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What to Do When Your Car Key is Stuck in the Ignition

It’s an unfortunate, frustrating event that takes you by surprise because you never thought it possible: your car key is hopelessly stuck in your ignition lock. You tug and pull, but the key is not budging. That leaves you stranded somewhere in Highland Park, Illinois, unable to start your vehicle. You may have thought the only way to get stranded was to lose your keys and you’ve been careful about always preventing that from happening. Yet here you are, maybe in the grocery store parking lot while your milk gets warm in the back seat or maybe in your driveway, already late for work. Don’t let panic stop you from keeping a level head. This article aims to show you the best way to handle a situation where your key is stuck in your ignition lock cylinder.   

Risk Factors for Car Keys Getting Stuck  

Before showing you what to do if you find yourself in a situation where your key is stuck in your ignition lock, here are the risk factors for this situation happening in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to be reading this before such a thing happens, take preventative steps now to stop it before it occurs. 

Old and worn out keys that have seen a lot of use can begin to warp and bend on the teeth that are used to fit against the pins inside the ignition lock. This can cause the grooves that are supposed to fit together to catch in the wrong way, thereby getting the key stuck. You may notice an issue with your ignition lock and key before the key gets completely stuck, including having to wiggle the key to remove it.  

If your key has been damaged, it may be a hassle to have to get a new key made, but it’s a necessary task to prevent the key from breaking or sticking in your ignition lock. Any key with damage puts the lock it is used on at risk for issues.   

Ignition cylinders themselves can develop problems, especially in older vehicles. An ignition cylinder is comprised of a mechanical cylinder that houses the lock and is attached to certain electrical components of your engine. When your key is inserted, this system works by sending a code to your engine, allowing it to start. The proper matching key has to be inserted in the lock in order to fire up the car. This is a theft-prevention measure that can protect your car against lockpicking or other means of theft.   

What to Do If Your Key is Stuck   

First off, don’t try yanking or pulling on the key too hard or to force it out of the lock. This could end up causing more damage to the lock itself and require a replacement ignition cylinder. If your key is stick intact, attempting to use force puts you at the risk of snapping the key in half and having to have the broken pieces taken out, adding even more services that will be required to restore your lock and key. So, take a deep breath and resist the urge to use all of your strength to try to stronghold the key out of the lock.   

Second, make sure that your vehicle is entirely off. The ignition cylinder literally locks your key into place when you insert it and won’t release it until the vehicle is entirely set to the “off” position. Sometimes it’s possible that you haven’t completely rotated the ignition cylinder to the off position.   
If this is not the case and your vehicle is indeed entirely shut off, your steering wheel may be the culprit. Your steering wheel is set up to only operate if the correct key is inserted in the ignition, and to not function if no key is present or the wrong key is attempted. So, the steering wheel essentially locks itself into place until you insert your ignition key into the keyhole. It’s possible that your steering wheel might still be locked up, which is holding the key in place. Try gently maneuvering the steering wheel to see if that unlocks the mechanism which is gripping the key.   

On the other hand, if your vehicle is still on and you can’t get the key to turn to the “off” position at all, it’s important to act relatively quickly because leaving the car on risks running out of gas or being vulnerable to theft if you step away. This is a case when it’s important to call a locksmith.   

There could also be an obstruction of dirt or debris in the keyhole that is keeping the key hostage and not allowing it to slide properly. Closely inspect what you can see of the key in the keyhole and if you see any type of obstruction, try to remove it with a small tool such as a toothpick or whatever similar-sized item you have available.   

Call a Locksmith   

If the above measures do not work, it’s probably time to hire a locksmith. A locksmith can extract a stuck key from an ignition cylinder, as well as perform a full ignition cylinder replacement if that is necessary in your case. An experienced locksmith will know the best and most cost-effective means of fixing the situation. While you can sometimes fix these problems yourself, don’t feel bad if that is not the case in your particular situation. Many cases of keys getting stuck in the ignition cylinder are nearly impossible for amateurs to fix, which is why most locksmith companies operate at all hours to assist with these and other types of automotive lockouts.   

If this situation or other problems with your ignition cylinder have happened before or frequently, you can consider having your ignition cylinder replaced. On a more advanced level, you could talk to your locksmith about outfitting your vehicle with a modern keyless entry system. These systems while have push button starter systems and keyless remotes to start the vehicle as well can be a major benefit for car owners and can be retrofitted by an experienced locksmith on most makes and models of vehicles. Get ahold of a professional locksmith such as Quality Locksmith Highland Park for more information about these services.