7 Reasons Your Car Key is Stuck in the Ignition (and How to Remove It!)

Updated

“Argh! My key won’t come out of the ignition!” If that’s every happened to you, you know how stressful it can be to have your car key get stuck in the ignition of your vehicle.

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You may panic while you try to figure out how to get it out since you can’t just leave it in the ignition with the doors unlocked while you go in to work, your home, etc.

Whatever you do, DO NOT attempt to use brute force to get the key out because you could end up breaking it off completely. Then you’ll have a much bigger problem on your hands.

Any car key in an ignition should easily slide out after you have completely rotated it counterclockwise and (if applicable) pushed the key release button. If the key won’t come out of the ignition, then you need to understand the possible cause of this problem.

7 Reasons a Car Key Gets Stuck in the Ignition

There are a variety of reasons as to why your car key won’t come out. Some of these reasons may pertain to a unique problem in a specific make and model vehicle. However, most causes of key sticking are universal and can happen in any make and model vehicle.

You just need to understand these causes so that you can figure out the solution to the problem. Below are the top 7 causes of a key getting stuck in the ignition.

#1 – Parking Gear Not Set

set gear to park

The gear of the transmission must always be set to “Park” before attempting to remove a car key from the ignition. In an automatic transmission, if the gear is set to drive, neutral, or any other available gear, then the key will not come out. In a manual transmission, make sure the gear shifter is set to “Neutral” and not in any other gear.

Sometimes people may attempt to change the gear to park, but the gear doesn’t get set all the way over to it. If your vehicle has a digital screen which displays the gear settings, check that to ensure the “P” is highlighted.

#2 – Steering Wheel Lock

steering wheel hard to turn at low speeds

If you turn off your vehicle while moving the steering wheel just a little bit, the steering wheel lock will activate. Not only will this prevent you from turning the steering wheel, you won’t be able to pull out the key from the ignition either.

This is due to the ignition cylinder locking at the same time as the steering wheel lock. To release both locks at the same time, try turning the key while wiggling the steering wheel around. You should be able to take the key out now or start the engine.

#3 – Debris on Key

Some people like to open boxes and packages with their car key. While this might be effective at tearing through the box tape, it could also cause pieces of the tape to stick to the key.

If you were to then place the key into the ignition of your vehicle while the tape is still stuck to it, then it will be harder for the key to engage the ignition cylinder’s pins.

#4 – Dead Battery

battery voltage

The ignition system depends on power from the battery to function properly. If the battery dies, it will likely cause the ignition system to lock up. Then you won’t be able to get the key out of the ignition.

The best thing you can do here is to wait for a jump start or new battery to be installed. Either that or use a tack hammer and gently tap the cylinder with it.

#5 – Worn or Damaged Key

worn or damaged car key

Car keys can take a lot of abuse over the years. Each time you put the key in the ignition and turn, it wears the key just a little bit. When aren’t not using your car key, you may keep it in your pocket or toss it onto a hard-surfaced desk. This kind of abuse will slowly damage your car key.

If it ever bends or forms a small crack somewhere, then it will be tougher to remove it from the ignition. Replace the key immediately if you start noticing this damage.

#6 – Damaged Ignition Cylinder

ignition switch replacement cost

If you have an ignition lock cylinder that’s on the verge of failing, it can prevent your key from coming out. This is because there are several rows of spring-loaded pins inside the ignition lock which match up with the shape of your key when inserted.

If these pins are slightly out of alignment, it can prevent you from removing the key (or even inserting it in the first place).

#7 – Manufacturer Recall or TSB

vehicle recall TSB

While rare, there is the possibility that your particular year, make, and model of car or truck is subject to a recall or technical service bulletin (TSB) directly related to the ignition lock cylinder.

You can check to see if your vehicle is affected by entering your VIN number in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. Even if it’s not, it’s a good idea to check to get the status of any other outstanding recalls or TSBs.

How to Get a Stuck Key Out of the Ignition

Getting your car key unstuck from your ignition is dependent on the situation. Is this the first time it won’t come out? Does the key keep getting stuck in the ignition? Did you already try to get the key out and ended up breaking the key? Here’s what you should do in each situation.

Key Stuck in the Ignition (1st time)

Set Parking Gear

The most common reason for not being able to get the key out is that your car’s parking gear is not set. Confirm your gear selector is set to “P” or “Park” on an automatic transmission or the shifter is set to “Neutral” in a manual transmission.

Jiggle Steering Wheel

If you’re sure that you correctly set the gear and the key still won’t come out, try slowly jiggling the steering wheel back and forth while you gently pull on the key to remove it. Sometimes when the steering column locks (a safety and anti-theft feature in most cars), it puts additional pressure on the ignition lock mechanism and prevents the key from coming out. By slightly moving the steering wheel, the pressure on the lock is removed and the key should slide out.

Key KEEPS Getting Stuck in the Ignition

If you’ve noticed that it’s been slightly more difficult to get your key in and out of the ignition over time or the key keeps getting stuck in the ignition, here are a couple things to try.

WD-40 Spray

Try spraying a little bit of WD-40 into the ignition lock. The can should come with a thin straw that should fit (or almost fit) into the space between your key and the ignition lock. Sometimes, this additional lubrication will be enough to allow the key to be removed by gently wiggling it. Once the key is out, inspect it for damage or any sign of being bent. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have the key replaced.

Rubbing Alcohol / Adhesive Remover

If the key is not damaged but you notice some dirt or gunk on the key, take some rubbing alcohol or adhesive remover (ie: Goo Gone) and thoroughly clean the key.

If using WD-40 to remove the key doesn’t work and you’ve already tried the two fixes in the section above, you may have a problem with the ignition lock itself. You’ll want to contact a locksmith or mechanic to confirm this but an ignition lock cylinder replacement may be in your future.

Key Broke Off in the Ignition

remove broken car key from ignition

Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you but if it did, you’re not the first person. Usually this happens when too much force is used to try to remove a stuck key. Here’s what you can do.

NOTE: DO NOT try to reinsert the broken top half of the key to get the bottom half out. All you’ll do is push the broken off part further into the lock and make your job of removal more difficult.

Key Extractor

Use a key extraction tool to remove the broken key. This is often something a professional locksmith would use and usually much cheaper than calling one. There are a few different types but this one does the best job of removing a key that’s broken off in a lock (any type of lock).

Jigsaw Blade

Because a jigsaw blade is so thin, it can often fit right alongside the key withing the ignition pathway. After inserting the blade, turn it ever so slightly so the notches in the blade grab on to the broken key, and then slowly pull it out.

Tweezers / Needle Nose Pliers

If any part of the key is still protruding from the ignition, tweezers or needle nose pliers are an easy solution to get it out. But, if the broken key is completely in the ignition lock, these tools are probably too thick to do much good.

Locksmith

When all else fails or you simply want to make sure it’s done right, call a locksmith. It may cost a bit more upfront but they’ll get the job done.

 

Comments

  1. The first time my key got stuck in ignition, it was only the tip of the key. The key came out, but the tip got stuck. Second time, the entire key was difficult to get out, but after wiggling it some it roughly came out. What do these situations indicate?

    Reply
    • Either the end of the key is beginning to wear out or the ignition cylinder may be worn or even damaged. You could try spraying a *little* WD-40 inside the ignition cylinder to see if that will loosen up the pins a bit inside. Then insert the key a few times to see if that helps.

      Reply
      • My key has recently been getting stuck in the ignition. Not every time, but it’s been around 5xs or so. I sprayed Pam on my key and so far that’s been working. If something is wrong, and this is a temporary fix, how much will it cost to fix it? I don’t have the $ for a costly repair.

        Reply
  2. My car was stolen and it didn’t look like they messed with the ignition but mow my key gets stuck and in the morning my car won’t start help

    Reply
    • It’s possible the thief caused a bit of damage to the ignition cylinder. If your key is in good condition, try spraying a bit of WD-40 in the cylinder and wiggling the key around. If that doesn’t help, you may need to replace the cylinder.

      Reply
      • We have a 2017 Honda CRV, the ignition will not turn all the back to release the key. Anyone else having this issue? Remedies?

        Reply
  3. My key & Gears are LOCKED up in my 07 Sebring
    This is the 1st time this has happened…
    I was at a laundry mat, Loaded my clothes, got in Started my car but it Would NOT go into gear,
    When I went to Shut off my car to inspect things the Ignition will NOT shut off or release my key.
    I can Start my car but it Wont go into gear
    It is Totally Locked up….

    Reply
  4. Watched a Brand/Model specific tutorial on how to fix the shift lock and it worked. Saved up to 600$. Anyone can do it. Took 5 minutes. Our car is the 2013 Hundia Sonata.

    Reply
  5. Once in a while, the key can’t be removed, even if the shifter is in P (Park). The car dealer suggested that the problem is related to a non recognition that the car is in park. An electric device for that matter should be replaced, plus the cost of labour (about 2 hours according to the estimate). Roughly 300$ to be able (and sure) to remove the key once the car is turned off. 39 months on the road … Does it make sense ?

    Reply
    • This is exactly what I think is wrong with my astra. It’s in park but I think,being an automatic,the cars not recognising that it’s in park and so won’t allow the key to go that final click to turn off. My local dealer has basically said they can’t do anything as it won’t show them the issue. It’s frustrating and you have.my full sympathy. Dealers need to listen to the people who own and drive the cars on a daily basis as they’re the ones that know them best and know when something isn’t right and it’s not them imagining it.

      Reply
  6. For the past five wks my ignition key has been stuck in the lock of my 14plate astra elite auto. The car runs fine stops fine,it’s In park and no the steering lock isn’t on but,the key will not turn of the electrics and come out of the lock. Sometimes moving the car a little makes it come out,other times waiting 15 mins with the electrics all still on and of course running down my battery,that might work but it doing it every time I stop now. Wd40 and even copper grease hasn’t helped stop the issue. It’s spent the day at a vauxhall dealer because I cldnt get the key out at work so had to loose a days work,the dealers,despite being given a thoroughly excellent explanation of what’s happening have been unable to get the car to do it for them. I know as soon as I get home the key will once more b stuck and take half HR to remove it! Why won’t the dealer accept what I’m telling them and do something! They did the same thing when I had a.major power steering problem with.a.vectra a few yrs ago,nothing. Just free selling it and a few rd.deaths due to others cars doing the same thing I went in with article in hand and showed them saying I told you it had this fault and that could have been me and my daughter’s! Park is showing as engaged on the dash although it doesn’t always feel to me like it’s fully in. What can I do when the main dealer does nothing to help!

    Reply
  7. 71 charger key is stuck in the ignition it starts and drives but when you turn the ignition off it won’t turn all the way back to the spot on the ignition that the key will come out stops maybe 1/4” short looking for ideas to fix and get key out thanks

    Reply
  8. So I have a volks wagen golf and I tried to turn my car on but the key won’t turn all the way like it stops half way it’s on park and the wheels not on lock.. anyone know what could be the problem

    Reply
    • Is the key worn? Try with a spare if you’ve made a copy.

      The ignition lock cylinder could be binding. Before replacing it, you can try spraying some graphite powder into the keyhole. This acts as a lubricant and should make it easier to turn the key. After spraying the graphite powder, insert the key and twist back and forth a bit to spread it around to see if that clears up the problem.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve had a couple vehicles that won’t let me turn the key all the way until I wiggle the steering wheel a little bit. After I turn the steering wheel slightly in one direction, the key will turn normally.

      Reply

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