Key Stuck in the Ignition: 6 Reasons & How To Fix

Car key into ignition lock

If you find that your car key is stuck in the ignition it can be an extremely frustrating experience. You just want to get out of your vehicle and move on with your day, but with the key stuck you can’t go anywhere.

Start by taking a deep breath and calming down, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get your key out of the ignition, and there’s a good chance it’s a pretty simple fix.

We’ll highlight six of the most common reasons this happens for you here, and then we’ll dive into how to get it out and how you can clean the ignition cylinder if that’s the problem.

6 Reasons Your Key Is Stuck in Ignition

Asking yourself why my key is stuck in the ignition is a frustrating experience, but go through each of the potential causes here and you might just narrow down the source of the problem and be able to move on with your day in no time.

1. The Vehicle Isn’t in Park or Neutral

Did you know that your vehicle has a safety feature that won’t let you pull the key out of the ignition when the vehicle isn’t in park or neutral? This is so you can’t lose the key and not be able to shut off the vehicle, which is a pretty nifty feature.

But if you’re not paying attention you can accidentally leave the vehicle in gear, and then you won’t be able to get the key out of your vehicle.

2. Vehicle Is in Accessory Mode

Sometimes you think you have your vehicle all the way off just because the engine isn’t running. But if you don’t turn the key all the way off your vehicle might still be in accessory mode.

In accessory mode the vehicle runs all the different electronics, but the engine isn’t running. You won’t be able to take the key out of the ignition, though, and that’s a good thing because if you leave the vehicle in accessory mode for too long, the battery will die.

3. Locked Steering Wheel

While this is an extremely frustrating experience, you should be able to get your key out of the ignition with a locked steering wheel, it’s starting your vehicle that becomes a problem.

However, while it’s frustrating when you can’t start up your vehicle, a locked steering wheel is actually an important anti-theft device for your vehicle. To unlock the steering wheel gently rock the steering wheel in each direction while turning the key to the accessory position.

4. Dead Battery

Your vehicle needs to know that it’s in park or neutral before you can take the key out, and while it doesn’t take much power to communicate this it does take some. So, if you have a vehicle with a battery drained down to pretty much zero, you might not be able to get the key out of the ignition.

However, this is really only a problem if you leave the key in the ignition for an extended amount of time with the key in any position besides “off.”

5. Damaged Key or Ignition Cylinder

While this is actually one of the least likely reasons your key might be stuck in the ignition, it’s certainly possible. Unfortunately, if you do have a damaged key or ignition cylinder, the only real solution is to replace the damaged part.

6. Dirty Key or Ignition Cylinder

Sometimes the only thing keeping your key in the ignition is that there’s too much dirt and grime on the key or in the ignition. A careful cleaning of both components might be all you need to get everything back in working order.

But whatever you do, never spray anything directly into the ignition cylinder as this will likely damage the cylinder and make it so you need to replace it.

How To Get the Key Out of the Ignition

Car keys in ignition

While having the key stuck in the ignition cylinder is a frustrating experience, there are a few different things you can try to get it out. Start by ensuring the vehicle is in either park or neutral. If it is, try switching to the opposite one. If you go from park to neutral, apply the parking brake before switching.

Next, start the engine. If the engine starts, you can rule out a dead battery and a locked steering wheel. From there you’ll need to try cleaning the key and ignition cylinder. To get the key out try gently jiggling the key back and forth while pulling the key out.

While it’s frustrating, don’t twist the key in a way it doesn’t want to go, otherwise you might break the key off in the ignition, making the problem even worse.

If none of these things fix the problem, it might be a problem with the ignition cylinder or the gear selector switch.

Cleaning the Ignition Cylinder/Key

If you find that you need to clean either the key or the ignition cylinder it’s important that you do it the right way. That’s because if you spray anything directly into the ignition cylinder you’re likely to make things even worse.

To clean the ignition cylinder we recommend spraying a little WD-40 on the key and then inserting it into the ignition cylinder. Turn the key on and off a few times to try and clean up and loosen up any gunk inside the cylinder.

If you’re just cleaning the key you can clean it however you’d like, but ensure you fully dry it before putting it back into the ignition cylinder.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know a little more about what to do if the key is stuck in the ignition, all that’s left is for you to take a few deep breaths and start trying to figure out what’s happening with your car for yourself.

At the very least you can rule out the easy stuff before spending money and calling out a professional to figure out what’s going on with your car. But we’re confident that with our guide you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself and get the key out of the ignition cylinder in no time.

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