(Updated on December 28, 2020)
When you put your car key into the ignition of your vehicle, it is actually going into something called an ignition lock cylinder. This component is positioned within an electrical component called an ignition switch.
In modern vehicles, the ignition switch is responsible for locking the ignition in place and reading the custom anti-theft code which is transmitted from the key. Once this code is verified, the ignition allows the engine to start.
Every time you put your key in the ignition, you naturally assume it is going to turn smoothly and cause the engine to start up within 1 or 2 seconds. But there may be rare situations when you find it difficult to turn your car ignition key.
Sometimes the key will get stuck in the ignition and you won’t even be able to get it out. Then you’ll have no chance of even attempting to start your vehicle until the key is removed.
5 Reasons Your Ignition Key Won’t Turn
Before you can figure out how to get your key out of the ignition and prevent it from getting stuck again, you must understand what the cause of the problem is. Below are the top 5 causes of a car ignition key that won’t turn or gets stuck.
1) Bent or Worn Key
This is perhaps the most common cause of the key getting stuck or not turning. When you’ve used a car key for several years, it can start to bend or get worn out. This is especially true if you aggressively turn the key or push it hard into the ignition before you turn it.
Once the key is bent, it won’t align correctly in the ignition lock cylinder. That is why it won’t turn.
2) Locked Steering Wheel
The steering system has a locking mechanism which is activated whenever you take the key out of the ignition. Sometimes, you might inadvertently move the steering wheel as you take the key out of the ignition. As a result, you might have trouble turning the key the next time you put it in your ignition.
3) Jammed Ignition Cylinder
If you keep your car key in your pocket, it can often cause lint and other materials to stick to it. If you put the car key in the ignition cylinder with these elements on it, then it could cause the cylinder to become cluttered with debris.
If the debris piles up too much in the keyhole, it might create problems when you try to turn the key or remove it.
Related: Symptoms of a Faulty Ignition Switch
4) Gear Not Properly Set
The gear needs to be set to neutral or park before you can turn the key in the ignition. If the gear is set to something else, then it would explain why you can’t turn the key. But if the gear appears to be set to park or neutral, try shaking the stick a little bit and then try again.
5) Bad Battery
New cars have advanced electronic ignition systems. They depend on battery power to function. If you have a bad battery, it may cause issues when you try to turn the key. Test the battery power to verify if this is the cause.
How to Fix
If the key itself is the problem, then you need to replace the key with a new one. Your first instinct might be to call a locksmith, but they aren’t always equipped to handle car key replacements because of the special codes and electronics in them.
Instead, you’ll need to go to the car dealership which issued the car and key to you. They can make you a new key that is programmed with the right code.