If you've ever shut your car off and had the key stay stuck in the ignition, you know it can be frustrating. Don't worry, we have researched and have some steps you can take to diagnose and correct the problem.
To troubleshoot why you cannot remove your key from the ignition, check the following:
- Is the shifter fully in park?
- Is the car battery dead?
- Is the ignition switch all the way in the off position?
- Has the steering wheel lock engaged?
- Does your car have a key release button?
- Could your key be dirty, causing it to stick in the ignition?
By answering these questions, you are on a path to fixing the problem. We go into detail about each of these below, so continue reading.
Why Your Key May Not Be Coming Out Of The Ignition
It can be frustrating when you can't remove the key from the ignition. You don't want to leave the key in the car where someone can drive off with it and you can't lock the doors unless you have a second key with you.
But why isn't the key coming out? Below are a few likely reasons that we found. Check on these before you call for service.
Sometimes a key can stick if the shifter isn't all the way in park. This is a safety feature to make sure you put the car in park before getting out. Unfortunately, there can be problems with the shifter which can keep your car from releasing the key.
First, make sure the shifter is all the way in park. If you do that, and the key still won't come out, try moving the shifter out and back into park a few times, then try to remove the key.
If that allows you to remove the key, you may not have any more trouble. It may have been because the shifter wasn't all the way in park, but it can also happen because of a worn or damaged shifter or transmission. If it happens multiple times, you should have the car serviced.
Some cars have an electric solenoid that must actuate before your key can come out. If you are unable to start the car, or if you have no power to anything with the key turned to the on position, you may have a dead battery. That can cause the car to refuse to release the key. With no power, the solenoid won't actuate.
There are a few ways to fix this:
- Jumpstart the car
- Charge the battery
- Replace the battery
If you are able to jumpstart the car, you should be able to turn the car off and removed the key.
If you are unable to jumpstart the car, connect it to a battery charger and let it fully charge. At that point, you should be able to remove the key.
The last thing to try, if your battery won't take charge, is to replace the battery. This is especially likely as the battery gets older, so check the date on your battery.
One simple thing to check is to verify that the key is in the off position. Sometimes it seems it is all the way off when it really isn't.
Next, try turning the key to the on position, then off a couple of times. Once you've done that, it is possible the key may come out.
If the key won't turn all the way into the off position, look at the shifter to make sure it is in park. In most cars, the key won't turn to the off position if it isn't.
A possible culprit when you can't remove a key is the steering wheel lock. There are times when the steering wheel locks with pressure against the ignition switch, which can cause the mechanism to jam and lock your key in place.
Move the steering wheel side to side while pulling on your key. With the steering wheel locked, you won't be able to turn the wheel far, but you can put a little pressure and it may allow the key to come out.
Key Release Button
Some vehicles have a button that you must push to remove the key. With some, you have to push the button before you can even turn the key into the off position. If your car has a release button, you can usually find it on the bottom of the steering column, near where the key is. You might also find it in other areas on the column.
Damaged Or Dirty Key
This is difficult to diagnose with the key in the ignition. You can't see the key, so if the only damaged part is the teeth, or if the key is dirty, you won't be able to tell.
One thing to try, if you suspect a dirty or damaged key, is to spray WD-40 into the ignition switch, around the edges of the key. Let it sit a few minutes, then try to wiggle the key around a little. You may even try turning the key off and on a couple of times. This may loosen things enough to get the key out.
If that doesn't work and you think you have a damaged key stuck in the ignition, you may need to have the car serviced by a professional. But if it does work and you are able to retrieve your key, if it is dirty but undamaged make sure to clean it well before using it again, or use a different key.
This video shows some of these steps discussed above:
How Do You Know If The Ignition Switch Is Bad?
There are a few signs that point to a bad ignition switch:
- Starter doesn't crank when you turn the key
- Car cranks slowly
- Key won't turn
- Dash lights flicker while the engine is running
- Car stalls
- Trouble inserting or removing the key
How Do You Test The Ignition Switch?
Testing an ignition switch will vary, based on the vehicle. If you have access to the back of the switch, you can test for continuity across the terminals using a multimeter. There will be one terminal bringing 12V from the battery. When you turn the switch to on, but not fully into the start position, you should have continuity between the incoming 12V terminal and the terminal that goes to the dash lights and accessories.
With the ignition turned to the start position you should have continuity between the incoming terminal and the terminal leading to the starter. If you don't have continuity on either of these terminals, your ignition switch is faulty.
If you are unable to get to the back of the ignition switch, it becomes more difficult to test the switch. In that case, you can go by symptoms to get some idea of whether your switch is bad or not.
- If there is a clicking sound when you turn the key to the start position, you likely have a low battery or a faulty part on the starter, not a bad ignition switch.
- If you have the switch turned to on and the dash lights and other accessories don't get power, and your battery has a good charge, it is a sign of a possible ignition switch fault.
- If you don't have a damaged or dirty key and you have to push hard or wiggle the key to start the car, you may have a problem with the switch.
- If the key won't turn, and especially if a second key also fails to turn, it is a sign of a bad switch.
Is It Okay To Spray WD-40 In The Ignition?
Spraying WD-40 into an ignition switch should not harm anything, with the possible exception that some may drip onto your carpet or upholstery if you aren't careful.
Some people worry that down the line dust or dirt could combine with the WD-40 residue and gunk up the ignition switch. Others have successfully used WD-40 without issue, though. If you are trying to clean loose dust and debris from the switch but worry WD-40 may turn to gunk, you could try compressed air first.
10-Ounce Blow Off Air Duster
10-Ounce Century Duster
If your car key won't come out, there are some things you can check. Verify that the key is all the way off, make sure the shifter is in park, and wiggle the steering wheel. If your key is still stuck, try some of the other steps above. It may be necessary to take your car for service if none of these work.
Before you go, be sure to check out these other articles that may be of interest to you: