Imagine arriving at your destination, shutting off your car, and being unable to remove your key from the ignition. If this has ever happened to you, then you surely know the frustration associated with this scenario. You can’t just leave the key in there, as a criminal could just drive off with your car. So, what would cause the key to get stuck in the ignition, and how can you get it out? Keep reading as we give you all the details about how to get your key out of the ignition when it seems to be stuck.
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Why Is My Key Stuck In The Ignition?
Before we tell you ways to get your key out of the car ignition cylinder, it is helpful to understand what caused your key to get stuck in the first place. Some problems are somewhat difficult to handle, while others are quite simple to resolve. If you are wondering, “Why won’t my key come out of the ignition,” here are the most common reasons why.
—Car Not In Park
Your vehicle has a safety feature that will not allow the key to be removed from the vehicle unless the automatic transmission is in Park. If the vehicle is in gear or even in neutral, the key cannot be removed from the ignition. Make sure that you move the gear shift selector to Park before attempting to remove your key.
If you have a manual transmission, this specific safety feature does not typically apply. The key can be removed when the transmission is in neutral. However, you should always be sure to set the parking brake if you leave the transmission in neutral when parking your car.
— Steering Wheel Locked
Attempting to turn the steering wheel while the car is off will cause the steering wheel to lock. Not only will the steering wheel lock, but the ignition switch will lock as well. When the steering wheel locks, it will prevent you from removing the key or starting the vehicle. Thankfully, this is usually an easy fix. You can typically start the vehicle or remove the key by wiggling the steering wheel and the key at the same time.
— Damaged Key
Damaged keys should never be placed into the ignition system. Even if you are able to get the car to crank with a damaged key, it might become stuck in the ignition. The ignition cylinder has very tight tolerances, and the key must slide perfectly into and out of the cylinder. A damaged or broken key can immediately cause problems. Unfortunately, a damaged key can also be difficult to remove from the ignition, and you might be left with a hefty repair bill.
— Battery Is Dead
You might think that the car battery would have nothing to do with the key being stuck in the ignition. However, that is not the case! The battery runs all the electrical components of the vehicle – including the ignition system. A dead battery can cause the ignition to lock with the key inside the key cylinder. When this happens, a new battery is necessary. Often, a jump start will be enough to get your car going again and remove the key from the ignition. Just make sure to replace the battery soon, or you might be stuck with the key in the ignition on another occasion. In some cases, charging the battery might be all that’s needed. The length of time needed to charge your car battery varies depending on a few different factors.
— Faulty Ignition Cylinder
The ignition cylinder on the steering column must be in proper working order for the key to slide freely in and out of the ignition. If the cylinder breaks, a few different things might happen. First, you might not be able to get the key into the cylinder. Next, you might not be able to turn the key in the ignition. And, finally, your key could get stuck in the ignition. If your key gets stuck due to a faulty ignition, it could require a lot of work to get it out.
— Debris On Your Key
Similar to a damaged key, a dirty key can also get stuck in the ignition. Even very small particles of dirt or debris could cause your key to get stuck. These small particles could get wedged into the spaces in the ignition cylinder, and they might prevent you from being able to pull the key out of the cylinder. Always ensure your key is free of obvious dirt and debris, especially sand and other small particles, before inserting it into the ignition.
— Car Is In Accessory Mode
Perhaps you are sitting in your car listening to the radio, and you try to remove your key. If the key doesn’t come out, it’s likely because the car is still in accessory mode. Switching the ignition to accessory mode provides power to the accessories, like the radio and power windows, without the need to turn on the vehicle. Some people refer to this as “having the switch on.” You should be able to turn the ignition to the off position and remove the key.
How To Remove A Stuck Key From Your Ignition
If you are saying, “My key is stuck in the ignition,” the first thing you probably want to know is how to remove it. There are a few things you can try to help get the key out, and some are easier than others. Here are the best ways to get a stuck key out of the ignition.
— Unlock The Steering Wheel
You can first attempt to remove the key by unlocking the steering wheel. If you are unable to turn the steering wheel, then the steering lock is engaged. When the wheel locks, the ignition also locks. Try turning the steering wheel slightly from one side to the other as you attempt to remove the key. You should be able to find the sweet spot that will allow the wheel to unlock. This will unlock the ignition as well, and the key can then be removed.
— Jiggle The Key
If the key is slightly bent, damaged, or dirty, jiggling it can sometimes get it out of the ignition. Jiggle the key in different ways – up, down, and side to side as you attempt to pull it from the ignition. However, don’t get too rough with it. If you put too much pressure on the key, you could break it off in the ignition. Then you would have a much bigger problem on your hands.
— Shake The Gear Selector
Even if you think your car is in the park position, the locking mechanism on the selector might not be working quite right. Press the selector more firmly into the park position or shake it slightly back and forth. This may cause the mechanism to unlock and allow you to pull the key from the ignition. If the mechanism is faulty, you will need to replace it. Otherwise, you’ll be in this situation quite often.
— Call A Locksmith
As a last resort, you might have to call a locksmith. If you have tried all the DIY methods with no success, then a locksmith can help you remove the key from the car’s ignition. The professional locksmith might need to use a key extractor tool to get the key unstuck. This could cause damage to the keyhole or ignition lock cylinder, and you might need a new ignition once the locksmith is done. You could always try to use a pair of pliers to remove the key, but that method is almost certain to cause damage.
What To Do If Your Key Keeps Getting Stuck
After removing your key from the ignition, you should likely go through the troubleshooting process to determine why your key got stuck. If the key gets stuck frequently, then you have a problem somewhere. You could start by getting a new key to see if that solves the problem. Your old key might be worn or damaged, and a new key might fix the problem.
You can also try cleaning your key with rubbing alcohol or lubricating the keyhole with graphite. These options can help ensure that the key should slide in and out of the keyhole without any problems. Lastly, call an automotive locksmith and ask for help. A key that gets stuck over and over again is an issue, and you might need some professional help to solve the problem.
The Bottom Line
Having your key stuck in the ignition is a fairly common problem faced by car owners, and the fix is sometimes quite simple. Your key could get stuck for a number of different reasons, like a damaged key or a dead battery. Make sure your car is in park, wiggle the key and steering wheel, and ensure the ignition is not in the on position. If you still can’t get the key out, then call a locksmith for professional assistance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the safest way to remove a key from the ignition?
The safest way to remove a key from the ignition is by allowing the key to slide freely from the ignition on its own. Try gently wiggling the key as you attempt to remove it. Using force to remove the key is always a last resort, as it can break other parts of your ignition. A locksmith can also assist with key removal, although sometimes that might also damage other parts as well.
What should I do if my key won’t turn in the ignition?
If your car key doesn’t turn in the ignition, the steering wheel lock might prevent it from turning. Try to wiggle the steering wheel as you attempt to turn the key. You might also need to jiggle the key at the same time. If you still can’t get the key to turn, you could have a damaged key or a faulty ignition. A new key might solve the problem, although a new ignition might be required.
Is it safe to leave my key in the ignition if I can’t get it out?
No, you should not leave the key in the ignition. A thief could easily crank your car and drive away with it if the key is left in the ignition. You should make every attempt to find a way to remove the key from the ignition. If nothing you try works, then park your car inside a garage or other safe place until you can find a way to remove the key.