You get into your car and turn on the ignition with a key. Nothing seems to happen but the key won’t come out. Maybe you can crank and even drive it but the key won’t come out when you turn it off. As frustrating as this is, there are some simple remedies to fix your problem.
Some of the most common problems when a car key won’t come out are the car isn’t in the right gear, the car battery is dead, or the steering wheel is locked. Additionally, the key could be dirty, bent, or damaged. It could also be the lock cylinder failed or the mechanism is jammed, although both of those issues are rarer.
Regardless of the problem, you may not need to call a mechanic. Read on to find out how to check and fix any of these issues.
This is the most common problem when the key won’t come out after you’ve driven the vehicle.
People may move the gear shift into park but perhaps it isn’t fully engaged into the parked gear. Cars are designed for ignitions to work only in park or neutral gears.
Once you know the car is in park, you may try to move it to neutral to see if that releases the key. That would point to a separate problem possibly with the transmission if that works.
Dead Car Battery
Those who have nothing happen when they try to start their car and then find out their key is stuck in the ignition are facing a car battery issue. Another symptom is interior lights and electronics will not work.
It could be the battery cables are loose and need to be tightened or the battery terminals are corroded rather than a bad battery. Check those things first and then get a jump to start the car.
The key will release once you resolve the battery issue either by tightening the cables, cleaning the terminals, or jumping off the car.
Steering Wheel Is Locked
Locked steering columns are in most cars today. It works as an anti-theft device and also locks when the key comes out of the ignition after your drive.
However, the steering column can sometimes lock when it isn’t supposed to and that pressures the ignition switch. The key is then stuck.
Try gripping the steering week and move it back and forth. Even locked, there should be some play. Then, gently try to pull the key out while moving the steering wheel back and forth.
The key should come out if this is the problem.
Dirty, Damaged Keys
Keys, even those tucked into a remote, can get dirty. They are in your pockets. You use them to open taped packages or to open some jars or cans. This can cause a key to jam in an ignition.
Try gently wiggling the key. If that fails, put some WD-40 or graphite in between the lock and the key.
Use a spare key to start the car if you get the old key out. You will need to take the key to a mechanic or a dealer to get a replacement.
For dirty keys, you may try cleaning it with gunk remover or rubbing alcohol and rubbing it with a lint-free cloth. Make sure to dry it before using it again.
Bad lock cylinder
Pins match your key when you insert it into the ignition. Sometimes these pins can become unaligned or get stuck. The springs may weaken or get stuck.
You can take a small hammer and carefully tap on the lock cylinder but avoid hitting the key. This may reset the pits or loosen them enough to release your key.
Another to temporarily fix the problem is to spray in some Teflon dry lube and then use a dental pick to fix the ignition cylinder pins. The lubrication could make the pins and lock moveable enough so the key can be retrieved.
These are only temporary fixes. You will still need to go to a mechanic to permanently fix the problem.
Jammed Lock Mechanism
Some trash may have gotten inside the ignition lock and that is stopping the key from coming out. A key could have transferred the debris into the ignition, especially if you’ve used the key for other things.
You can try to wiggle the key in hopes of loosening it but your best bet is the call your mechanic on this problem.
How do you turn off the car if the key won’t come out?
This is a sign the steering wheel is locked. Some cars have a feature that locks the steering when it’s turned too far in either direction. That can cause the key to sticking. Turn the wheel in the opposite direction. That will unlock the steering wheel and allow you to remove the key.
Why won’t my key turn off the ignition?
You have two issues. The ignition cylinder locked as well as the steering wheel. You need to release both locks simultaneously. Turn the key while wiggling the steering wheel. After a few attempts, you should be able to turn off the car and remove the key.
Why is my key stuck on ACC?
This is a sign of a locked steering column. That sometimes happens when the deadbolt goes through the ignition cylinder from the steering column. Wiggle the steering column while gently trying to wiggle and remove the key.
How Do I Know If I Have a Bad Ignition Switch?
A stuck key doesn’t mean you have a bad ignition switch but it is one symptom. There are more clues than that to point to that as a problem. The car will be slow to crank and doesn’t always crank when you turn the key. The key won’t turn or the dash lights flicker when the car is running.
Your car may stall.
You can use a multimeter to test an ignition switch by checking for continuity between the terminal going to the starter and the incoming terminal. A lack of continuity means you have a faulty switch.
What can I use besides WD-40 in my ignition?
You can use a blow-off air duster product in your ignition if you don’t want to use WD-40. This works well if the problem is dust or debris in the ignition.
You can also use Teflon dry lube around the ignition. All it takes is a couple of squirts.
Are all car keys and ignitions the same?
No, different models are configured differently so you can run into some unique problems if you are driving a foreign car. For instance, Japanese cars, and some American cars, contain an extra locking switch inside the ignition.
With this feature, you must press the key simultaneously with a button to turn it to remove it. Other cars have eys where you have to push it in and turn it at the same time to remove it.
Check your owner’s manual to figure out if one of these systems applies to your car.
Are there any home fixes I can do to remove the key?
Yes, there are things you can dry.
Put ice in a zippy sandwich bag and wrap it around the key’s head. Hopefully, the metal will contract. This can take up to 15 minutes but the key may easily come out.
You will need to add heat if the key remains stuck. Use a hairdryer to aim heat at the ignition cylinder while keeping the key iced. The head is the heat that causes the cylinder to expand while the ice helps the key contract.
This will also take about 15 minutes. Try to gently free the key to see if it worked.