix. 

In this guide, we evaluate the top seven reasons for a stuck car key. Plus, we look at how to remove the key so it’s no longer stuck. Before we leave you, your top questions will finally be answered.

Reasons A Car Key Gets Stuck In The Ignition

The most common reasons why a car key gets stuck in the ignition are because the gear selector is not in Park, you forgot to press the release button, or there is a force applied to the steering wheel. It can also be a worn car key or ignition lock.

In some cases, the car key can get stuck in a way that’s easy to resolve. On the other hand, there are some problems that can be much more troublesome, but these don’t occur as often. Even the major problems often show some early warning signs before the issue gets too large to handle. 

Here are seven issues that you might be dealing with. 

1. Gear Selector Is Not In Park

Gear Selector

Your modern vehicle is designed to provide maximum safety. With your automatic transmission, there’s a setting that keeps you from pulling the key out until the car is in the Park position. After you’ve been driving for any amount of time, this action should have become second nature by now. On the other hand, this is a common mistake made by beginner drivers that don’t know better. 

If you have a manual transmission vehicle, this issue won’t be a problem for you. When you go to take your key out of the ignition, the gear shifter can be in Neutral or in gear. 

2. Release Button

Push Car Keys

If you recently purchased the vehicle, you may not have noticed that there is a release button next to the key that you must press to turn the key to the OFF position. Without pressing the button, you will not be able to turn off the ignition completely and you will not be able to remove the key.

In some vehicles, you must also push the key in to turn it fully counterclockwise to turn off the ignition and be able to remove the key.

3. Locked Steering Wheel

Turn Steering Wheel E1609947180429

Another important safety feature is the wheel lock. When force is applied to the steering wheel, it will lock up, forcing the key to remain in the ignition.

When the wheel lock is activated, you won’t be able to remove the key or start the car. Most of the time, it’s only going to activate when the key isn’t in the ignition, but it’s possible once the key has been inserted. 

4. Accessory Mode

Ignition Lock

With most ignitions, there’s an accessory mode located before the ON position. In this position, the car allows for some features without the engine running. You can use the radio and some of the electronic features. 

If you have the key in accessory mode, you won’t be able to remove it. Because the engine isn’t running, you might think that the key is in the OFF position when it is still in the accessory position.

RELATED: Key Won’t Turn in Ignition – Causes & How To Fix 

5. Worn Car Key

Worn Car Key

Your car key goes through a lot of abuse, being placed in your purse or pocket on a regular basis. It’s susceptible to having debris built up on it, which could cause problems in the ignition. 

Additionally, the key itself could be worn out. If you use your key for other purposes, such as opening packages, you have a higher chance of it wearing out. 

6. Bad Ignition Lock

The ignition cylinder could have failed. This is the part that holds the key in place. Inside the ignition lock, there are spring-loaded pins organized in various rows to ensure the key lines up. 

When the pins get out of alignment, the key won’t be able to come back out. If the ignition fails before the key goes in, you might also have trouble getting it into the lock. 

7. Low Battery

You might not think that the car battery has anything to do with the ignition, but it does. If the battery has been discharged, you might have trouble retrieving the key. You can tell the battery has something to do with the stuck situation if you can’t start the vehicle either.

Thankfully, this situation rarely occurs. If you think it could be a battery issue, make sure you check the terminals to ensure that the problem isn’t actually corrosion. 

READ MORE: How to Check Car Battery Health at Home (8 Steps)

How To Remove The Key From Ignition

Once you figure out what the problem is, you will have a better idea of how to resolve it. We’ve outlined a few things that you can try.

1. Put Gear Selector In Park

Car Shifting Problems E1609782519191

The easiest solution would be to make sure your gear selector is in Park. Until it is located in the P setting, you will not be able to remove the key. 

Take a look at the gear selector if it seems stuck. There could be something hindering its path that needs to be removed. 

2. Unlock The Steering Wheel

If the wheel lock is causing trouble, you have to work around it. This safety feature helps to prevent theft, but it’s not a failsafe.

Gently rock the steering wheel back and forth. While it’s moving, you can attempt to remove the key – just don’t use too much force. 

3. Read The Manual For Car

If you are having trouble figuring out what’s going on, the manual might have some more information for you. Read through the troubleshooting section of the book to see what you can learn.

It’s also helpful to have a service manual for your vehicle. These books must be purchased separately, but they can offer detailed instructions for a variety of circumstances. 

4. Jiggle The Key

Have you tried wiggling the key yet? While there’s no scientific explanation for how this process would work, it’s been effective numerous times. 

Gently grab onto the key and give it a little jiggle. Don’t be too forceful with it, or you could break the key off in the ignition. 

5. Shake The Gear Selector

We’ve already touched a little bit about how the gear selector could get stuck. If there’s no debris that’s noticeable, you may need to start shaking it.

Wiggle the selector around gently to see if you can get it released. While you wiggle the selector, you need to have your foot firmly on the brake pedal. 

6. Charge The Battery

If there’s any chance that the battery is dead, you must deal with this first. You would have a good indication that the battery is dead if you can’t get the car to start.

Hook up a battery charger to it and see if you can get some juice in it. Once the battery has a charge, you can try removing the key again. 

7. Lubricate Ignition Lock

Car Ignition Lock

Debris can get stuck in the ignition lock or it could just need some lubrication. You have several options to deal with this problem. For starters, you can try spraying some compressed air into the lock to remove any debris. 

Once that’s done, you can spray it with some lubricant. Obviously, this won’t be an easy process with the key already in the lock, but WD-40 comes with a straw that makes lubrication a little simpler. 

8. Call A Locksmith

If all of your efforts have gone without any resolution, you might be forced to reach out to a locksmith. A professional locksmith has the specialized tools required to get the key out of the ignition. If the key gets damaged in the process, they can also replace it. In the worst-case scenario, you may need an entirely new ignition lock, which can only be handled by a professional. 

There are several downsides to hiring a professional. First, you will have a cost involved, which could be a lot if you are calling after hours. On top of that, you may need to wait for a locksmith to arrive, especially if you aren’t in a populated area or the locksmith is already on a call. 

How Much Does It Cost To Fix A Key Stuck In Ignition?

Depending on what you need to fix, you may not have any repair costs. If you can wiggle the key free or the gear selector, all you have lost is some of your time. Even charging the battery or lubricating the lock should be a minimal charge. Your only expensive option is to call a locksmith. 

Can A Locksmith Get A Broken Key Out Of The Ignition?

Yes. If the key breaks off in the ignition, a locksmith will be able to remove it. The locksmith can also tell if any permanent damage has been done to the lock, and they can put in a new cylinder if the damage can’t be repaired. This avenue will cost a decent amount of money, especially if you need a new key too.

How Do You Know If Your Ignition Lock Cylinder Is Bad?

There are often warning signs that the ignition lock cylinder is going bad. It might start to get stuck briefly in certain positions, such as when ON or in the ACC spot. It’s best to have the lock looked at the second it starts getting harder to put the key in or take it out. 

What Tool Should I Use If Key Gets Stuck In Car Ignition?

You can use a key extractor to remove a broken key, similar to what a locksmith has. A jigsaw blade is also thin enough to get alongside the key in the lock. Otherwise, you might prefer using tweezers or needle-nose pliers, which are helpful if the key is protruding somewhat out of the lock. 

Conclusion

With the key stuck in the ignition, your day is sure to become disrupted. Thankfully, the majority of issues you may be facing are simple to deal with and resolve. Many of them require simply making some adjustments to the selector, wheel or key. You can do some wiggling to see if the key gets pushed loose.

Once you start having trouble with the key in the lock, it’s important to figure out if it’s a long-term issue. If it wasn’t simply a fluke, you want to repair the underlying condition before you can’t get the key out at all. If you wait, you may find yourself in a worse predicament, forcing you to wait on a locksmith for more assistance. 

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