Key Stuck In Ignition: Causes, Solutions, and Prevention

key stuck in ignition

Have you ever tried to turn off your car only to find that the key is stuck in the ignition and won’t come out? It’s a frustrating situation that seems to happen at the worst possible times. You may be parked in an unsafe area where you wanted to lock up and go, or you’re in a rush and need to leave your car but can’t because the key is stuck.

Whatever the context, a stuck ignition key can leave you stranded and unsure of what to do next. But not to worry – this comprehensive guide will outline the common causes of ignition key sticking, steps you can take to remove a stuck key, solutions for preventing future issues, and answers to frequently asked questions.

We’ll make sure you have the info you need so you can get your car key unstuck and back on the road.

What Causes a Car Key to Get Stuck in the Ignition Cylinder?

Before learning how to get your key out of the ignition, it helps to understand what causes it to get stuck there in the first place. There are a few typical culprits:

  • Worn or damaged key – Normal wear and tear from daily use can damage the metal teeth on your key over time. Or if your keyring is overloaded with too many additional keys and bulky items, it can bend or warp your ignition key. This alters the shape and prevents it from properly engaging the ignition cylinder.
  • Problem with the ignition cylinder pins – There are tiny pins inside your ignition cylinder that have to align perfectly with the grooves on your key for it to turn and release. If these pins get bent, broken, or stuck, they can’t match up with your key anymore.
  • Faulty ignition lock cylinder – The ignition lock cylinder is part of the overall ignition cylinder assembly. If it malfunctions or gets damaged, it may prevent the key from properly engaging.
  • Steering wheel is stuck – If your steering wheel seizes up or becomes very difficult to turn, this added friction can make it nearly impossible to get the key to turn enough to release from the ignition cylinder.

No matter what the cause, a stuck key can make it extremely difficult to get your car or yourself back on the road.

What Are the Consequences of Having a Key Stuck in the Ignition?

Aside from the obvious annoyance of being unable to simply turn off and exit your vehicle, having a stuck car key can create some additional issues:

  • You’re unable to start or turn off the car – If your key won’t come out, it also likely won’t turn all the way to start the engine. You’re stranded unless you can resolve the stuck key issue.
  • You can’t lock the doors or remove valuables – With the key stuck inside the car, you have no way to lock the doors. Any valuables left inside are unattended and you may need to stay with the vehicle until you can get back in.
  • It creates a safety hazard if stuck in an unsafe area – If you’re parked somewhere that makes you feel unsafe, not being able to lock up and quickly leave can put you in danger.

Clearly, it’s in your best interest to act quickly and get your key unstuck from the ignition. The quicker you can get it out, the faster you can be back on your way.

How Do You Remove a Key That is Stuck in the Ignition Cylinder?

When your car key gets stuck and won’t come out of the ignition, don’t panic. There are a few different DIY methods you can try to get your key un-stuck before calling a professional locksmith:

  • Jiggle the steering wheel while gently trying to turn the key – Sometimes excessive pressure from the steering column is what’s binding the key and preventing it from turning. Jiggle and move the wheel back and forth while softly applying torque to the key. The extra play can help release the friction just enough for the key to turn and come out.
  • Use the key release button – Many ignition cylinders have a small push button on the housing near the key slot. Locate this and press it while trying to gently turn the key. This releases the locking mechanism so you can remove your key.
  • Use a key extraction tool – These are special slim tools made to fit inside the key slot and manipulate the locking pins so you can release a stuck key. Insert the tool according to the directions and turn carefully like you would with a key.
  • Call a professional locksmith for help – If you’ve tried the steps above with no luck, your best bet is to call a knowledgeable locksmith. They have professional tools and know all the tricks to remove stuck keys and diagnose ignition issues.

With some clever maneuvers and mechanical advantage, you can often pry that stubborn stuck key in the ignition free without causing any damage. Be patient but persistent and you can get back on the road quickly.

Long-Term Solutions for a Sticky Car Key That Doesn’t Want to Turn

While the DIY removal methods above allow you to address the immediate issue, there are some other solutions you’ll want to consider to prevent your car key from getting stuck again down the road:

  • Repair or replace a damaged key – If wear and tear on your key is the culprit, you’ll want to either fix it or replace it. A locksmith can repair chipped keys and a dealership can provide replacements. Don’t wait until it gets stuck again.
  • Replace the faulty ignition lock cylinder – If the cylinder pins are damaged causing the sticking, the cylinder may need replacement. A locksmith can determine if this is the case and perform the replacement work if needed.
  • Install a new ignition lock assembly – In some cases where the lock cylinder can’t easily be replaced, the entire ignition lock assembly may need installing. This comprehensive fix is best left to professional mechanics.
  • Fix ancillary issues like a stuck steering column – If binding in the steering wheel and column is contributing to stuck keys, getting the steering components repaired properly will help.

By proactively addressing the underlying issues, you can significantly reduce the chances of getting that dreaded stuck key in ignition again down the road.

How Can You Prevent Keys From Getting Stuck in the First Place?

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid the headache of a key stuck in the ignition, there are a few preventative measures you can take:

  • Don’t overload your keychain with extra weight – Limit the number of additional keys and charms on your ring so you don’t have excessive weight hanging from your ignition key. The extra torque can bend or damage it over time.
  • Keep your ignition assembly clean and well lubricated – Regular wipedowns and lubricant around the key cylinder pins can prevent sticking related to dirt, grime, and corrosion.
  • Replace worn ignition system components proactively – Don’t wait for parts like cylinders and locks to fail completely. Have aging ignition components replaced before they get damaged and lead to stuck keys.
  • Handle your keys with care – Be cautious inserting your key carefully straight into the cylinder without bending. Don’t forcefully jam it in or yank it out. Simple care goes a long way.
  • Use a steering wheel lock or “club” if parking in unsafe areas – If you’ll be leaving your car somewhere risky, a secondary lock on the steering wheel can provide security since your key isn’t stuck inside the cab.

By making smart use of your car keys and keeping your ignition assembly in top shape, you can avoid the aggravation of a key stuck in the ignition cylinder. Just a little TLC for your key and ignition goes a long way.

FAQs About Car Ignition Keys That Are Stuck:

What if my key is broken off inside the ignition cylinder?

This is a problematic situation but not impossible to remedy. Call a locksmith right away. They have special broken key extraction tools that can grasp and remove the severed portion of key stuck inside the cylinder. Getting the remnants out is crucial before any repair or replacement of ignition parts.

Will disconnecting the battery help release a stuck key?

Unfortunately disconnecting the battery will not provide enough force to overcome a stuck key in the ignition cylinder. The key slot and pin tumblers operate purely mechanically, without any electrical power needed. You’ll need a physical means of applying torque or manipulating the pins to get the key unstuck.

Should I leave my stuck key inserted in the ignition or try to remove it?

It’s generally best to leave a stuck key inside the ignition cylinder if possible. Forcibly trying to remove it risks breaking the key, making extraction much harder. Call a professional to remove it properly unless you have the proper extraction tools on hand. Don’t try to pry, twist, or hammer it free.

Is there any way to remove a stuck ignition key without damaging it?

Yes, a skilled locksmith has the ideal tools and experience to remove stuck keys without bending, breaking or otherwise damaging them. As long as the key itself hasn’t snapped off inside, a pro can manipulate it out while preserving the key’s shape and functionality. Avoid forcing it yourself.


Finding that your car key is stuck in the ignition cylinder can quickly ruin your day. But don’t stress! As we learned, there are a range of techniques you can try yourself to coax a stubborn key free. Jiggling the steering wheel, using release buttons, or proper key extraction tools can all do the trick.

If your attempts are unsuccessful, calling a trained locksmith should solve the problem promptly. They can also diagnose the underlying cause, whether it’s a damaged key, faulty cylinder, or other ignition issue. Addressing any core problems will help ensure your car key doesn’t get stuck again.

With a little diligence about maintaining your ignition components and handling keys with care, you can avoid sticky key scenarios altogether. But should you ever find yourself stranded with that key stuck in the ignition, use this guide to get back on the open road. Stay unstuck, friends!

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