Key Stuck in the Ignition? Try These Seven Solutions

Key Won't Turn In Ignition

Anyone who owns a vehicle and frequently drives probably doesn't think much about starting the car since it's an action they've likely taken hundreds of time. After popping in the driver's seat getting situated, most of us pop the key in the ignition, turn it, and the engine starts up before we get to the part that requires our attention: actually driving places.

Because it's so simple, it's easy to take starting up the car for granted—and even easier to worry when you try, but the key won't turn in the ignition. Several potential causes can lead to this issue, and it's never enjoyable to wonder what's happening with your car, whether it's a Ford, Toyota, Nissan, or otherwise. Read on to find common causes and how to fix the issues so you can get back to driving in peace!

Possibility #1: Your Battery Has Died

More and more vehicles are using electronic ignition systems, which rely on your car's battery to get started. While not every make and model will have this, some layouts require energy even to let you turn the key, let alone turn over the engine. To check if this possibility is the cause, see if other lights, like the interior ones and headlights turn on as they should. If not, the battery may be at fault.

Your battery may be dead, or you may have another issue in your car's electrical system that is causing your battery to die before it should. While you can replace the battery right away, you should have a full check of your electrical charging system performed, so you don't run into the same issue again soon after.

Possibility #2: The Steering Wheel Has Locked

If you turn the steering wheel after taking the key out of the ignition, the wheel may lock, consequently preventing you from twisting the key. To solve this problem, your goal is to move the steering wheel away from the position where it's putting pressure on the ignition cylinder.

To fix this issue, try to move the steering wheel as much as you can, occasionally trying to turn the key at different positions until you find the successful one. Strategies that can help are turning the wheel towards the direction where it has slack or slowing moving the wheel back and forth. Once you feel the steering wheel unlock, you should be able to turn the key without issue.

Possibility #3: Your Key Has Worn Down

Your car key goes through the paces between always turning the ignition, hanging off a keychain, or taking up residence in your bag. For especially old vehicles, this time can mean that the ridges along the key have worn down. Since keys work by matching the precise pattern to the parts inside, some heavy wear and tear can make it unable to match up with the lock.

You can quickly check if this possibility is the issue by testing your backup key. Since you likely don't use that key much, it won't have as much wear and tear and should have no problem matching the grooves to the keyhole. When a worn down key is the problem, it's in your best interest to make a new backup key as soon as possible, as it's much more expensive to make one from scratch than to copy an existing one.

Tip: When comparing used car values, consider allotting a bit of your vehicle budget into the possibility that you may need to get a backup key, so you can have one just in case this issue occurs.

Possibility #4: There's an Issue with the Ignition Lock Cylinder

Almost the opposite of having an issue with the key being worn down, the same can happen to the lock cylinder. It's possible for something to obstruct the keyhole, and even being off by the slightest amount can prevent the teeth from lining up correctly, which will stop you from being able to turn the key to start up the vehicle.

If something is inside the ignition cylinder, a can of compressed air might be able to help you clear out any debris that is getting in the way. Alternatively, the cylinder itself may have taken damage, so things aren't lining up correctly on that side. You may need a mechanic to confirm this possibility, and if it ends up being the problem, you'll need to replace the entire ignition cylinder.

Possibility #5: Your Key Is Bent

Another issue that can prevent the key from turning is if it has become bent. Again, even the slightest of misalignments can stop you from starting up your car, so line the key up against a flat, level surface. If it doesn't press flush against the whole edge, then it's likely a bent key that's causing an issue.

In some cases, you may be able to keep the key pressed against that flat surface and use a hammer to tap it into place. However, this runs the risk of causing more damage or harming the electronic components, if your key has any, so you need to use great caution with that method. Alternatively, you can take the bent key to a locksmith, who can create a correct CODE key that should operate like new.

Possibility #6: Your Gear Shift Is Out of Line

While not all makes and models will have this feature a car, SUV, or pickup truck may not allow you to start the vehicle if the gear shift isn't set to park or neutral. This possibility is easy to determine if that is the issue, as you can quickly check where the shifter is. However, this can only be an issue on a vehicle with automatic transmission, not a manual.

If it isn't on park or neutral, you should be able to move it and then start your car up. Sometimes, the gear may look as if it's on park, but it can be slightly off. To check for this, keep the shifter at park, but shake it gently to see if it sets back into the correct position. In the latter case, you may want to conduct repairs on the gear shift to prevent repeat problems.

Possibility #6: Your Key Is Dirty

Many of us keep our car keys in our pockets, on keychains, or in bags—and all those places have the potential to make a mess of the key. Additionally, if you use your car key to open up tape on packages, the adhesive can stick to the metal, making it easy for your key to building up debris like lint and dirt, preventing it from correctly lining up with the ignition.

You can quickly check this issue by looking over your key for signs of gunk and debris. For best results, use Goo Gone or rubbing alcohol to scrub it down. You'll want to use a lint-free cloth to prevent anything else from potentially sticking. Once clean and dry, try the key to see if that solved the issue.

Possibility #7: You're Using the Wrong Key

This possibility may sound silly, but sometimes the most straightforward answer is the right one. While many manufacturers will put distinguishing factors on the keys to help identify which one goes where, perhaps you have two Ram trucks, and you've mixed up the keys, or maybe you picked up the wrong key ring. When in doubt, swap out the key you're using for other potential options.

While a few other options can potentially jam up your ignition and keep the key from turning, these seven are some of the most common. In cases where you can't solve the problem on your own, a locksmith or your car mechanic likely can figure out the solution, and your auto insurance policy may cover the costs.

Just stay patient, don't force the key to turn, and use the process of elimination to work out your next steps.