If you find yourself in the situation where the key does not turn in the ignition lock of the car, know that there are several problems that can cause this inconvenience. Although some of the malfunctions depend on the specific model, year of manufacture and car manufacturer, many others are universal and can be solved in the driveway. The factors responsible could be the key, the ignition lock or your mistake. Reduce the number of possible causes by experimenting with different methods before having the vehicle towed to the garage.
Check for Common Problems
1.Check that the automatic gearshift lever is in the “Park” (P) position.
Machines with automatic transmission are designed not to start until parking mode is selected. Starting a vehicle with the transmission in “Drive” (D), it could jump forward, causing damage or injuring someone. Check the shift lever to make sure it is in the park or neutral (N) position and give it another try.
Check that the indicator on the shift lever is pointing towards “P”.
Try deselecting parking mode, activate it again if possible, and try turning the key.
2.Inspect the key for damage.
If it does not turn when inserted into the ignition lock, it may be damaged or it may no longer engage with the pistons at the correct depth to rotate the cylinder. Check it to make sure it is not too worn, that it does not have blunt edges or a few broken teeth. Any of these problems could prevent it from spinning properly.
If the key is damaged, you need to replace it.
Some keys must be programmed by the dealer when they are replaced; consult the maintenance manual to know the specifications for your vehicle.
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3.Make sure there is no residue stuck to the key.
Just as a broken or damaged tooth does not allow the key to turn, any attached material prevents it from mating perfectly with the pistons inside the ignition lock. For example, if you have recently used it to open a package, there may be bits of tape remaining between the grooves causing the malfunction.
Clean any residue or dirt from the key, insert the key into the ignition and try again.
You must never use it to open packages or for any other tasks other than turning on the vehicle.
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4.Check that the steering is not locked.
If you applied pressure to it while turning the car off, you may have activated the steering lock. You can check this by trying to turn the steering wheel; if it does not move or moves only a little, it is likely that it is stuck and prevents ignition.
When you turn the steering to the right or left, you should feel it suddenly stop when it makes contact with the steering lock.
If the steering has turned slightly without you applying pressure when turning the machine off, it may still be locked.
5.Move the steering wheel as you turn the key.
To be able to deactivate the steering lock, insert the key into the lock, try to turn it with a slight pressure while turning the steering wheel to the right and left at the same time to free it. This operation allows you to unlock both the key and the steering wheel.
The key should turn freely once the steering is unlocked.
If it does not turn even after disabling the steering lock, the problem is different.
Troubleshoot the Key
1.Pull the key out slightly before turning it.
If it’s starting to get damaged, you may still be able to activate the pistons to start the car by inserting the key all the way in and then pulling it out a bit. Try to pull it out about 1 to 2 mm, the approximate thickness of a coin, before making another attempt to flip it.
If this method works, the key is likely to be a little too worn.
You should still replace it as soon as possible, before it completely stops working.
2.Move it back and forth as you rotate it.
If the technique described in the previous step did not lead to positive results, try moving the key a little bit inside the block to match it to the pins. Be careful not to exert too much force, you just have to look for contact with the pistons from a different angle and start the vehicle in this way.
If you succeed, it means that the teeth of the key are too damaged to fit properly with the ignition pistons.
Replace it as soon as possible, before it stops working completely.
3.Straighten a bent key with a rubber or wooden hammer.
If it has deformed, you may not be able to fully insert it into the block or turn it around. Place it on a flat, sturdy surface, such as a sturdy table; take a very heavy wooden or rubber hammer and hit the key to flatten it on the table.
It may take several hits to succeed.
Do not use pliers or a vise to make it come back flat, as this could bend it too much in the other direction and make it less sturdy.
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4.Gently insert and remove the key from the lock several times.
If there was any debris on the key when you put it in the lock, it could have gotten stuck inside the ignition cylinder, between the pistons. To attempt to get rid of the debris, insert and extract it several times.
If you solve the problem, remember that this problem may still occur until the dirt is completely out of the block.
5.Get a new key.
If it is too damaged to start the engine, you may not be able to make a working copy. In fact, a key obtained from a worn original is not able to rotate the ignition lock; in this case, you must ask for an original duplicate from the dealership that deals with the same car manufacturer as your vehicle. Depending on the type of car, the dealer may get you the key from the chassis number or VIN.
You will probably need to present the vehicle registration document to prove ownership of the vehicle.
If it is not possible to obtain an original duplicate of the key, you will need to purchase a new lock with a key and have it installed.
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Troubleshoot the Ignition Cylinder
1.Use a can of compressed air to clean the ignition slot.
If there is any residue left inside the cylinder, it could prevent the key from mating with the pistons and therefore from turning. Buy the can at a hardware store or at an office supply store; insert the straw connected to the nozzle directly into the hole of the key and briefly spray the air into the barrel. A couple of attempts should be enough to get rid of the residue.
Do not spray the entire contents of the can, as extreme cold could damage the cylinder.
Wear protective goggles when using compressed air to clean the cylinder; this way, you avoid the risk of debris getting into your eyes.
2.Use a small amount of electrical contact cleaner.
If the ignition cylinder is stuck, you may be able to lubricate it just enough to make it spin by spraying some cleaner inside the key hole; try not to overdo it, a couple of short sprays are enough. When finished, insert the key and gently rotate it back and forth to distribute the lubricant.
If you are successful, you should replace the block as soon as possible, as the situation will get worse.
3.Have the ignition switch replaced.
If you have not been able to solve the problem in any other way, you need to change the cylinder. Have the car towed to the nearest garage that deals with the car manufacturer of your vehicle; explains the problem to the mechanic and evaluates the various possibilities with him.
Just like when you request an original duplicate of the key, also in this case you have to prove the legitimate ownership of the car, before you can replace the lock.
When fitting a new ignition you have to replace the key, even if it is not responsible for the malfunction.