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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Why Does The Key Keep Turning In Your Door Lock?

by Hugo Reed December 4, 2017
Key Turned In Lock

It is never a good sign if you see that your key keeps turning in your door lock. Regardless of how this situation may present itself to you, I am sure it is not something that you would want to deal with. Issues that arise when your key keeps turning in door lock can occur in many different ways and to different locks. This problem can occur in commercial door locks, residential door locks, and even with car door lock cylinders.

The truth is, the solution to your woes when a key keeps turning in door locks is fairly easy to attain and implement, but this often requires the assistance and experience of a locksmith. Of course, there are those who staunchly believe in handling occurrences like this with DIY solutions, which is all well and good (as long as you believe you know what you are doing).

The danger in approaching this scenario on your own is that you run the risk of damaging the lock further and/or breaking your key. If this happens, you will still have to call a locksmith to assist you with damaged lock repair or to install a new lock. The only difference is that you will end up paying much more than you would have if you had simply called earlier. So before you start tampering with a key that keeps turning in your door lock, ensure that you are fully aware of what you are doing and what is at stake. Keep in mind, this applies to commercial door locks, residential door locks, and car door locks.

Figuring out why your key keeps turning in door lock can be a little tricky, but once you do this, the solutions are relatively easy to implement. However, it is often better to try your best to make sure that you do not find yourself in this predicament. I know, I know. You did not plan for this to happen, but it is most often the case that most doors and door locks will give you several warning signs that something is amiss before it all begins to break down.

This holds true for doors and door locks regardless of what medium they are being used on. Whatever these warning signs may be, and however they may manifest, make sure you do not ignore them. Before I dive into the reasons why your key keeps turning in door lock, I would like to touch on some of the warning signs that you might encounter along the way.

Warning Signs Of Door Lock Failure

Understanding the warning signs that your door lock might be throwing your way is integral to pinpointing the reason(s) why your key keeps turning in door lock. Also, it might help you prevent the problem from reoccurring in the future. Think of these warning signs as symptoms of some impending problem. It is often the case that your door lock will show signs of damage before something stops working. When the lock stops working the way it was built to, you usually arrive at a situation where you find that your key keeps turning in door lock.

Saying that your door locks are not functioning the way they were intended might sound like a vague statement, but it is the easiest way to sum this up. If you are having trouble locking or unlocking your door lock, it is a sign that there is a greater issue at hand. There are times where your key keeps turning in door lock as a consequence of continuing to use it even after you have already noticed potential warning signs. Many homeowners, business owners, and car owners are not aware of this because they are not exactly sure what they should look out for. So before I continue to discuss why your key keeps turning in door lock, here are some of the warning signs you should be wary of:

1. Loose door handle – This usually applies to commercial door locks and residential door locks. A loose door handle usually indicates that there might be something wrong with your door lock. In most cases, this turns out to be a loose set screw within the door handle or door knob. Unfortunately most people overlook this sign and end up with a key that keeps turning in their door lock. If it is not caused by a loose set screw, then some portion of the locks internal mechanism has been dislodged.

2. Key becomes increasingly hard to turn in lockIf it becomes increasingly hard to rotate your key in your lock, this can be a symptom of potential door lock failure. A car key not working may also make it difficult to turn in the lock but this is often a sign that the parts involved with engaging the lock bolt or the actuator are not functioning properly. Attempting to force your lock to work under these circumstances can potentially result in you having a broken key or a broken lock. Regardless of the outcome, you will now have one hefty bill that you will have to deal with.

3. Lock cylinder gradually moves – Similar to the loose door handle, this is a telling sign that there is something amiss within the door lock mechanism. If it is caught early, the problem can be rectified, but if it is allowed to continue it can cause further damage. For instance, if you are still able to lock your door, but you notice the cylinder is moving or the entire lockset is moving, there is a possibility that the set screws are loose. If this is the case, it should be taken care of before it causes further issues within the lock.

Internal Locking Mechanism

A basic look at the way locks work will help you understand the parts that I will be discussing below. Also, it is important for homeowners to have this knowledge on hand so that they know how to properly assess their locks should another problem arise in the future. After all, a key that keeps turning in door lock is not the only possible problem that homeowners will have to deal with.

There are many different types of door locks, many of which have been discussed on this blog at some point or the other. However, despite this variety there are some commonalities between all of these locks and that is what I want to look at. The main features that homeowners need to be cognisant of are their cylinders (alternatively called the lock body) and the bolts and latches that they operate with. The bolt/latch is engaged by the lock, and is meant to fasten inside a door, which ultimately renders the door either locked or unlocked. If your key keeps turning in door lock, it means that the lock body and the bolt are not interacting in the natural way that they should, and this is the heart of the problem.

Reasons Why Key Keeps Turning In Door Lock

1. Key keeps turning in door lock because of a broken lock tailpiece

If there is a broken tailpiece in your door lock, then there is a chance the key will keep turning in the door lock. A lock is engaged through a series of actions and mechanisms that all depend on each other to function properly. The key is inserted into the lock cylinder to allow the lock bolt/latch to be engaged. The tailpiece of the lock is a central feature in this process, and it is a prominent part of every door lock. The counterpart of the tailpiece is the cam, and this is usually located in mortise locks or euro cylinder locks. However, it is meant to accomplish the same basic function, but we will explore this more below.

Even without having any in-depth knowledge of door knobs and door locks, that sliver of information above should tell you that if there is a problem that prevents the lock bolt/latch from being properly engaged, your door lock won’t work effectively. One of the ways this might manifest is when the key keeps turning in the door lock.

Issues that arise within the lock mechanism that involve the tailpiece will usually result in a disconnect, which seemingly separates both sides of the lock. There is an action being carried out on one end of the lock that is not being relayed to the other end, so in effect your key keeps turning in door lock. If your key keeps turning in door lock, it is often because the tailpiece is not able to properly rotate and actuate the lock. Continuing to operate the lock in this instance will only result in a situation where your key keeps turning in door lock, unless the issue at hand is fixed.

2. Key keeps turning in door lock due to improper door lock installation

Another reason why your key keeps turning in door lock is the possibility that your door lock installation was handled improperly. Now, I am not pointing fingers or saying that anyone is incompetent, but this is often the end result when individuals with minimal experience attempt to use DIY solutions to install their locks. Ideally, if you are unsure about how to do this, you should reach out to a locksmith that is skilled in installing new door locks, so that you do not end up paying unnecessary costs that can be associated with door lock installations.

As I touched on above, the tailpiece is an important piece that aids in proper rotation of any door lock mechanism. However, if the tailpiece is not properly connected, it will not engage the locking mechanism and the key will just keep turning in the lock. Essentially, you will have a broken lock that is not able to function properly. In this instance, the lock will have to be disassembled to verify that this is, in fact, the issue at hand.

3. Key keeps turning in door lock as a result of a broken cam

The cam and the tailpiece are sometimes referred to interchangeably within the lock community, but they are to two different things. The reason why they are often confused with one another is because they accomplish similar tasks within a locking mechanism. As I pointed out above, there is a specific part of the locking mechanism that is responsible for engaging the bolt and operating a lock.

A broken cam within your door lock mechanism will also result in a situation where your key keeps turning in door lock. You might remember that up above we talked about the important roles that the different parts of an internal lock mechanism play, and how we likened the cam to the tailpiece. The cam is a prominent feature in mortise locks and should not be confused with cam locks that are often used on cabinets and desks.

The cam is a piece of metal (or hardened plastic) that is attached to the rear end of the lock cylinder and it is used to move the lock bolt to engage or disengage. If the cam is broken, it will not be able to catch the lock, or it will not turn the way it is supposed to, which will result in an instance where your key keeps turning in door lock.

4. Key keeps turning in door lock because you are using the wrong cam

This is a less likely scenario, but it is still a very possible occurrence. Utilising the wrong cam in a door lock mechanism will result in your key continuously turning in the door lock without being able to operate it. Cams and tailpieces are such integral parts of locks, which usually means that they are not all made alike. This is especially true when you consider the fact that there are so many different lock brands on the market, and each has a style of cam that they prefer to use within their locks.

If you use the wrong cam for your lock when you are assembling your mortise lock cylinder, you will run into the problem where your cam is not able to catch and engage the locking mechanism, because it simply cannot reach it. This is why you should always strive to have your locks installed and serviced by a professional locksmith who knows their way around the parts that are being used.

5. Key keeps turning in door lock due to a faulty car door lock

Key Turned In Car Lock

In the beginning of this article, I made it known that instances where your key keeps turning in door lock can happen to several different door locks. This means that it can happen in residential locks, commercial locks and car door locks. When this problem arises in car door locks, it is crucial that you ensure that you properly diagnose the problem. The reason I say this is because people often think that because their key keeps turning in the door lock that it automatically means the lock cylinder is damaged. However, it sometimes means that there are merely some pieces that are not properly connecting.

The best way to arrive at the most accurate conclusion is to contact a locksmith that is well versed in dealing with automotive locks. Doing so will allow you to take the best course of action and it will reduce the chances of your damaging your car door locks further because you are unsure what to do. If the lock cylinder itself is not damaged and the key continues to turn within the door lock, it means that the lock is not being engaged properly. Using a locksmith to solve this problem will help reduce the cost to repair or replace your door lock.


I hope that by the time you arrive at this conclusion you have been able to figure out why your key keeps turning in door lock. Keep in mind that identifying the problem is only one half of the solution. The next step you will have to take is to contact the appropriate locksmith to help you handle this issue. If you are unsure about your abilities to handle this on your own, then do not tamper with your door lock yet. Call a locksmith and tell them about your problem in detail so that they can properly assist you. Neglecting to do so will potentially leave you with a damaged lock.

Category: Automotive, Commercial, Residential, Safety & Security

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