Car Problem: Key stuck in ignition

**Summary: ** I have an old Saturn. My key is jammed in the ignition and I can neither start the car nor remove the key.

Once before, I had this problem with this 1993 Saturn SL2. The key would get stuck for a while, then release and be removable. I don’t know how long I had to wait, as I would typically go away and return to the car later and find it working. This happened a number of times. I assumed it was an “anti-theft” feature and associated it in my mind with having bumped the steering wheel, causing the lockup, but I might have been making that up. It finally seized up permanently, at which point we had it towed to the mechanic, who replaced the entire ignition lock and gave me new keys for it.

That worked for a number of years. The other day, I went to Jiffy Lube and left the key in the ignition so they could move the car out of the bay when they finished, When I got home, turned off the engine and tried to extract the key, I could not remove the key or even turn it.

Apparently, when turning the car off, you are supposed to push the key in before rotating it to the final position at which it can be removed. I admit to not always thinking about that, and I may have been turning the key all the way without pushing it in before removing it for some time. Is it possible this has damaged the tumblers?

I also saw something online about an “ignition interlock” cable.

I have tried several times over the past day and a half to remove the key, turning the steering wheel, pressing in and pulling out, and twisting as much as I dare. There is some movement (at least, until I turn the steering wheel, at which point it feels like there’s less ability to twist the key) but not enough to start the car.

I can have it towed and the ignition lock replaced again, I guess. But it seems goofy to tow the entire car because I can’t take the key out. Is there any way this can be fixed by a non-mechanically-inclined person such as myself? Car forums describe drilling out the ignition and replacing it, which is probably beyond my capability, or fiddling with the ignition interlock cable and some small plastic retaining part, if I understand what I’ve read, which I suppose might be within my ability.

Anything else I should try? WD-40?

Thanks for your time and suggestions.

Along with turning the wheel, wiggle the gearshift lever while trying to turn the key. The “interlock cable” is attached to the shift lever - it might have too much slack.

tap the key with a small hammer or other heavy-ish tool along the axis of the key (i.e. as if you were trying to tap the key deeper into the lock cylinder.) don’t do it so hard that you break something. also don’t hit it on the side of the key else you’re liable to snap the key head off.

you might have to hit it harder than you feel safe doing so, but you know, don’t like wind up as if you’re driving a nail into wood.

then, look into getting the lock cylinder replaced, 'cos it’ll do this again.

Here’s a sort of “worth a try, don’t get your hopes up” idea. Get a couple of burly friends together and have them rock the car back and forth while you try to wiggle the key out. What can happen is that as the car gets old, the motor/transmission mounts wear out and the whole thing sags. This has the result of the actual gear positions in the transmission no longer lining up exactly with the indicated gear on the shifter. On older cars, this was just a bit of a cosmetic nuisance (until it gets so bad you can’t get it into park any more), but on cars that have start switches and interlock cables that are attached to the shifter it can be a real problem. Rocking the car back and forth in park will roll the engine and transmission ever so slightly, which may be enough to make everything line up again.

Obviously if this does work, get yourself to a mechanic ASAP.

Yeah, this.

Is the car in Park? Are you sure? Put it in Neutral, then put it in Park. I had a Volvo that did this.

Is it a stick? I got nuthin’.

Which solves the problem with my mother’s Ion. It will occasionally lock in the “Aux” position instead of turning all the way to “Off.” Wiggling the gear shift pops it loose right handily.

Thanks for the tip. Now I know what to tell the guys at the shop.

Hah. Saturn. How far that brand fell…

I had a 2000 ish SC2, and the same damn thing happened. Turns out for me though it got stuck with the key in it in the “off” position, and I had to get towed to the dealership, who wanted $150 for the tow, and $350 to replace the ignition lock cylinder. I told them to go pound sand and traded the car in that day.

POS. I had better luck with the 1992 SL1 with 225,000 miles than the newer model.

I’m having that same issue with my Ion right now. That’s what I do, wiggle the gear shift and press the gear shift button rapidly. After a second I can hear a click, and when I hear that click I know I can remove my key.

Fucking annoying it is.

Update for them what cares:

I finally DID have to have it towed to my preferred mechanic. We used the 3x a year towing service that comes with our cell phone package, so it was nominally free, although my preferred mechanic was a few miles past the “3 miles free” limit, so I had to pony up $8 for mileage and chose to throw in a $10 tip for the guy’s trouble (he had to attach the tow gear, pull me out of a nose-in spot, and then re-attach the two gear to the front to tow me).

My mechanic charged $150 for the new lock and set of keys, and that sum also included replacing my coolant temp sensor which had troubled me only in hot-weather stop-and-go traffic, so I’d been letting it slide for a while.

For a high cost-of-living area (Second wealthiest county in the United States), I guess I can’t complain about that cost.

Trying to be conscious of how I remove the key now every time I turn it off.

Thanks for the feedback!

That wasn’t too bad, costwise. I’m glad to hear you got it fixed. When I read stuff like this, I can’t help but picture you frozen in time, forever fiddling with your stuck key, and wonder what ever happened with that.

Forget everything else you read here. This is a simple, free thing to fix in 5 minutes. It takes a few years for dirt and dust to accumulate under the shift cover. Pull the shift cover off and spray WD-40 into the area under the cover. Voila! Problem solved.

Now that’s just a stupid thing to say. It might be that sometimes the problem can be solved as you described, but that doesn’t mean that it can always be solved that way. Especially in the two cases mentioned in the thread where it was solved with a new ignition lock cylinder without the shift linkage even being touched. Don’t be a [derogatory pejoratives deleted].

This type of thing happens often at auto auctions, especially with Saturns.

My first choice is WD-40 and a lot of steering wheel wiggling, turning the key upside down, trying a second key, and a lot of swear words.

If none of that works, I call on the radio for the on site locksmith. And sometimes even he has a lot of trouble with it.