How to Get a Broken Key Out of the Ignition

ADL-man trying to start his car

Unfortunately, a broken key in the ignition is an all too common experience and only a limited number of people know how to get a broken key out of the ignition lock. Realistically having a key break and getting stuck in the lock is a bothersome and inconvenient experience. To make matters worse, without the necessary experience, knowledge, and tools, it’s a difficult situation to solve.

Here you will find some handy tips and sound advice on how to remove a key stuck in the ignition.

Reasons Why Keys Get Stuck in the Ignition

Having a key stuck in the ignition lock is a problem and a significant inconvenience. But first things first, and before we examine ways to pull out a stuck key, let’s look at why it happens in the first place.

The car is not in park

Cars with automatic transmissions have various gear options ranging from park and reverse to neutral and drive, with some cars also having overdrive. In a car with an automatic transmission, you can insert a key into the ignition lock cylinder, but you cannot take it out unless the car transmission is set to the ‘park’ position. If the car is in gear other than ‘park,’ the key is automatically locked in the ignition.

Dirt or dust on the key

To operate correctly within a locking mechanism, the lock’s key and internal parts must be clean and free of dirt or dust. When a key is inserted into the lock, the grooves of the key push the pins inside the lock upwards. However, when the grooves become dirty or dusty, this may cause the pins to be jammed, resulting in the key becoming locked in the ignition lock cylinder.

A dead battery

Most modern ignition systems rely on electricity to operate, which means it needs electrical current to function correctly and start the car engine. If your car battery dies, it no longer gives out an electrical current. The lack of an electrical current will cause the ignition system to stop working, and if your key is inserted into the ignition switch when the battery dies, it may become stuck.

A worn or damaged key

Even though keys are made from metal, the reality is that they can become worn and damaged just through everyday use. When a key becomes worn or damaged, this may result in the key failing to push the pins inside the ignition locking cylinder, resulting in the key becoming jammed inside the ignition lock.

A damaged ignition lock cylinder.

Like any man-made mechanism, an ignition lock cylinder can incur damage and fail to function properly. When an ignition lock cylinder is damaged, this may cause the springs inside to stop functioning properly, which means they can get jammed in the grooves of the key, causing the key to be stuck in the ignition lock cylinder.

Tips on How to Remove a Key Stuck in the Ignition

Originally conceived as an anti-theft measure, many cars feature a steering system that locks. The locking system engages when the steering wheel is turned hard in either direction. While this system does help prevent car theft, it can also be a source of bother and frustration, especially when it causes a key to be locked in the ignition.

Extricating a key when it is locked inside the ignition by the steering wheel locking system is usually a matter of turning the wheel left then right while gently pulling at the key. Turning the steering wheel left and right while gently pulling the key will work while the key remains whole, but when it is a broken key in the ignition this method will not be enough to free the key.

How to Remove a Broken Key Stuck in the Ignition

Now it’s time for the worst case scenario. What happens when a key is locked in the ignition and then breaks when you are trying to free it? Do you know how to get a broken key out of the ignition?

There are several ways to free a key when it is locked in your car ignition, but for all of them, you will need patience and a delicate yet firm touch. For example, you can try to jiggle the key loose. To jiggle a key loose, you must press the key cylinder with one hand and try to pry the key loose with the other. The jiggling process will involve wriggling the key left and right, up and down, while at the same time gently pulling on it.

Every lock cylinder comprises screws and pins; sometimes, these can become jammed, causing a key to be stuck in the lock cylinder. To help jiggle the key loose, you might try spraying the key and the inside of the ignition lock with WD40. WD40 is a lubricant degreaser that helps un-jam the screws and pins and loosens the key, making it easier to pull out of the lock.

You can also use a special tool to remove a broken key from the ignition. When a breaks inside while stuck inside a lock this makes getting the key out a lot more difficult. In this scenario, a car ignition locksmith will use a key extractor.

A pair of tweezers can also be used as a tool to remove a broken key. If part of the key is sticking out of the ignition locking cylinder, use the tweezers to get hold of the key and gently try to pull it out.

When your car key gets stuck in the ignition locking cylinder this can be a stressful and worrying situation. You may try various methods of getting the key unstuck but if none of these are successful it’s best to call a car ignition locksmith.


A broken car key jammed in the ignition locking cylinder is very stressful and possibly even dangerous. There are several ways to get the car key out of the locking mechanism, including setting the transmission to park, turning a locked steering wheel in either direction, jiggling the key loose, pulling it out with a pair of tweezers, or spraying the inside of the ignition switch with lubricant.

Get your key (and yourself!) out of a jam by hiring a professional locksmith.

If none of the previously mentioned methods work, and your car key remains jammed inside the ignition locking cylinder, then it’s time to engage the services of a professional Denver locksmith. Immediately call us if you ever find yourself in this bothersome situation, and we’ll help you out! A professional locksmith from Alexius Denver’s Locksmiths will have the necessary tools and experience to remove the locked key without damaging the ignition locking cylinder, and will always be able to cut you a new key quickly and inexpensively.

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