Last Updated on August 16, 2023
Having trouble turning your key in the ignition? There are some simple things to try to solve the issue, or at least get you one your way, before calling a mechanic or a locksmith.
- Try the simple reasons for an ignition not turning first. Shake the steering wheel, move the shifter in and out of park, then check the battery.
- After those, the most likely reason is that the key or wafers inside the ignition lock cylinder are worn or damaged. Try the spare key. Spray lubricant directly into the ignition. Insert & jiggle the key or tap it lightly.
- Even with damaged wafers, you may be able to get your ignition turned over so you can take the car in to get it fixed and not have to be towed.
If none of these tricks work, EBay has great prices on ignitions and your local automotive locksmith will be able to key the new ignition up to your existing car keys and install it if necessary. If you are in the Phoenix area, ACME Locksmith can help you take care of this.
What To Try When Your Key Won’t Turn Your Ignition
The following things to try to rotate the ignition are in order from the easiest and simplest (i.e. try #1 first), to the most difficult (may actually cause harm to the ignition). Do them in this order order.
1. Wiggle the Steering Wheel to Unlock the Ignition
A steering wheel can lock in place after a car’s ignition key has been removed. It’s a safety feature designed to prevent theft. Additionally, in some situations, the steering wheel might lock if the wheels are turned sharply while the engine is off, causing the ignition lock mechanism to engage and stopping the steering wheel from turning.
To see if this is the issue, try to turn the steering wheel. If it is locked, not turning at all, and feels like it is “hitting” a stop point, this can be the issue.
Why it Works:
Put the key into the ignition and press on they car’s brake. Rapidly, but not forcefully, jiggle the steering wheel back and further while you turn the key. The wheel should release from the steering wheel locking mechanism and the key turn the ignition.
2. Ensure the Gear Shift is in Park
Modern cars have a safety feature that prevents the ignition from turning if the gear shift isn’t securely in the “Park” or “Neutral” position.
This safety feature is there so that the car doesn’t accidentally start and begin “driving” when the engine is turned on.
Why it Works:
Try jiggling the gear shift to ensure it is all the way into part/neutral position. Then try to turn the key again.
3. Check to See if the Battery is Dead
A dead battery can cause an ignition to lock up. In newer cars, the ignition system can be electronically controlled, and the key talks to the vehicle’s computer to allow the rotation of the ignition
When the battery is dead or too weak to provide sufficient power, the communication between the ignition key and the computer is disrupted. As a result, the ignition locks up as a ‘safety measure’ to prevent potential issues or malfunctions that could arise from attempting to start the engine with inadequate power.
Why it Works:
Restoring power to the battery or jump-starting the vehicle can often resolve this situation. It will allow the necessary electronic communication to take place and unlock the ignition.
4. Try the Spare Key in the Ignition
With every turn of the car’s ignition the edges of your car key are under force to align the wafers correctly. Over time this thins out the edge of the key and wears it down until one day it simply stops turning the ignition.
New keys have sharp crisp edges, while worn out car keys have soft, rounded edges. Look for rounded edges on your car’s existing key.
Why it Works:
If you have a spare key get it and compare it to your current key. Does it have sharper edges? Try that key.
If it works, great! You’re done.
But if that ignition key looked sharp and crisp, yet didn’t rotate, then it’s likely not the issue.
If it looked as worn as the first key, it could still be the problem. Take it to an automotive locksmith shop. Locksmiths can get you a key with the factory original-cuts, and it will only cost a few dollars.
Ask the locksmith to get you a key by code, but ask them to put it on a standard key blank, not a chipped key. A standard key won’t start your car, because it’s not programmed, but if the key turns the ignition, you’ve found the problem, and can then get a chipped key cut and programmed to the car. If it didn’t, you were only out a few dollars.
5. Use a Silicon-Based Lock Lubricant
If the spare key did not turn the ignition, or you did not have one, you need to consider the ignition as the issue.
Ignitions over time can get filled with all kinds of gunk, dirt and debris. The wafers in an ignition are designed to slide into place every time a key is inserted. A gunked up ignition will prevent them from going into place.
Try squirting some silicon-based lock lubricant into the ignition or door lock.
Why it Works:
A silicon lock lubricant, like Triflow, will clean the wafers and get any dirt and debris out that may be preventing your key from turning.
Do not use oil based products or graphite. Though these may solve the problem temporarily, oil based products will collect dirt and graphite will gunk up over time, so the problem will come back.
Be sure to put a rag or something on the floor underneath the steering wheel. The lubricant and anything inside of the ignition will drip out.
Our favorite silicon spray, and the only brand we use, is Triflow. You can get Triflow on our website here for a great price.
6. Jiggle the Key in the Ignition
If the lubricant hasn’t fixed the problem, and you’ve eliminated the key (or weren’t able to test another key) the next step is to try and gently jiggle the key in the lock as you turn.
Auto locks use a wafer based locking system. The wafer is typically split down the center to accommodate the correct key when it slides in.
Over time, the wafers can become, bent or broken, and they will prevent rotation of the ignition.
One of the biggest reasons for damaged ignition wafers is a heavy key ring. Our Tempe Locksmiths get called in a lot for car ignition issues. It’s a college town: older cars, heavy key rings pulling on the ignition , and aggressive turning all eventually lead to damaged wafers.
Why it Works:
If the lock wafers have minor damage or the split wafers have jammed, this may free them enough to get the key to turn the ignition.
You want to be sure to try the jiggle method after you’ve cleaned the ignition with lock lubricant. This is so the wafers can move around freely as you jiggle.
If this work, get your car to a locksmith or repair shop right away! Your ignition will eventually fail.
7. Tap the Key in the Ignition
This is the last-resort method to try when your key won’t turn. Use it only after trying all the previous methods. As a last resort you can’t possible get any more stranded so it is worth a try, but the above are a better choice to start with since they may work, and you won’t risk damaging your ignition in any way.
In this method insert the key most of the way into the ignition, maybe leaving the key out a 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Then with the blunt end of a screwdriver or with the handle of a hammer (not the hammer’s head) rap the key with medium force to slide the key into the ignition quickly as you gently try to turn the ignition.
If this work, get your car to a locksmith or repair shop right away! Your ignition has failed.
Why this Works:
In this method you are trying to free up any damaged or jammed wafers by considerable force. Similar to shaking the key but with much more of a jarring punch. The hope is that any bent or damaged wafers will fall into place or be force into place as you rap on them while rotating the key.
8. Have a Locksmith Repair the Ignition
If all else fails and still your key won’t turn the ignition, it’s time to hire a locksmith.
The main advantage to hiring an automotive locksmith over a repair shop is that the locksmith can go to your location to do the job. They will charge to go to you, but it will likely be less expensive than a tow to the dealer or your mechanic and certainly more convenient.
If you are a DIYer EBay has great prices on ignitions. Buy the ignition switch online and then take it to your local automotive locksmith. They will rekey the new ignition up to your existing keys so that you won’t have two separate keys to the vehicle.
Steering wheel is not locked but my key won't turn
Your car key may have stopped turning the ignition because of a worn out key, or broken or damaged wafers within the ignition cylinder.
Should I Use WD-40 in My Ignition?
As a rule, do not use WD-40 in an ignition. We recommend silicon-based spray in almost all cases. However, since this will be a temporary solution, just so you can drive the car in for a permanent solution, yes, you can try it. If WD-40 or silicon-based spray fix the problem, you need to get your vehicle to a locksmith right away for a long-term repair.
How can I tell if the ignition lock is bad?
If your ignition has been getting more fussy over time, it has likely failed. Has the ignition been sticking or clicking when you turned the key? Has it been hard to turn for a while? Those are signs of a failing ignition.
More of Our Favorite Security Products
Smart Locks: Access Your Locks via Smart Phone. You’ll find some of our favorite smart locks that allow you to control home access and monitor entry in our Amazon Smart Lock Shop. Watch our Smart Lock Comparison Video on YouTube fore reviews of the most popular Smart Locks.
Sliding Glass Door Lock: The best arcadia door lock that stops your sliding glass door from being lifted out of it’s tracks and to prevent little ones from opening the door and leaving the home. Check out the video on YouTube and Buy it on our website.
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