What To Do When Your Key Is Stuck In the Ignition?

You might not mind bootlegging your car’s ignition with a flat head screwdriver, but it’s not a long-term solution

byChris Teague|
Maintenance & Repair photo

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

Many new vehicles have evolved past the need for a physical key. But some of us are still clinging to a classic or base model that still requires a key to crank, and if that key gets stuck, you need to know how to fix it. Now, you could do a bootleg DIY job and use an old flathead screwdriver to start your car, but that is frowned upon and not what we’d recommend. When the key is hopelessly lodged in the switch, it’s time to repair your ignition module.

There are a few ways to resolve the issue, depending on how severe the problem is. But one surefire way to fix the problem is to replace the ignition switch and pair it with a new key. It’s a relatively simple task and could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on how far gone the key and ignition switch are. The only thing to pay close attention to, regarding safety, is to disconnect the battery while you’re working on the ignition switch.

Sometimes, you just can't get the key out., DepositPhotos

To complete the job, you’ll need a screwdriver set with various flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers, pliers, a replacement key, and a replacement ignition switch. You’ll also need to refer to your service or maintenance manual regularly. This isn’t because we don’t know what we’re talking about but because we have no idea what kind of car you own and how it differs from the directions we give. Now, let’s fix your ignition.

This is not a recommended repair method., DepositPhotos

Step 1: Remove the Steering Column Covering

Disconnect the negative terminal on your vehicle’s battery. Now you can remove the trim from around the steering wheel. There will be more than one piece to remove, but the specific number will depend on the make and model of your vehicle. 

Step 2: Accessory Mode

Insert the key and turn the switch to accessory mode. Even if the key is stuck in the ignition switch, you should be able to turn it.

Step 3: Remove Ignition Module 

Press the release pin on the bottom of the ignition switch with a screwdriver. This will require a narrow screwdriver to fit into the small hole. The ignition module will slide right out once the pin has been released.

Step 4: Insert New Ignition Module

Squeeze the release pin on the new module and slide it into the ignition hole on the side of the steering column. You should hear a click when the pin has properly seated itself. Keep working the switch until you hear the sound.

Replacing the ignition and key are the best way out of this mess., DepositPhotos

Step 5: Test New Ignition Switch

Before reassembling the interior trim, you’ll need to test the new switch. To do this, reconnect the battery and make sure you’ve installed the new ignition switch properly. The vehicle should crank right up, and you should be able to insert and remove the key freely. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to review the steps you took to install the switch.

If the vehicle cranks properly, you’re almost done. Turn the ignition back to the off position and disconnect the battery again. 

Step 6: Reinstall Interior 

Reinstall the pieces of your vehicle’s interior, being sure to replace them in the order that they were removed.

Step 7: Reconnect Battery

Now just reconnect the battery, and your work is done.

Final Tips for Fixing a Broken Ignition Switch

If you’re not hearing any noise from the starter motor when you turn the key, the issue might be under the hood and not in the ignition switch. So make sure the key isn’t the problem before you start disassembling your car’s steering column.

One of the most likely culprits for a stuck ignition key is the steering wheel locking mechanism. When a vehicle is parked, the steering wheel can lock. That’s great for theft prevention, but it also prevents the key from turning or being removed from the ignition switch. In some cases, the ignition or vehicle isn’t the problem. It can be a worn or damaged key that has lodged itself in the ignition switch. Pulling or yanking on the key can cause major damage to the ignition and might make it even harder to remove the key.


If you’d like a video to follow while working on your ignition switch, check out the one below by The Original Mechanic.