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Wednesday, August 17. 2011
Got a car or truck with a sticky ignition, where the key won't turn even if you wiggle the steering wheel and move the key in and out a little bit, or turn the key in the opposite direction to loosen things up? Or, worse, the key doesn't want to come out?
It can be exasperating and, at times, embarassing. Apparently it can be due to slightly jammed lock cylinders, or the wheel lock.
Some suggest a squirt of WD-40 into the lock but I am wary about doing that. I wonder whether any of our car mechanic genius readers have any ideas, short of an expensive trip to the auto shop.
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I fought this problem on my '07 Sonata for three years. After the last time it locked and even a Hyundai mechanic could not get the key to turn, the dealership admitted there was a problem and installed a replacement ingnition assembly. After pleading with Hyundai North America and threatening suit, Hyundai agreed to cover it under warranty.
Short of replacement, I found that graphite on the key and ignition helped (temporarily). Although as a Southerner I hate to admit this, do not use WD-40 on locks. It will make the problem worse in the long run. Be very gentle with removing, inserting and turning the key. And try to be calm and just keep trying when you get in a lock situation. Almost always the key will eventually turn, and giving in to anger will not help and may result in breaking the bolts around the ignition. And that means the wheels are also locked, towing becomes very difficult, etc.
WD-40 is NOT a lubricant. It's sole function is to displace or prevent rusting. DON'T use it to lubricate anything. As Martin says, it tends to jam things up if it's used as a lubricant since this is not its intended purpose.
Never have I experienced that problem. How old is your car/what's the mileage? I'd try the WD-40. And you might ask Click & Clack, The Tappet Brothers, about this.
My Accord does that sometimes, I just wiggle the steering wheel and all is well. I use graphite on all locks, WD-40 on the hinges.
First - don't go squirting, squeezing, or squishing (alliteration, anyone?) anything into the keyhole or mechanism - that will make things far, far worse...
Here's the tip - bend down/over/kneel/whatever to get a good look under the dash near the pedals. With a bit of luck, you should be able to find a shielded flex cable. Put the key in, then wiggle the cable until the key can be removed freely. Once that's done, use a cable tie (or similar) to hold the cable in position, as it may have been knocked out of it's original clip/holder...
We had a similar problem on our Dodge minivan. It turned out the cylinder or tumblers - whatever - were worn and had to be replaced. The graphite will probably help for a while and then not at all. Plan on getting a new lock soon.
I hadn't heard of Jess's suggestion. That's certainly worth a try, but I think the real problem is the lock and it will need to be replaced.
Jess is right. Whatever you do, DON'T squirt it with any spray, and especially not WD-40. If you think it's the actual lock mechanism that's sticky, get some powdered graphite from a good hardware store. Squeeze some on both sides of the key, slide it in and out, turn it, repeat above. If that doesn't work, buy a new ignition lock.
As far as WD-40 goes, you know all those people who use it to lubricate things, like door hinges? Ever notice what word is missing from the can?
It's a penetrating oil, nothing more. And, in cases like key locks, it'll attract dust and when it starts to dry out, things will be even gunkier than before. For door hinges and the like, use an actual oil, like 3-in-1.
Graphite. They sell tiny squirt bottles with a little "snout" you stick into the lock and squirt the graphite into it. Oil can attract grit which will cause your lock to be sticky or inoperable. Also if your key is old get a new one. If your key is new it probably has a little bit of metal still stuck to the cut edges. This is caused by dull cutters on the key machine. Also really sharp edges of the cut key can interfere with operation. Use a stiff wire brush to remove the excess metal and smooth the sharp edges.
While some manufacturers have experienced design flaws, most of my experience with stubborn ignition locks has revolved around good old fashioned wear and tear. Brass tumblers and brass keys are soft, see? We usually fix our customers' cars by calling the local dealer parts department, and having a key cut from the VIN #.
Some vehicles require you to have your foot on the brake to start turn the ignition. Try that too.
Had a 74 Pinto with that problem. Rather than an expensive fix, my dad took a page from the early Fords, and "hotwired" it to a button on the dash and a toggle switch under the dash. Just had to reach down and flip the secret toggle to activate the ignition and push the button to start. To turn it off, just flip the toggle back. An old idea for a modern car. But then, who would have wanted to steal a 74 Pinto, even in '74? :-)
A friend from when I was in college had an Alfa Romeo Spyder and the ignition switch broke and would not power the starter. Rather than buy a new - and expensive - ignition switch, he would put the key in and turn on the ignition and then take a beer bottle cap he kept in the ash tray and reached behind the igntion switch and jumped the starter with the cap. For years he did that.
Then when he went to sell it he didn't get a chance to tell the prospective buyer about the quirk before he put the key in the ignition, turned it and the car roared to life! There's no telling how long he used that bottle cap when he didn't need to!
I will be trying Jess's tip later this morning on my boss's 93 Ford 250. The graphite tip sounds good too.
Thanks to Maggie's Farm and the Barrister for posting on such an otherwise pedestrian (no pun intended) topic
On any new car with a chip in the key you should be able to drill out the lock, such that is will turn with any key inserted. The car will not start without the chipped key. I did this 3 years ago with a Focus and it works great.
Make sure the gear selector is fully seated in park. If not, the key won't turn and/or the key can't be removed.
If it's a regular old ignition and not electronic, you can slap the lock with a yankee screwdriver and break the tumblers after which, any key will work. You can also drill the lock. If this doesn't work check the neutral safety switch.
Wait--try that first by starting the car in neutral.If there is no problem, the switch is defective. If you break the lock and it still won't start, check the neutral safety switch again,they fail in multiple and mysterious ways.
I drove a Ford ranger to work for many years. One day I had trouble getting the key into the slot and notice that the pins in the lock were beginning to fall out. With some effort and a few choice words I managed to get it back in and from experience I knew that if I ever removed it again I'd be stuck.
The key by itself was not very conspicuous and truck was a rusty faded thing with a piece of plywood wedged behind the drivers seat to hold the back up. I figured no one would want to steal it even if they did notice the key in the ignition so I drove it that way for years.
One day after work it wasn't where I had parked it but after much head scratching and self doubt I found it further up the lot.
Surveillance cameras later revealed that a young woman had taken it but she couldn't be identified.
The key was still in place and the change was still in the ash tray but the piece of plywood had fallen to the floor when she tried to move the seat ahead. I sure would've liked to have seen the look on her face when she suddenly found herself looking at the ceiling.
There are cans of compressed air (without anything else in it) you can get for this purpose. Spray that into the keyhole and maybe you'll clean out something that shouldn't be in there.
(But whatever you do, don't do what I did the last time I had this problem, which was to use a wrench to force the key to turn. I wound up having to pay for a house-call by a locksmith in the middle of nowhere!)
If your car is about 5 years old or more then it might be time to get a new key cut. Just make sure you use the manufacturer's assigned key code number and not the key you're trying to replace! This is the least expensive and usually least time consuming trial and error fix you can do.
In my experience Toyotas are especially prone to keys wearing out.
I suggest yer look at the WD40 site.. sure suggests lubrication of locks
It's been a while, but I found that a10 inch adjustable wrench will loosen those babies right up. It's simple science. Leverage is the key.
Truthfully tho' the most likely scenario here is a physical obstruction in the switch. Lubrication may help the interfering parts slide past one another, but doesn't fix the underlying problem. I never turn my wheels to lock when parking or park with my tires touching a curb and rarely have any issues with the key switch. When I do it is becasue I broke my own rules.
Had this happen to me with the wife's Hyundai Escort GS two months ago at a gas station and couldn't leave the pump. After much wiggling (and cussing), finally called my favorite mechanic to send out a tow truck. They said it would be about 45 minutes. Went inside the station and bought a coffee, then sat outside and finished the coffee. Then gave it one more try and finally the wiggling busted it free. Rather than running off on the tow truck, I decided to wait another 10 minutes (he was running late - being near rush hour). He finally showed up in about 5 minutes. I explained the sticky problem to him and asked him how much I owed for his fool's errand. No charge, he said as he was on his way back to the garage anyway.
The wife's Hyundai is a 2000 and has about 85,000 miles on it. My Chrysler Sebring LX is a 2000 and has about the same mileage on it. The Sebring also has the sticky problem at times. So I'm guessing I need to get new keys made for both vehicles and Thanks! to Amanda about using the manufacturer's assigned key code numbers.