How to Troubleshoot a Locked Car Ignition

There is nothing more frustrating than sliding into the driver’s seat of your car to only find the ignition is locked. Car ignitions vary from model to model, but there are a few basic tips you can try using to troubleshoot the problem. Keep in mind that it may be one simple approach that will unlock your ignition or it may be a combination of approaches. If your car ignition locks regularly you may also want to get it looked at by a mechanic to be sure there isn’t a serious issue.

Make Sure You’re Using the Right Key

This sounds like common sense, but sometimes the wrong key is inserted into the ignition. You may have inadvertently grabbed the wrong set of keys or as you were getting settled into the car, placed the wrong key on the key ring into the ignition. If your car ignition key looks similar to other keys on your key ring, you may want to consider putting a key cover on it to identify this key from the rest.

Rock the Steering Wheel

Insert the key into the ignition and rock the steering wheel back and forth in attempt to free the spot where the key turns. This might take a few attempts, so be patient. This is typically the result of the steering wheel column locking. It is not a serious concern but keep in mind that this is one of the more common reasons why the ignition locks.

Check the Lock Cylinder

A buildup of dust and grime can keep the key from making a proper connection in the ignition, which can lead to it appearing to be locked. The easiest way to clean the inside of the ignition is to spray the key with electrical contact cleaner and insert it into the ignition. Once you have used contact cleaner follow up by spraying the key with a lubricant and inserting it into the ignition again.

Check the Parking Brake and Gear

If the car’s brake is properly engaged, and the ignition still appears to be locked, then try checking to see which gear the car is in. If the car is an automatic transmission, check to make sure the car is in park. If the car is a standard transmission try putting the car in neutral. Check your car owner’s manual to see if there is a specific gear you should engage before trying to start the ignition.

Check to See if the Key is Bent

Make sure the key is not bent or stripped. If the key is not stripped, or overused, it may be slightly bent. You can flatten the key very easily by laying it on a solid surface and hammering it flat.

If your car’s ignition is frequently locking you may want to take it to a mechanic for a check-up. A frequently locking ignition could be a sign of a more serious issue with the steering column. It could also indicate an electrical wiring issue. There are some additional factors to consider too. Sometimes extremely cold temperatures can cause the ignition to lock as well. If none of these troubleshooting tips help you may want to consider calling roadside assistance.