What to do When Your Car Key Won't Turn

Tips if you don't have a push-button ignition

Man turning key in car ignition, close-up
Eryk Fitkau/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

When you get into your vehicle and try to twist your key to start the vehicle, have you ever had it stick in place? Obviously, this can't happen with vehicles that have a push-button start or electronic key. But for the rest of us who still use old-fashioned car keys, having one stuck in place can be a hassle. You don't want to turn the key too hard and harm the vehicle or break the key. What can you do to make the key turn in the ignition and start the vehicle?

How to Turn on an Ignition When the Key Is Stuck

Your car has a steering lock that clicks into place when you take the car key out of the ignition. This prevents thieves from being able to steer your car if they hotwire it. (Nothing will actually stop a determined thief, but automakers typically add this feature to deter thieves.) The steering lock could have set in just the right place when you turned the car off so it prevents the key from being able to disengage that steering wheel lock. This can result in an inability to turn the ignition on. 

In this case, the fix is easy: All you have to do is turn the wheel a little bit in either direction while you twist the head of the key in the ignition to start the vehicle. In other words, jiggle the wheel a bit while turning the key gently. Did the ignition move with your key in it? If so, the problem is solved.

Again, this solution only applies to vehicles with a traditional ignition key, meaning a metal key that actually inserts into an ignition switch and turns to start the car. If you've got an electronic key, you won't have this issue. Also, if your car has a starter button, but your steering wheel seems stuck, you will need to go to the repair shop because it's most likely an electronic issue rather than a simple fix. 

Other Ways to Turn the Key in an Ignition

Check the gears. Another reason why the ignition will not go on when your key is inside is because the car may be in another gear. Some vehicles with an automatic transmission do not enable the key to turn unless it is in park or neutral. Make sure you're in park mode before trying to turn the key. 

If that doesn't work, check the battery. If your battery is dead, the key may not turn the ignition on. In that case, it's time to get a new battery.

More Car Key Problems

Keep in mind that if your key is too worn or bent (or if you are not using the right key), the key will not turn on the ignition if it's not in working condition. And, of course, check that you are using the right key!