Five Things To Try When Your Car Ignition Doesn’t Turn

car ignition

Five Things To Try When Your Car Ignition Doesn’t Turn

Your car ignition not turning has to be the worst possible scenario, and it always seems to happen at the wrong time. Imagine, trying to start your car and the key won’t turn the ignition. What should you do next? 

Ignition cylinders use wafers that bend, crack and break over time. There are usually some warning signs, but like most people, you’ve probably ignored them until it was too late. These 5 tips will save you some time and money! 

Why Won’t Your Car Ignition Turn?

There are several reasons why your key may have stopped turning the ignition such as;

1. Your wafers are now damaged and the ignition becomes frozen and won’t turn

Unlike standard locks, which use round, cylindrical pins; auto locks use a wafer-based system. The wafer is typically split down the center to accommodate the key when it slides in. Ignition wafers can be one piece or two pieces (a split wafer). A two-piece wafer is very similar to that shown except it is split down the middle. Split wafers are susceptible to jamming in the cylinder. Over time either of the wafer styles can become damaged.

If you are someone that carries around a large, heavy key ring, don’t. The weight of that keyring is constantly pulling on the wafers in the ignition as you drive, day after day, year after year. Lightening the key ring will extend the life of your ignition wafers.

2. Your key is worn out so not putting the ignition wafers in the right spot

Another common reason a key won’t turn an ignition is due to the key being worn out. With every turn of the ignition, the edges of the car key are under force to get the wafers to align correctly. Over time this thins out the edge and wears it down until one day it will no longer turn the ignition. New keys cut by code have sharp crisp edges, while old keys have soft, rounded edges. 

If you are down to one car key, get a backup key made as soon as possible. No matter how expensive a backup key is, it will always cost more to make a key when no existing key is available than to copy an existing key. When a spare key is not used often, it will not wear down so you will have a backup key.

3. A safety feature of the car is preventing the key from turning

As cars become more electronic and complex, new safety features have been installed that will prevent the key from turning the ignition.

What To Do When Your Key Won’t Turn Your Ignition

1. Jiggle the steering wheel to unlock the ignition

Many steering columns are designed to lock when the key is removed. The steering wheel can become stuck in a position that in turn locks the ignition. Wiggle the steering wheel back and forth while gently turning the key to see if the key now turns. 

2. Check the gear shift

Some cars, with automatic transmissions, do not allow the key to turn the ignition if the car is not in park or neutral. Try jiggling the gear shift to ensure it is into position and then try to turn the key again. 

3. Check if the battery is dead

Some newer cars with more advanced ignition systems will stop the key to turn the ignition if the car’s battery is dead. You can’t even remove the key from the ignition. Check the car’s battery with a voltmeter or see if your car lights come on.

4. Try the spare key to turn the ignition

If you have a backup key, try it to see if your main key is worn beyond the point of being able to turn the ignition. When your spare key turns the ignition this is the best possible outcome. Take your car to a locksmith and get a copy of that spare key made as soon as possible. This way you will again have a working spare key in case your main key wears out again or is lost.

5. Use a silicon-based spray in the lock

If the spare key did not turn the ignition, or you did not have one you need to consider the ignition as the issue. Try squirting some silicon-based lock lubricant into the ignition or door lock. The spray will clean the wafers and get any dirt and debris out that may be causing a sticking ignition or preventing your key from turning. Do not use oil-based products or graphite because these products will collect dirt and graphite will gunk up over time, so the problem will recur.

6. Hire an automotive locksmith to come out and fix it

If everything else fails and your key still won’t turn the ignition, it’s time to hire a locksmith. The main advantage to hiring an automotive locksmith to fix it is that a locksmith will come to your location to do the job and the car will not need to be towed to a mechanic or the dealer.


Some car models i.e., Range Rover L322, require to detect of the correct transponder to enable the ignition key to turn after the release of the electronic steering lock.

One can determine this by checking whether there is a continuous red blinking light on the instrument cluster when it is inserted into the ignition. If the light is blinking, there is a high likelihood that the transponder on the key is not being identified as the correct one. Notably, this might require an experienced locksmith programmer to diagnose and recommend ways to ring it.

Final Thoughts

Diagnosing the reason your car key won’t turn in the ignition is the best way to begin the process of fixing the issue. If you cannot determine the problem your car is having, it is best to contact professionals. Calling a locksmith is always a simple answer, but the rest of these simple solutions can get complicated depending on your skills and situation. Take care to contact a professional technician before things move from a complicated fix to an expensive fix.

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