A Few “Key” Facts (Ignition Key Issues)

“Why is My Key Stuck in the Ignition?”

Many modern cars feature remote keyless entry and keyless ignition. All drivers need to do is hold their foot on the break with the key fob in their pocket, and push a button to start or stop the car. For those of us without keyless features, unexpected key problems can literally stop our day!

Face it, you expect your key to turn in your vehicle’s ignition. But sometimes it won’t, and that’s a problem, whether you’re trying to start your vehicle or trying to leave it.  A key that won’t turn in the ignition is a problem that can be caused by several things. In this article, we will examine a few root causes so next time it happens to you, you’ll be prepared!

Locking Mechanism is Stuck

One of the most common is that the steering column locking mechanism is stuck. Locking steering columns are an anti-theft feature introduced in the 1970s.


If you think your locking mechanism is sticking, try moving the steering wheel a little from side to side as you turn the key; sometimes it will release.

The Vehicle is in Gear

A key may also stick if the vehicle is in gear. Most vehicles will only let you start in neutral or park.


If you have an automatic transmission vehicle, make sure it’s in park. If you’re unsure, try moving the shift lever through the gears and back into park to make sure. If the key still doesn’t turn, you can try jiggling the shift lever as you turn the key. Electrical and mechanical contacts sometimes don’t line up properly, and a little jiggle might nudge them into place.

Vehicle Alarm, Security Feature, or Battery Issues

Sometimes vehicles with alarms can cause a key to jam; some require the doors to either be closed or open before the key will move. Other vehicles with newer electronic ignition systems won’t allow you to turn the key if the battery is dead.

Obstructed Lock Cylinder

Another possibility is something jammed in your lock cylinder. The little pins and springs that figure out you are putting in the correct key can stick as well.


Check to make sure nothing is obstructing your lock cylinder. Obstructions might include pocket lint, paper scraps, and other miscellaneous objects from your pocket that may have hitched a ride on your key last time you used it. Speaking of your key, your key may also be the culprit. The ridges can wear down, or the shaft can get bent. Oh, and speaking of the key, are you trying to use the right one? Double-check it.

Other Issues May Require a Closer Look…

If you have a key that resists turning and you’re able to get it unstuck, consider yourself warned. It probably won’t “heal” itself, and it’s time to have your qualified NAPA AutoCare technician dig a little deeper to track down the root of the problem. You could be less “luck-key” the next time it happens.

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