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What’s more inconvenient than heading out to your car only to find that your key won’t turn in the ignition? This situation always seems to happen at the worst possible moments — like when you’re already 30 minutes late for work. Fortunately, you have options that can get you back on the road fast.
There are a few tricks you can try before you have to take your vehicle to a repair shop.
1. Move the Steering Wheel
Usually, your key won’t turn in the ignition because the steering wheel has locked. Many cars automatically keep the steering wheel in one position after you remove the key from the ignition. It can accidentally become stuck, which should be a pretty simple fix.
- Turn the steering wheel gently to both sides.
- Check whether the left or right position has the most give.
- Hold the steering wheel in that direction.
- Try the key in the ignition as you keep the steering wheel stationary.
Alternatively, you can jostle the steering wheel back and forth while you turn the key in the ignition. If you still can’t start the engine, you should wiggle the steering wheel while you jiggle the key in the ignition. Feel free to test out different combinations until you’re successful.
2. Jiggle the Key in the Ignition
It may help to simply move the key around in the ignition. Most vehicle ignitions are wafer-tumbler locks, which include lock wafers that can become damaged or jammed over time. If you jostle the key a bit in the ignition, you might be able to put the parts back in place so the engine starts. Try to be patient, as things may not click until the second or third try.
3. Add Lubrication to the Ignition
Sometimes, you just need to lubricate the ignition. These lock cylinders can get stuck, and you should be able to solve the problem with the proper lubricant. Remember to only use a graphite- or silicone-based product. If you choose WD40, you can introduce dust and grime into the ignition, which causes further issues.
- Apply the lubricant to the ignition.
- Be sure to wipe away excess lubricant with a cloth.
- Try turning or jiggling the key in the ignition.
- Repeat the process until you’re successful.
If you’re still stuck, you’ll at least know the ignition itself isn’t the problem.
4. Check the Gear Shift
Does your car have an automatic transmission? If your key won’t turn in the ignition, you might need to quickly adjust the gear shift. These vehicles don’t let the engine start until you’re in park or neutral. If your gear shift isn’t in the correct position, you won’t be able to move the key. Keep in mind that the neutral safety switch could have a failure issue you need to fix.
5. Grab the Spare Key
Usually, cars come with a spare key you can use when you lose the original. If you suspect your main key doesn’t work, you should grab the other one. This way, you’ll know whether the problem lies with the key’s condition, as they can get worn down from extensive use. It’s not uncommon for car keys to become so warped that they can’t start the engine.
Visit an automotive locksmith sooner rather than later so you can have a copy made.
6. Take a Look at the Battery
Do you own a vehicle that was made in the past few years? Some new cars have ignition systems that won’t let you turn the key in the ignition when the battery has died. It may help to see whether the vehicle’s lights work. If you can’t turn them on, you have a dead battery, which you can jump-start with jumper cables relatively easily.
Use These Suggestions to Get Your Car Back on the Road
There’s nothing more frustrating than when your key won’t turn in the ignition. However, you won’t always have to call up the autobody shop. There are a few quick fixes that can solve the issue so you can get on your way. These ideas can help you identify the problem quickly, but you still might need to contact a professional.
If you think you’ve tried everything without any luck, your best bet will be to contact an automotive locksmith who can come to your location. Then, they can use their expertise to figure out what’s wrong, and you won’t have to get a tow. This process may take a few days, but you’ll have a permanent solution that helps your car start smoothly.