We all know that our cars are getting more and more complicated every year. There’s a lot of things to remember about your car, from the type of gas you need to put in it to whether or not you can use regular unleaded gasoline in an older model. One thing most people don’t think about is what they should do if their car key won’t go into the ignition at all, but there are some steps you can take before calling for help.
Knowing those reasons your ignition key won’t turn is the first step in getting your car out of its temporary lock and back on the road.
Before we can discuss what might be causing your ignition key to sticking, it’s important to understand the basic parts of a car ignition system:
The Ignition – cylinder/cylinders where you put your key. It is typically round or square in shape and feels rough to the touch.
The Key Blade – this is the part of your key that actually fits into the ignition cylinder. The blade can be anywhere from 15mm to 65mm long, depending on your car. Some cars have a valet key that only has 1-2 teeth for locking/unlocking the steering wheel, and only works on the driver’s door.
The Ignition Cap– The part of your ignition that attaches to the base of the key blade. This is where you put down your key (with the cap facing up), and it should be flat, smooth, and shaped like a small “U” or bowl. Some cars may have a “T” shaped cap, with a notch cut out on one side.
The Ignition Barrel– This is the base of your ignition cylinder where you insert your key to turn it. The barrel should be round or square in shape (cylinders can also be hexagonal), and smooth to the touch.
The most common reasons the ignition key won’t turn are as follows:
1) One common reason why you might not be able to turn your ignition key is that it’s frozen or jammed. Vehicles can freeze during extremely cold weather, especially if your car is parked outside. Sometimes the temperature within the cylinder itself will drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit (or Celsius), making it impossible for the key to move. This can happen even if your car was just driven.
You can check to see if your car’s ignition is frozen by placing a thin piece of metal (like a butter knife) in the keyway and attempting to turn it as you normally would. If this works, then your problem is most likely related to cold weather.
2) Another cause for an ignition that feels jammed or won’t turn is a faulty ignition key. If you’re using the same key that’s been working just fine for years, then there’s a chance it has simply worn out and needs to be replaced. You might notice that the blade of your key feels rough or grooved when inserting it into the ignition barrel, which could indicate damage from normal use.
3) If your car’s ignition has been replaced recently, it might still feel stuck or jammed because the key isn’t engaging properly. If this is the case, you might need to have a professional mechanic inspect and adjust your key’s tumblers.
4) You may also want to clean any dirt or dust that might be in your ignition, inside the key blade, and out. A thin layer of rust can make a key feel rough in a cylinder, while dirt can jam or block your key from being inserted properly into the barrel.
5) If after following these steps your car’s ignition is still jammed or frozen, you’ll need to either have it towed to your mechanic’s shop or call a locksmith for help.
3) If your car key turns, but the ignition doesn’t start the engine, you may have other issues to deal with. There are several reasons why this might be happening:
A) You might need to replace your spark plugs or spark plug wires. If your vehicle is old, the wires leading to your spark plugs may need to be replaced. This can prevent your engine from starting or lead to an irregular-sounding idle.
B) If there is no response when you turn the key in your ignition, it might mean that your car’s battery needs recharging. Most batteries are good for four or five years, and some batteries need to be replaced every two years. If your battery is old, you can buy a high-quality replacement from most auto parts stores for about $75.
C) If your car’s engine turns over but won’t start, it might mean that there’s not enough gas in the tank or fuel lines to keep it running. To check this, turn on your car’s hazard lights and put fresh fuel in your tank (if you have a full tank). If the engine still doesn’t start, it may mean that there is a leak in your gas line or in your fuel pump. Contact a mechanic to get help with this problem.
4) If you can’t physically access your car’s ignition because it has run over, you’ll need to call a mobile locksmith for help. A professional can come out and unlock your car in about 30 minutes, but they will cost anywhere from $50-150. If the only thing wrong with your ignition is that it’s jammed or frozen, you can usually fix it yourself with some time and patience.
If you don’t want to pay for a mobile locksmith, then it may be in your best interest to wait for your car’s ignition to unfreeze. This can take about 30 minutes in moderate temperatures (70 degrees Fahrenheit) but could take much longer if the weather is colder or if your key isn’t working properly.
5) If you have a new ignition, your key feels rough or grooved, or trying to start your engine doesn’t produce any response from your car’s starter, then it might be time to visit a mechanic for help. These types of problems usually require a professional’s attention because they’re outside the realm of what most people are capable of fixing.
Here are 7 Steps from Car Talk you can take if your ignition isn’t working properly:
You might not always have time to wait for roadside assistance so try these seven steps from CarTalk before giving up.
1. The Emergency Key Turn
Most locksmiths will tell you that in many cases, all you need to do is turn your key to the “on” position.
Here’s how to do it: Turn your ignition key to the “on” position for 15 seconds, then blow compressed air into the lock cylinder. This should force some of the oil down into the tumblers which often works better than just turning the key in the lock cylinder while it’s still in the locked position.
If this doesn’t work, try the Emergency Key Turn again. If it still doesn’t open your door, move on to step #2.
2. Check all fuses under the hood
Sometimes a fuse will blow and take out your ignition switch. The emergency key turn often fixes the problem, but if it doesn’t work, check under the hood to make sure all of your car’s fuses are still in good shape and tightly seated.
3. Try to bump-start your car
If you have a manual transmission, turn your key to the “on” position just long enough to power up your car’s electronics. This should unlock your steering wheel so that you can bump-start your vehicle.
To do this, put your car in 1st gear (or Reverse if necessary).
Fuel pump/Fusible Link
Turn the key off and disconnect the battery for a few minutes. Reconnect it then try to start your car again. If you hear a clicking sound, it’s probably the fuel pump or fusible link in your fuse block under your hood.
Both of these components are inexpensive and easy to replace yourself if you have some mechanical experience.
If the clicking goes away after disconnecting your battery, then it’s probably just a fusible link and you can go to step #4 for more help.
4. Make sure the steering wheel is turned all the way
Most modern cars won’t allow you to turn on your car without turning your steering wheel all the way in one direction or another.
If your steering lock has engaged, you need to turn the steering wheel all the way in one direction and then try to start your car again.
5. Make sure all your doors are shut
If you leave your car unlocked, your engine won’t turn over because it thinks that nobody is inside the vehicle. If all of your doors are closed and locked (or open), then try bumping start your car again.
6. Check for stuck keys inside your ignition
If you have a spare key, try it in your car’s ignition. If the spare key doesn’t turn either, then chances are that there’s a foreign object stuck inside your lock cylinder. Turn the key off and check around for anything that looks like it might be causing a problem.
7. If nothing works, call an expert!
If you’ve tried all of these steps, but your car still won’t start, then it might be time to see a professional locksmith or mechanic to look for other problems related to stuck keys in the ignition.
We’ve all been that someone who’s broken their car key off in the ignition before, and we can all attest to how frustrating this issue can be.
Give us at Right On Time Locksmith provide mobile locksmith services
Your ignition is a very important part of your car and it can be dangerous to drive without one. When you require ignition repair, a locksmith from Right on Time Locksmith will come right to you and fix your problem in no time.
Call us at (301) 798-5333 for 24/7 emergency service!