Key Won’t Turn In Ignition But Steering Wheel Not Locked

It can get confusing when your car key fails to turn in the ignition even with the steering wheel unlocked. Your panic mode gets activated and gets you wondering what went wrong and how it can be fixed. Not to worry, failure of the key to turning in the ignition with the steering wheel not locked is not uncommon. Several car owners have had their fair share of ignition problems too. 

Sometimes, the issue may be simple to handle. For instance, using a wrong key or the steering wheel locking. Other times it may be complicated like having a damaged ignition cylinder. Whatever the ignition issue maybe it is not beyond remedy. Read through this to get ideas on what you should do when your key refuses in turn in the ignition.

Ways To Solving Your Key Not Turning In The Ignition While The Steering Wheel Is Released 

Getting your car key to turn in the ignition is the focus. Here are some useful steps you can take to get your car key to turn in the ignition. Some of these steps may help your car start, others may not be as effective. Either way, it is good you attempt to get things working.

One: As You Turn Your Car Key Try Turning Your Steering Wheel Too

You see your steering wheel will lock if it moves for any reason when your key is not in the ignition. Sometimes, you may unintentionally have your steering wheel move when leaving your car. When this happens, your key will not turn in the ignition. Hence, when you see your key is not turning in the ignition, you should attempt moving your steering wheel to have your key working.

Begin by turning the wheel towards your left and your right while observing which side was easier to turn. When you’ve picked a side, turn your steering wheel to the easier side and keep it there. While at that, try to turn your key in the ignition. You should be able to have your key turn with this. However, following this, your wheel may need to be mildly jolted to continue driving.

Although while at this, don’t forcefully turn your key in the ignition. It may break and further complicate issues. If this step does work there are other suggestions you may attempt.

Two: Check The Ignition Cylinder To See If It Is Stiff 

As you drive there is a tendency for dust and soot to find their way into your ignition cylinder. The accumulation of these substances in the ignition cylinder may make the turning of the key in the ignition hard. And if left unchecked, may cause the ignition to fail or malfunction. If this is the case, the ignition cylinder will require lubrication to get the grime off. Dust and dirt in your ignition cylinder could be the reason why your key won’t turn in the ignition.

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You should know that oiling your ignition cylinder has to be done cautiously. You don’t want to cause more problems by adding excess lubrication or by using an improper one. Attempt this, it should help your key turn in the ignition with the steering wheel not locked. If lubrication does not work and the ignition cylinder is the problem you may require a change of cylinder.

Three: Tap Your Car Key With A Hard Tool While Turning In The Ignition

Sometimes the key won’t turn in the ignition if the inner parts of the cylinder aren’t in alignment. You can attempt correcting this by carefully hitting your car key with a hard tool as you turn in the ignition. You can use a rubber mallet to do this or any other hard tool available. This action should help align the ignition cylinder interior components. 

However, avoid applying excessive force in tapping. You do not want to forcefully wreck your ignition cylinder or car key or both. Attempt doing this when the key won’t turn in ignition though the steering wheel is not locked.

Four: Check Your Car Key It Might Be The Problem

Sometimes your key won’t turn in ignition because your key has a fault. It is humanly to quickly assume the fault is from the ignition. But sometimes it may be a fault from your cat key. If the key won’t turn in the ignition with the steering wheel not locked, take time to closely observe your key. Check if it is the right one, check if a part is missing, and check if it is properly inserted.

You can also attempt turning the ignition with the car’s extra key. You will know the fault is from your car key if the spare functions properly. If this is the case you can continue using the spare key and duplicate later. You can also fix the faulty key.

Five: Change The Ignition Cylinder For A New One

If you realize the problem is from a bad ignition cylinder, you should replace it. Although ignition cylinders are meant to last through a vehicle’s lifetime, there might be some exceptions. If after using a spare key and attempting other suggestions the key doesn’t turn in the ignition, change the ignition cylinder. Your ignition cylinder will need a new substitute if it has gone bad. Replacing an old cylinder for a new one will require professional help. Try getting an automobile mechanic to do this.

Six: Seek The Help Of A Locksmith

You can seek the help of a locksmith if you have no idea why your key won’t turn in the ignition. A locksmith is skilled and should be able to give your vehicle a diagnosis after proper inspection and analysis. Also, if you have attempted all suggestions and the key still won’t turn in the ignition, contact a locksmith. A locksmith will be beneficial to you. It is an easier wayfinding solution to your car ignition or car key problem.

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Possible Reasons Why A Key Will Not Turn In Ignition

The three major causes of the ignition key not turning with the steering wheel not locked are; issues with the components, with the key and the key cylinder.

a. Issues With The Components:

The likely involved components are the steering wheel, gear selector, and battery. For the steering wheel, when the key is removed the steering wheel locks in and stops the key from turning. This is a common phenomenon in many cars. Turning the helm from one side to another at the same time trying to turn the key helps solve this.

Sometimes the issue is with the gear selector. Cars with an automatic transmission may prevent the key from turning if it isn’t parked or on neutral. To solve this, park your car, confirm your shifter is rightly placed, and attempt to turn the key.

Other times it is because the battery is dead. To solve this, you will need to replace the battery with a charged one. 

b. Issues With The Key:

When there is a problem with the key it is either a wrong key, a bent key, or a worn-out key. A bent key may not enter the ignition. Even when it does, it may not be able to turn properly. To solve this straightened the key with a hard object. But be careful not to destroy the key.

Also, a worn-out key may not be able to ignite your vehicle. To solve this you can get a spare key or have a new one made. Besides, as trivial as a wrong key maybe it may be while the key won’t turn in the ignition. To solve this ensure you confirm you are with the correct car key. Also, cleaning your key with an alcohol swab helps remove dirt that may prevent it from functioning well. 

c. Issues With The Key Cylinder:

This may be due to an obstruction within the ignition cylinder. It may also be related to stuck springs and pins within the ignition cylinder. To solve the obstruction, clean the cylinder with an electrical cleaner as recommended. To relieve the stuck springs gently hit the ignition key while trying to turn. 

How Much Does A Locksmith Charge

The help of a locksmith is beneficial to diagnosing an ignition/key problem easily. The cost to hire one varies based on the individual, your vehicle and the type of ignition cylinder. Their prices may range from 50 dollars to 250 dollars. To save cost you can hire one within your locality. You can also get a quote from a couple of locksmiths and go for your preferred choice.

Can You Sell A Car With A Key/Ignition Problem?

This is dependent on the buyer if you want to sell from an individual to another. However, some dealers and companies buy used cars.


A key not turning in the ignition can be due to several factors. Having a locksmith diagnosing the problem is an easier way to go.