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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

What To Do If Your Car Key Broke Off In The Ignition

by Ralph March 24, 2021

If your key broke off in the ignition of your car, truck, or motorcycle, you will be unable to start your vehicle until the keyway is clear. But don’t go trying to get the key out of the ignition without knowing the risks and using the proper tools. And as simple as it may seem to remove a broken car key from the ignition, make sure you know the proper technique. In this article we will go over everything there is to know about the considerations and solutions for when a broken key is stuck in your ignition.

Tips for broken keys in the ignition:

Avoid Damaging The Ignition

If a key broke off in the ignition of your car, the ignition is not necessarily damaged, but you can break it if you do not proceed with caution. In many ways, damaging a car’s ignition has greater repercussions than harming just any old lock. This is your primary means of transport, it represents a tremendous financial investment, and it needs to run properly. For that reason, I would recommend calling a locksmith to remove the broken key from the ignition. You do not want to unnecessarily damage your ignition by improperly performing a broken car key extraction yourself.

If you would still prefer to attempt the removal of a broken key in an ignition, we have a few damage prevention recommendations. Firstly, you want to be extremely careful about what you put in the keyway. For example, super glue methods of extraction are not recommended. Do not force any tools into the clogged ignition. If something does not go in smoothly, try and find a smaller tool. Lastly, refrain from excessive attempts of the same method. If a tool is used too many times or too harshly, it can damage the vehicle’s ignition so that even a working car key won’t turn in the ignition.

Tips to avoid ignition damage:

  • Do not insert anything into the ignition that may also get stuck.
  • Do not excessively use any method, as this can wear down the lock internals.
  • Use a locksmith to remove the broken key from the ignition.

Gather The Right Tools

Removing a broken key from an ignition cylinder is a bit more complicated than the standard practice of getting a broken key out of a lock. If your car key broke off in the ignition while you were still at home, you may be able to gather supplies more readily. Gathering the proper materials and tools can be more complicated if you are stranded. Search your vehicle for tools you can use, and take inventory of any nearby stores that may sell helpful materials such as:

Key Extractors – Though these are specialty tools specific to addressing broken keys in locks, you might be able to find them in auto parts stores and the auto parts sections of big-box retailers. Though this is a long shot, always try to use the best tool for the job.

Tweezers – Likely found in any make-up or beauty section, tweezers can be perfect for pulling out broken key fragments. Ideally, they should be thin enough to be able to enter the keyway. The natural opening of the tweezers should be wide enough to fit the key blade.

Needle Nose Pliers – Hardware stores and some big box stores will have these tools. The extra-long pliers work best, as the thinner ends allow you to be more precise when grabbing the small bit of metal protruding from the keyway. 

Mini Hacksaw Blades – Likely only available in hardware stores, these devices are used by sliding inside the ignition cylinder alongside the broken key. The blade must be extremely small and thin for it to work. You turn the serrated edge of the blade toward the key and grip the key as you pull out. Too many attempts using a hacksaw blade can damage the ignition.

Paper Clips – Widely available, paper clips can be shaped into tweezers and probe tools that may help get a broken car key out of the ignition. If you find the metal too soft to be helpful, you may have more success with binder clips (though these are difficult to shape).

Safety Pins or Hair Pins – You may have these types of pins on your person, and they are widely available at stores, rest stops, gas stations, etc. Often too small to be bent into tools, these are best used as probes to pry at the key. Consider using a pair of pins as if they were tweezers or chopsticks.

Tips for gathering tools:

  • Tweezers must open wide enough to fit the broken key.
  • Do not use a tool unless you know a process that will work for it.
  • Smaller tools are preferable for this type of fine precision task.

Make A New Car Key

Car Key Cutter

Most auto locksmiths strongly recommend getting a new car key made as soon as one breaks. It is always advisable to have a spare car key for circumstances just like a key breaking off in an ignition. If you don’t replace your broken key, next time you won’t even have a spare and the situation will be more dire. If a car key broke off in the ignition, a locksmith makes a new one. This is so often the case that it has become somewhat of an industry standard to combine these estimates in locksmith price guides.

In most cases, you will not be able to fix a broken key that has snapped, but a locksmith can use the broken car key to make a copy. Hardware stores and big box store key cutting machines will not be able to do this (for those you will need a working key). Also, be aware that any copied car key likely has a transponder chip. This type of service is not something most self-checkout key cutters offer. A locksmith is the best option for transponder key programming.

Tips for making new car keys:

  • If a key broke off in the ignition, always replace it.
  • Check if you have a transponder key before replacing it.
  • Locksmiths are the best resource for making new car keys.

Remove A Broken Key From An Ignition

If a key broke off in the ignition, the first step is to get a good vantage point on the keyway. Ignition cylinders can be on the side of the steering wheel, and difficult to see from the driver’s side. The steering wheel may also partially block you from using both hands to work. You may find it easier to work from the passenger side.

Once you are in a comfortable working position, go through the preferred methods of removing a key that broke off in an ignition:

1. Check to see that the broken key fragment is not fully inserted into the ignition.

2. If not fully inserted, grip and pull the exposed key fragment from each side. (Perfect for tweezers, pliers, or similar tools.)

3. If the key fragment is not partially exposed, or you do not have tools that can grip the key, use the wedge and slide method. (Perfect for mini hacksaw blades, and thin profile tools with an edge that can catch on the key.)

4. Wedge your tool in the ignition keyway alongside the broken key.

5. Turn your tool toward the key so that it catches on the grooves of the key, as you pull out.

6. Continue to wedge and slide your tool until the key can be pulled free from the ignition.

When you put any foreign object into your car key ignition cylinders, such as the wedge and slide method, you are risking damage. For this type of work, you would ideally be using a broken key extractor tool. However, even with a professional locksmithing tool, it can be dangerous to try this with no training or oversight. If you cannot grip and pull the fragment, consider hiring an automotive locksmith to remove the key. That way you won’t have to call a locksmith to replace the ignition cylinder just because the key broke off in the ignition.

Tips for removing a broken key from an ignition:

  • Partially exposed keys can be gripped and pulled out.
  • The more your grip slips on the key, the farther it will be pushed into the ignition.
  • A fully inserted key fragment should be removed with the wedge and slide method.
  • Inserting anything into the ignition risks damage to the lock.
  • If you have any doubts, call an auto locksmith.

Call An Auto Locksmith

Locksmith Fixing Ignition

Though you can attempt to remove a broken car key from an ignition on your own, the best option will be to call an auto locksmith. Hiring a professional takes all of the guesswork and mystery out of this process. A locksmith will make sure that your ignition cylinder is not harmed by removing the broken key. They can make a new key on the spot. And can diagnose any other lock or key-related issues you may have.

If a car key broke off in the ignition, a locksmith is your best bet to get you back on the road safely. Make sure your solution to your key breaking off in the ignition isn’t worse than the problem. Remember, this is not the same as a car key is stuck in the ignition. The key is broken and it needs to be replaced or fixed by a professional anyway, so call a locksmith for the full service.

Final Thoughts

If your car key broke off in the ignition, remember to take a breath and calm down. Being over-excited or anxious increases the chances of making a mistake that can damage your ignition. After your ignition is damaged, you need a new ignition and perhaps require the new ignition to be rekeyed. Get the work done right the first time and save yourself some money, time, and hassle. If your car key broke off in the ignition, contact United Locksmith today for the service you need.

Category: Automotive, Car Keys

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