Troubleshooting Ignition Lock Problems

A faulty ignition lock can often mean the difference between your car starting or being stranded miles from home. Even though you can unlock your car door and can fit the car key into the ignition, if you can't unlock the ignition, you won't be starting your car. The battery may be fully charged and your starter may work perfectly, but it may be to no avail if you cannot unlock your ignition.

To solve the problem of unlocking an ignition, you may need to know something about ignition switches, how they work, and how you can unlock your switch. Newer cars and small trucks are usually equipped with an ignition switch with two parts: the cylinder lock and the electric switch. In many of today's cars and light trucks both the lock and the electric switch are operated by inserting the key into the ignition and turning the key. If the starter is to be turned on, the key must first unlock the ignition. By unlocking the ignition, typically, this will also unlock the car's steering wheel, allowing the wheel to be turned by the driver. For the driver that cannot start his car and wishes to correct the problem, he will need to be able to identify a problem that keeps him from starting it.

Non-Functioning Starter

For the driver who inserts his ignition key, turns the key but fails to hear the starter respond, this will usually mean that the starter is not receiving power from the battery. But it is not so easy to determine the reason for this. It may not be a problem with the ignition switch. It could also be a dead battery or even a faulty starter. The best way to identify the problem will usually be to look at other vehicle functions that require electricity, such as the headlights, the radio, the dashboard lights, or the interior lights. If these lights are working properly, you can eliminate a dead battery as the probable cause. In jumping your battery from another battery and finding that the starter still does not turn, you can usually assume the problem is in the starter.

An Ignition Key that Won't Turn

You can fit your key into the ignition but can't turn the key. It won't budge. In a car or truck where the steering wheel is unlocked by turning the ignition key, you may find that the steering wheel is preventing the key from unlocking the ignition. By attempting to turn the steering wheel while attempting to turn the ignition key, this often unlocks the ignition.

An Ignition Key You Can't Turn Off or Remove

At times, when you attempt to turn off your ignition key, you may find that the key will not allow you to turn it completely off. Or, you can turn the ignition off, but you are unable to remove the key. In cars with automatic transmissions, some will lock the key in the ignition until the gear shift lever is placed into the "Park" position. This may be a measure to ensure that the driver does not leave his car without first placing it in the "Park" position.