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If Your Car Key is Stuck in Your Ignition, Here’s What to Do Next

It’s a situation that you probably didn’t see coming that has the potential to be a nightmare that ruins your day. Whether your key had already been sticking a few times in your ignition lock when you tried to start your ignition, or there were no warning signs preceding the problem, having your key get stuck in your ignition lock is always frustrating. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your work’s parking garage, a random parking lot after shopping for groceries, or your own driveway, a stuck car key always requires immediate attention. Before attempting any of the following moves, make sure your parking brake is engaged to prevent your vehicle from moving.

Step One: Keep Calm

It’s not unheard of for a car key to get stuck in the ignition, but if it happens to you, it might cause you to become anxious and even panic. This is especially true if you’re not sure what to do next and you’re stranded, such as in the middle of the night. However, panicking will only lead you to think and act irrationally. There’s no need to damage your ignition cylinder or steering wheel column, even if you’re in a time crunch. Instead, take a few deep, centering breaths and keep reading.

Step Two: Check to Ensure the Transmission is Set to Park

Most vehicles have a safety measure in place that prevents your key from being removed from the lock if your transmission isn’t in park. If your vehicle is older and your ignition system is beginning to wear down, this setting may become a little finicky. Ensure that your ignition is set to park and not hovering between two settings. If you’re lucky, this will be all it takes for your key to free itself. If not, move on to the next step.

Step Three: Check for a Locked Steering Wheel

Another safety feature of most modern vehicles is to lock the key in place when the steering wheel is engaged. If you were applying pressure to your steering wheel at the same time that your ignition system shut off, there’s a chance that the steering pin is still keeping the lock engaged. This protects your vehicle from moving at the wrong time. If you suspect that a stuck steering wheel might be the root of the problem, trying wiggling the wheel back and forth while applying a moderate amount of pressure to the key itself, using any free space you may have around the key to move that as well. This might kick the mechanism loose and free the key.

Step Four: Try to Identify Any Obstruction

Use your phone or a flashlight to look around where the key is inserted into the lock in order to determine if you can see any visible dirt or debris that’s causing the key to get wedged inside. Sometimes, dust and dirt can transfer into the ignition lock and compact, causing an obstruction that can get your key stuck. Usually you won’t be able to reach this obstruction and may need to contact a locksmith.

Step Five: Use Moderate Force to Free the Key

If all else has failed, your last attempt before calling a professional involves using a moderate amount of force to free the key. If you have a pair of pliers or a wrench handy, you can enlist one of these tools to help give you additional leverage. Grip the key and try wiggling it back and forth, putting a significant amount of pressure on it in each direction. It’s important not to use too much force, as keys are more delicate than they look and may snap off in the lock itself.

Step Six: Hire a Locksmith

If you’ve attempted the previous steps to no avail, and your key is as stuck as ever, your best option at that point is usually to contact a qualified automotive locksmith, such as Locksmith Glen Ellyn if you’re in the Glen Ellyn area of Illinois. While many people aren’t aware of this, locksmiths are capable of handling all ignition cylinder issues for a fraction of the price of the alternatives.

How to Prevent Your Car Key Getting Stuck

If you’ve just had to deal with your car key getting stuck and never want the situation to happen again, there are preventative measures that you can enact to reduce the risk.

  • Regularly check to ensure your key isn’t damaged. The teeth on your key have a tendency to wear down over time, which can not only cause your key to be unable to open your lock, but also to damage the pins inside the lock cylinder itself. It’s important that you never use your key for anything it’s not intended to be used for, such as a box opener or tape cutter.
  • Pay attention to any operating difficulties regarding your lock and key. While you may be tempted to ignore your key sticking occasionally in the lock or your vehicle stuttering a little when you go to turn it on, these warning signs should never be ignored. The sooner that you have any issues inspected, the easier and less expensive the problem may be to fix.
  • Don’t weigh down your ignition lock with a heavy keychain. While it may seem harmless enough, your collection of key rings may have enough combined weight to cause stress and damage to your ignition lock. It doesn’t take much excess weight to cause issues with your ignition cylinder, so it’s best to keep the amount of keychains you have attached to your key ring minimal. The same goes for if you have a lot of keys to keep track of.

Any time you’re experiencing issues with your ignition system, it’s a good idea to contact a locksmith company such as ours for more information and assistance. The sooner you act on any warning signs, the less likely you’ll be to face an emergency such as your key being stuck in your lock. If your key is already stuck in your lock, our mobile locksmiths can quickly and affordably resolve the situation for you.