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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Car Key Won’t Turn? 3 Fixes For When Your Car Key Won’t Turn

by Ralph January 19, 2022

Car keys not turning in a car door lock rarely seem like anything more than an inconvenience. Most people open and lock their car with the remote, so what do you need a working lock for? When you neglect a broken lock, the problems can spiral quickly and unexpectedly.

When a car key won’t turn, even if it sticks but turns eventually, you should take action as soon as possible. This problem can result in broken keys and eventually lead to you being locked out of your car. Address the issue and find a solution as soon a car key is not turning.

If a key won’t turn in a car, several things might be happening:

  1. Key Damage
  2. Faulty Ignition
  3. Broken Lock

FAQs

Why won’t my car key turn in the lock?

When a car key won’t turn in a lock, there is an issue with either the lock or key. This problem can be mild enough that you are only looking to fix sticky car door locks or severe enough to the point where the key will not open the lock at all.

Is my car key not turning due to the lock or key?

To decide whether you need car door lock repair or car key replacement, test multiple keys in the lock. If every car key won’t turn, the issue is most likely the lock. If only one car key won’t turn, the problem is almost certainly with the key. You can also test one key in multiple locks.

What fixes a car key that won’t turn?

If a car key won’t turn reliably or easily, apply lubricant into the keyway. If the internals of a lock cylinder have worn out, you can rekey a car lock if you do not want to change the cylinder entirely. If the problem is the key, copy a working key or have a key cut from code.

Which lubricant is best for car locks?

You should not use traditional WD-40 on locks for cars, homes, and commercial buildings. The best door lock lubricant will use either graphite, silicone, or some dry synthetic blend. Dry lubricants do not attract grime, whereas oil-based lube will collect dirt and re-jam the lock.

Can I just use my remote instead of fixing my car door lock?

If your car key won’t turn in the door lock, you may still be able to open the vehicle with the key fob. However, you should address the issue with the physical key so you have a backup for when your key fob will not unlock doors.

How do locksmiths fix car keys that won’t turn?

A locksmith will diagnose the reason a car key is not turning. Then they will either make a new car key, even if there is no working spare. For lock problems, they fix the lock or replace it. After replacing the lock, they can rekey it, so all the locks in the car use the same key.

1. Car Key Damage

The Problem

Sometimes a car key won’t turn because the key has worn down or misshapen. Bending or misshaping is more common with motorcycle keys, but any thin or soft metal keys will easily bend. Even subtle bending that is not visibly apparent can be enough that the car key won’t turn.

A key can bend at any time, but wearing a key down takes time and use. If you use your key a lot, the metal grinds down smoother. This means that the groves no longer have the right shape to properly move the wafers, sliders, or tumblers in the lock cylinder.

You can tell that your keys are the issue if another key will open the same lock. If you only have one key, you can test the key in multiple locks. If a key cannot open multiple locks, it is unlikely two locks are broken in the same way.

The Solution

When a car key won’t turn because of damage to the key, the best fix is car key replacement. You can go to almost any hardware store and make a duplicate car key with a bent car key but not one that is worn. If you copy a worn key, you end up copying the problem.

If you do not have a working spare car key, then you will need to contact the dealership or a car locksmith. To have a new car key made without the original, you need access to a database that matches a VIN to key code and a machine that can use that code to make a key from scratch.

2. Faulty Ignition Cylinder

The Problem

If your car key won’t turn in the ignition due to an issue with the cylinder, the steering wheel may have locked. Most modern steering wheels lock when the wheel is rotated without the key inserted. Other than that, there is likely something wrong with the ignition lock cylinder.

The lock cylinder for an ignition is the same as any other lock, in that it can break or wear out. Every time you insert or turn your key, you are putting stress on the lock’s internal components. With enough time and stress, the lock will fail and your car key won’t turn the cylinder.

The Solution

When a car key won’t turn due to steering wheel lock, gently rock the wheel right and left while simultaneously jiggling the key in the ignition. Be gentle to avoid the car key breaking off in the ignition. The wheel should achieve a full range of motion as the key successfully turns.

Car ignition repair can be as simple as spraying a little lubricant into the keyway, but you still may end up needing full car key ignition replacement. For replacement or invasive repair, you have to be able to remove the cylinder, which is not straightforward when the car key won’t turn.

There are ways to remove an ignition cylinder without a key or if your car key is not turning. But if they are done by a novice, there is a risk of damaging the vehicle further. If you have any doubts about your ability, call an automotive locksmith.

3. Broken Door Lock

The Problem

A broken car door lock can sneak up on you easily these days. With the keyless ignition and entry features of modern cars, you rarely have to worry about car keys not turning. But this has led to car door locks that are built to never be used, and they break without being used.

As soon as your car remote is not working, you will find out all at once that your door lock is broken. The two most common reasons a car key is not turning in these circumstances is the cam or the wafers are failing. The cam and the wafers can also distort similar to a worn key.

The cam or wafers can also bind due to rust or debris. This can even happen to the lock assembly, to the point where the car door won’t open from inside or outside. Unless you have a very old or neglected car, your car keys not turning should not be the result of severe debris.

The Solution

For car keys not turning in any situation, the first step is always cleaning with a dry lubricant. Lube can be applied to the inside of the keyhole, which may require you to move a spring-loaded dust cover. If that does not work, you will need to get your door open.

If your car key is not turning causes a car lockout, you have to figure out how to break into your car or call a locksmith to open the door. For the door lock to be accessed, you have to remove the interior door panel, which requires the door to be ajar.

With the door open, all the set screws are accessible. Note which screws go where and if there is an order they need to be installed in. With the door assembly exposed, use the key. Look for an indication of what the car key won’t turn. If there is no blockage, remove the lock cylinder.

With the lock cylinder removed, you can address what is wrong with it or replace it. When you change your car lock cylinder, you will either need to rekey your ignition, or the door lock, or the cylinders will not be keyed alike.

Final Thoughts

Car keys not turning in a door lock or ignition is caused by either a key problem or a lock problem. Key problems are rather uniform, but there are differences between ignition and door lock failures and servicing. If you need any assistance, reach out to an automotive locksmith.

For the best locksmith service, check to see if United Locksmith has a technician near you. And for any questions, you may have or thoughts you would like to share about the topic, leave a message in the comments section below.

Category: Automotive, Car Keys

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