What to Do When Your Ignition Key Gets Stuck?

What to Do When Your Ignition Key Gets Stuck?

Oh drat! It’s so frustrating to find that you can’t pull out your ignition key. It usually happens when your mind is elsewhere. When you are pressed for time. When you have been ignoring an issue with your key or ignition cylinder for months!


Why? You have been able to do this a million times without an issue. Why now? Why here? Why me? What now?


Panic in such a situation will not help. If you try too hard, the key might get bent or worse broken inside the lock!


Here is where this guide and the tips provided here will come to your help. Read on!


Why is my key stuck in the ignition?

Let’s go through a quick 7 point checklist to understand why your key is stuck in the ignition. Research by best car hub on driver complaints about ignition keys getting stuck shows, that often there are no other reasons except the ones mentioned here.


Remember that the reasons for a key stuck in the ignition may be unique to the model, ignition box design, or brand of the automobile. But even before you run through the checklist, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. Is this car new to you? Do you know of any button that can release the key or a specific steering position that allows it? If the automobile isn’t unfamiliar in any way, then you should move on to the following checklist.


Reason of stuck ignition
  1. Is your automatic gear shift in the Parking (P) position?
  2. Is the shift lock button on your automatic gear shift stuck?
  3. Is your steering wheel turning, or is it jammed or locked?
  4. Was the key dirty when you stuck it in the ignition turning mechanism?
  5. Was your key already damaged or worn out?
  6. Is your car battery dead? Can it turn on the engine, lights, or radio in the car?
  7. Was the ignition cylinder giving you some problems from before?


How do you get a stuck key out of the ignition?

Many times, the reasons for a stuck key are universal in nature. They may occur in any type of vehicle. The first two reasons mentioned here apply to automatic transmission vehicles only.


Ignition Key gets stuck

Is your automatic gear shift in the Parking (P) position?

If the gear shift is in any other position except park (P), the key will not come out. This is true, even for the neutral position in automatic transmission. If your vehicle has come to a halt and the engine is turned off in any gear other than P, then you will have to move it to P.


Most automatic transmission vehicles do not allow gear shifting when the engine is off. However, there is an override button provided. You can use the override function to remove the key from the ignition.


Press it and then depress the button for the gear shift. This has to be done at the same time (together) in some models. The gearbox would not allow you to move to any position, even while the engine is off. Shift gear to P (Parking). Now you should be able to remove the key.


Such a problem is not common in manual transmission. Although it is best to put a manual transmission car in neutral to take the key out.


Is the shift lock button on your automatic gear shift stuck?

If that’s the case, chances are that you will not be able to move your gear shift to the parking mode. Take a flat screwdriver and some WD-40. Spray it on the button and wipe off the excess. Proceed with the screwdriver. Pry up the button.


It should come unstuck. If it comes off, use the screwdriver to pull at the tiny lever underneath, and then hold it while you move the shift into parking. That should solve this issue.


Is your steering wheel turning, or is it jammed or locked?

If the steering wheel is turning freely and your key is stuck, then you need to bring your gear into neutral to pull it out. Some cars have a button provided above or under the keyhole to dislodge the key. Proceed further if this does not work for you.


It will turn to one side, but not at all to the other. Turn the steering wheel and hold it there. Now try turning the key. Put some energy into making a full turn to the left side. Wiggle the key. If you are not successful, then make a hard right turn, and try to turn the key again.


In some cars, it is better to let some pressure off. The steering will move about half an inch. Try turning the key in this position. Depending on the make and model of the car, you should hear a clicking sound. Even if you don’t, and if you turn the wheel and start moving the key anti-clockwise.


There will be a position where if you tug at it gently the key will turn. Try to find the “sweet spot”. It is certain that you will find a position in which the lock pin would release its hold. Voila! The key should slide out.


If not at first then at the second or third attempt. If you still fail, then chances are that the ignition cylinder is damaged and may need professional repair or replacement.


Was the key dirty when you stuck it in the ignition turning mechanism?

A dirty key might jam the springs in the locking mechanism. This calls for the trusted WD40 spray. Keep the smallest bottle of WD-40 inside your boot. WD40 comes with a thin red pipe that is small enough to wiggle into the small space between the key and the entry bay in the locking system.


Use it to spray the slit where your key is. Remember to keep some rags or tissue paper handy. You don’t want the mess all over. Wipe off any excess amount. Wait a while for it to seep in and start melting away some of the gunk.


You can keep wiggling away at the key to help the process along. It should come out after a while. Alternatively, you can use a non-oily silicone-based lubricant. You just need to make sure it comes with a thin delivery nozzle to allow it to reach a tight space. Just like the one in the ignition cylinder.


Was your key already damaged or worn out?

A damaged, bent, or worn out key might also get stuck by messing with the spring mechanism inside the lock. It will be tough to remove the key from the ignition. You can use WD40 to lubricate and dislodge it. But as soon as you do, it’s time to start using a spare key or get a replacement key from the OEM or a professional locksmith.


Nowadays, expert key makers can also make electronic car keys and also program the transponder chip for you. If you go to a full-fledged mechanic or the OEM workshop, they will probably do the same, but charge you very heavily for their service.


Compared to them, a locksmith is the most low-cost option. They can produce electronic car keys and program transponder chips also.


Is your car battery dead? Can it turn on the engine, lights, or radio in the car?

If your vehicle’s battery is dead, you won’t be able to turn any sort of light on in the vehicle. Well, maybe the ceiling light, etc. But not the radio. If you turn the key in the ignition, you might hear a short chugging sound, the kind that you hear when the engine is starting, but then nothing happens.


Keys in the ignition mechanisms of modern vehicles get stuck if the battery runs out. This can happen to cars of any model or age.


A key stuck in the ignition and a dead battery is a logistical nightmare! The ignition system relies on power from the battery in order to function. If the battery dies, it will cause the ignition system to lock up and you won’t be able to extract the key from the ignition system.


The best thing you can do is to jump-start your battery. Connect the terminals of your battery with the same terminals on another functional battery. Then turn your ignition. Your car should start.


Provided the battery you are relying on to jump-start your vehicle is fully charged. The next thing you need to do is to drive to the nearest battery supplier and get yourself a new battery. You can also check the best batteries on Amazon.

Car Battery dead

Was the ignition cylinder giving you some problems from before?

The ignition mechanism of your automobile suffers from wear and tear every time you insert, remove, or turn the key. There is one less use left in the ignition mechanism’s lifetime, each time to use it.


If your ignition cylinder is failing, it will start giving you warning signs much earlier than it fails. Has it fixed as soon as you detect a problem? Timely repairs can save you from a lot of trouble, in particular your key jamming inside, preventing it from coming out.


Don’t try to fix it yourself. Doing so can create many opportunities to damage your car.


If you end up damaging the ignition, trying to turn, or dislodge your stuck key, you are liable to end up with some very expensive repairs. It’s best to call in a locksmith before things get out of hand.

Steering Wheel Turning

2 more reasons why keys get stuck in the ignition.

The wrong key stuck in the ignition!

If you accidentally put the wrong key in the ignition (and assuming it goes in), there is a chance that you will end up getting it stuck inside. If you are unable to pull it out, then do not under any circumstances force it out.


The reason why it is stuck in that the lock’s spring mechanism is engaged, or one of the teeth on the key is lodged against a ridge or spring in the system. You should at this point, use WD40 or any lubricant.


After applying the lubricant, you should very gently wiggle the key up and down with slight outward pressure. If you are patient, you will soon end up taking it out. If not, then it is best to let an expert handle this.


Broken Key in the ignition!

So you tried a little too hard to get that key out of the ignition and ended up breaking it. Now a part of the key is stuck inside, and you can’t even pull it out by hand. This is a sticky situation.


You should consider yourself lucky if there is a bit of the key sticking out of the lock.


You will now have to use a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers to pinch on the protruding end.


and again attempt to pull it out.


But what if the broken half of the key is well inside the keyhole? Now it won’t be possible to pinch any part of it using nose pliers or tweezers. In this situation, you should attempt to dislodge the key using a thin hacksaw blade.


You should slide it in by the side of the key, or just below it. There is a possibility that you will engage the locking springs and extract the key by pulling out the hacksaw blade.


If all else fails or if you feel you don’t want to take the risk of damaging the ignition mechanism, then the most economical recommendation is to let a professional locksmith solve the issue.


Locksmiths have special tools and blanks for a wide variety of vehicles. Going to dealerships or workshops might cost you several times more.



I hope that this guide will help you remain calm in the event of your car key getting stuck in the ignition. Don’t panic, because there are several methods you can try. And if you can’t or won’t, then you know it’s better to engage a locksmith than a mechanic or your dealership.

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