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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

4 Ways To Remove An Ignition Cylinder Without A Key

by Ralph October 18, 2021

If you are looking for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key, we have a couple of methods you can investigate. The best option for you will depend on your vehicle, access to tools, skillset, and the functionality of the lock cylinder.

Understand that many of these procedures can harm your vehicle if done incorrectly. When in doubt, contact a locksmith rather than increase the cost of repairs by attempting to do with work yourself.

Here is how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key with four different tools:

  1. Drill
  2. Hammer
  3. Punch
  4. Lock Pick


Do you need a key to remove an ignition cylinder?

You do not need a key to remove a car ignition cylinder. You will need to find an alternate way to rotate the device into the accessory position or otherwise depress the cylinder retention pin. Most of these methods are destructive, so proceed with extreme caution.

Should you drill a car ignition cylinder?

In some cases, how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key will require drilling. This is best left to a locksmith to avoid damaging the car. Drilling will make the ignition cylinder unusable, but this is not an issue when paired with ignition cylinder replacement services.

Can a locksmith remove an ignition cylinder without a key?

The best method for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key is to hire a professional. A car locksmith has the knowledge and experience to do this work without causing any damage to the rest of the vehicle. When this work is done by non-professionals, the risk of breaking additional components is very high.

How much does it cost to remove an ignition cylinder without a key?

Locksmith prices for ignition cylinder replacement start at $95 plus a $15 service fee. When it comes to how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key, the increased complexity takes more time and tools and is likely to cost more. The final price will vary depending on the vehicle.

Before You Start

How to remove an ignition cylinder without a key begins with preparation and consideration. Preparation has to do with taking inventory of your available tools and the space in your car that may restrict easy access to some of the components you need to target.

You will also need to prepare the cylinder for servicing by removing all steering column and dashboard covers around the ignition. Disconnect the ignition switch and any other electrical wiring chrome the cylinder housing to prevent shorting or electrocution during service.

Consider if your tools and space will allow you to work effectively. Also, consider that some of the methods for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key will present greater risks of damage than others. However, these risks can be diminished by hiring a professional locksmith.

A locksmith is even more helpful if your lack of a key has left you locked out of your car. They can even give you insights into potentially cheaper solutions to the issue you are experiencing. In certain instances, car key replacement may be a better option or even something simpler.

For example, when a car key won’t turn in the ignition, you may think you do not have a working key. But you may be able to temporarily get the cylinder to turn with a faulty key. Even if you still want to change the ignition, this is going to make the process go much smoother.

Key Takeaways:

  • Remove dashboard and steering wheel covers as needed.
  • Disconnect the ignition switch and other electronics from the cylinder housing.
  • Take inventory of available tools, space considerations, and the reason for your issue.

1. Drilling The Lock

Drilling out an ignition cylinder is different enough from drilling a standard door lock and requires a few more steps before drilling a lock. Firstly, insert the drill bit into the keyway and find the back of the cylinder. Tape the portion of the bit protruding from the lock.

Your tape acts as a flag to signal not to drill deeper than that point and damage the cylinder housing. Professionals can usually do this by feel without tape, but novices should take additional steps to prevent over-drilling.

The size of your drill bit should be roughly the same diameter as the keyway. If anything, you want the bit to be slightly thicker. To fully drill the lock, you may need to use progressively larger drill bits to widen the keyway.

You are drilling until you break the wafers or sliders inside the cylinder. With those internal components broken, the lock can be rotated with a flat head screwdriver. After this much damage, no amount of car ignition repair will suffice. The cylinder will need to be replaced.

Drilling Overview:

  • Find a drill bit roughly the diameter of your keyway.
  • Insert the drill bit into the back of the keyway and mark the depth.
  • Do not drill beyond the marked depth.
  • After drilling the lock fully, turn the cylinder with a flathead screwdriver.
  • If the lock does not turn, drill again with a larger bit.
  • Repeat this process until all internals are no longer preventing rotation.

2. Hammering The Keyway

For some classic cars, a slide hammer can fully remove the ignition cylinder, but we are going to focus on a different hammering method here. The process of how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key by hammering is mechanically similar to drilling.

You can use a hammer and flat head screwdriver as the screwdriver is appropriately sized to fill the keyway and reach the back of the lock. Then you hammer the screwdriver deeper into the cylinder. Essentially getting the tool to do the work of the drill. Then use it to rotate the cylinder.

When you compare methods for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key, this is certainly one of the riskier options. A glancing blow with your hammer can damage the car. Also, without the right size screwdriver, this method will not work.

If you are trying to save money on car key ignition replacement, it can be tempting to use the tools you have around you. However, the less precise the tool, the higher chance that you will end up needing to replace or repair more elements of your car.

Hammering Overview:

  • Find a chisel or flathead screwdriver that fits into the keyway.
  • If you do not have the proper sized tools, this will not work.
  • Hammer the tool deeper into the cylinder.
  • Torque your tool with additional leverage to force the cylinder to rotate.
  • If torque and leverage are not enough, continue to hammer the tool deeper.
  • The cylinder will rotate through torque or internal component destruction.

3. Punching The Pin

The retention pin is what keeps your lock cylinder from freely sliding out of the housing. This pin is not visible with the dashboard/steering wheel covers installed. Once covers are removed, you have to locate the pin, which could be on the sides, top, or bottom of the cylinder housing.

The retention pin is a small cylinder in a circular hole. Under normal circumstances, putting your car key in the accessory position allows you to depress this pin and remove the cylinder. How to remove an ignition cylinder without a key can be done by forcing this pin down or destroying it.

This is ideal in instances where the car key broke off in the ignition, or you have the whole key stuck in the ignition. You ignore the keyway and do not have to drill or hammer through metal debris. All you will need is a metal punch, a hammer, and the space to use them.

You want your punch tool to be smaller than the pin hole because you do not want this hole to be widened or misshapen. Once the pin is broken, so it is no longer retaining the cylinder, you should be able to use a screwdriver to turn and remove the ignition cylinder.

Pin Removal Overview:

  • Locate the retention pin on your ignition cylinder housing
  • Find a metal punch that is the same size as the retention pin hole.
  • Hammer the punch into the retention pin.
  • Continue hammering until the pin has broken or depressed.
  • With the pin removed, the cylinder should slide free.

4. Auto Lock Picking

It will only be possible to pick a car ignition cylinder that is functioning normally without a blocked keyway. This is not a method for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key when the cylinder is broken or malfunctioning, as picking can only mimic a working key.

The benefit of picking an automotive lock rather than using the other methods described above is that this is non-destructive. How to remove an ignition cylinder without a key without damaging the lock is beneficial when you want to rekey a car lock rather than replace it.

If you do not already know how to pick a lock, I would not recommend your first attempt be with automotive lock cylinders. Without a specific auto lock pick set, even tensioning and raking the lock open can be extremely difficult.

The main tip for how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key via lock picking is to get your tension right. You do not need an automotive tension tool, but you do need a tension wrench with a thick enough profile to catch in the wide keyway.

You then have to have the correct lock picks and technical know-how for your ignition cylinder type. For example, many Jaguar ignitions use disk detainer locks. Slider systems are used on many 2000s Volkswagons. And the main wafer system is used in most other circumstances.

Lock Picking Overview:

  • Determine which style of lock picks you require for your lock type.
  • Tension the lock with a tool that fits the wider ignition keyway.
  • Attempt to rake the lock before single pin picking.
  • If raking is unsuccessful, maintain tension and use the false set for SPP.
  • If this sounds like gibberish, contact a professional locksmith.

Final Thoughts

There is a severe risk of further damage to your vehicle if you do not fully understand how to remove an ignition cylinder without a key. You can eliminate the risk of this work being done improperly by hiring a locksmith.

See if United Locksmith serves your area. And if you have any questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments section below. How have you removed your ignition cylinder without a key? Which method worked best for you?

Category: Automotive, Car Keys, How To's

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