How to troubleshoot a key stuck in the ignition

Updated February 21, 2017

Getting the key stuck in the ignition of your car is a more common problem than you think. There's no need to panic or get frustrated, even if the key won't turn or the ignition won't start. When trying to turn or remove the key, caution should be taken that you don't apply too much pressure, as the key could break off inside the ignition, forcing you to take the car to an experienced mechanic to have it removed.

Turn the key to the "Off" position, and double-check to make sure it is off. If you've turned the key too far, it may be in the position that allows you to play the radio while the car itself is off. You cannot remove the key while the ignition is in this position.

Make sure the vehicle is in park if. If your car is automatic and you attempt to remove the key while the shifter is in Neutral, Reverse or Drive, the key will not come out, even if the car is stalled. Put the car in park, and attempt to remove the key.

Move the steering wheel back and forth slowly, while attempting to remove the key. Sometimes the position of the steering wheel may lock up your ignition, and adjusting the wheel may release your key.

Check your battery. In some cars the key may become stuck in the ignition if the battery is stalled. If your battery is dead, attempt to recharge. Do not try to remove the key until the battery is fully charged.

Make sure the key you used is the ignition key. Sometimes when in a hurry, you may jam the wrong key into the ignition, causing it to get stuck. If you used the wrong key, attempt to pull the key out with pliers.

Grip the key with pliers, and attempt to pull it out. Do not jerk the pliers from side to side while removing the key, as this could cause the key to break off inside the ignition.

Spray the key and ignition with a lubricant to grease the ignition lock switch. You may need to grip the key with pliers to attempt pulling it out, because the key will be slippery.

Things You'll Need

  • Spray lubricant
  • Pliers
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About the Author

Jennifer Hudock is an author, editor and freelancer from Pennsylvania. She has upcoming work appearing in two Library of the Living Dead Press anthologies and has been published in numerous print and online journals, including eMuse, Real TV Addict and Strange Horizons. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English/creative writing from Bloomsburg University.