Car/Truck Question: New Key from Locksmith won't start Pickup ?

My truck keys went missing a couple weeks ago and yesterday I had a locksmith come and make a new key for $65. It’s an old 1988 Ford Ranger, which gets me around nicely.

Anyway, after they were done, he handed me the new key. I went to start it later, and although the key turns in the ignition and the engine starts just fine, the second I let go of the key with my hand, the truck shuts down completely. It’s like I can start it, but I can’t at the same time.

They’re telling me this has nothing to do with the new key, although this never happened with the old/original key. I think I’m getting screwed. Could this have to do with the new key or not?

I doubt they did this as far back as 1988, but my 1999 Toyota van has a key with a chip inside. There is a transceiver of some kind in the ignition switch that detects whether you have a key with the right chip. If you try to use a plain copy of the key, it won’t start. I have a copy that I keep as a spare just in case I ever get locked out but it doesn’t start the van.

However, starting and then cutting off doesn’t sound right, even for that situation. I’d call your local Ford dealer.

Do you still have they key numbers for the key? If not, I’m curious as to how the locksmith made a key without pulling the ignition switch apart.

And if he pulled the ignition switch apart he may have effed up the ignition.

I must ask the OP - why didn’t you test it with with said locksmith standing right there?

I’m guessing that the same key that opens the door starts the truck so the key guy may not have needed to even touch the ignition, or even try to start the truck once the key opened the door reliably.

I was actually standing right there, and I watched/heard him turn the key, the engine turned over/started and he immediately turned the key back (without ever taking his hand off the key), pulled it out, and handed me the key. Seemed fine to me at the time.

Actually, they do require separate keys. What I’m seeing online, I’m wondering if he damaged the ignition/ignition switch. I’m not sure how he made the key (he never left the driver seat) but it does seem that he was repeatedly shoving something not unlike a massive letter opener into the key hole…

Check to see if the key release mechanism on the steering column is jammed or try moving the steering wheel a half turn and try it again.

Release mechanism seems okay and the wheel turns (I actually had to push it myself down the parking lot, as my apartment complex is resurfacing the log in front of my building today).

Here’s a more descriptive version of what it’s doing. When I turn the key all the way it starts… if I turn the key back ever so slightly, then turn it forward all the way again, it makes the awful sound you hear when you try and start a car that’s already running (ouch!)… but when I let go of the key after it starts, it’s like unplugging an appliance from the wall – just like that, it’s off. Hmm.

It sounds like he broke off something inside the ignition switch while he was working on it. There should be a catch of some kind to keep the key in the ON position while it’s running, and that seems to be gone now. Call the locksmith back and insist that he fix it.

Yeah, they reluctantly agreed to come back out (after “chatting about it” and calling me back). I would presume locksmiths have some knowledge of vehicles, but I’m not sure about these guys. If they can’t do anything, I’m obviously going to cancel payment (Mastercard) and if I can get someone else (Ford dealership) to confirm damage in the ignition switch, could I jam them with the bill? Man, I usually don’t get frustrated with things, but this is really irking me.

I’m fairly confident that the locksmith can remove your ignition switch and either fix it or replace it. You shouldn’t have to go to a dealer or a mechanic.

Maybe they were thinking that you set them up with a “lost” key story in order to get them on the hook for a bad ignition switch that you knew about.
Maybe. Not saying that that’s what’s happening but that may be what they’re thinking at this point.

Typically there are two parts to the ignition lock system. The mechanical lock (the part that uses the key) and the electrical portion.
If the key turns to all the positions, I highly doubt it is a mechanical problem with the lock/key.
The engine shutting down sounds like the electrical portion of the ignition system is hosed up. (a technical term meaning sumpin ain’t right)
Again typically when you turn the key to position 2 (full on) the trucks fuel computer, and ignition system get power. When you turn the key to position 3 (start) sometimes there is a second feed to both the ignition and fuel computer. This is a hold over to the old days of points, and the system bypassed the dropping resistor to supply full power for a spark.
I thought it might be a vehicle with a computer chip in the key, but looking on line, it appears that the same lock cylinder fits '84-91 Rangers, so I don’t think it is a chipped key. (IIRC either chipped keys were not introduced yet, or if they were they were on high end vehicles only) However the symptom is very similar to what happens on some cars when a chipped key has not been programed into the system. Car cranks, fires, and dies. You should be able to rule this out with a quick phone call to a Ford dealer’s parts department or to Ford Consumer Affairs and ask them if a new ignition key has to be programmed to the truck.

Assuming that the truck does not have a chipped key:
It sounds like the electrical portion of the switch is supplying power to the ignition/computer during crank, but not during run.
does the truck have a tachometer? If so when you let off on the key, does the needle drop slowly as the engine dies, or does it drop like a rock, instantly?
When the key is in position 2 are all the warning lights on?

Just a guess, but is your vehicle automatic? You must be in park in that case for it to startup.

If that were the case, then the key would not turn at all.

The key should turn with the gear selector in any position, but it will only crank the engine in park of neutral.

OK – new information – like I said, once I start the truck and remove my hand from the key, the truck dies immediately — but I notice he key reverts back some, so that to start it again, it would need to be turned forward (rather than back/off and then forward again). When it dies the tachometer (thanks Rick) drops instantly.

So what’s new is that if I start the truck and turn the key back ever so slightly (so that it doesn’t grind like it’s trying to start while already running) and keep it in said position, the truck actually stays running. If I reach over my lap and put it in reverse, I can even drive it. The BRAKE and OIL lights are on, mind you, but it runs. I didn’t dare let go of the key though until I was in Park. Once I did that and let go of the key, the key snapped back ever so slightly more, and shut itself off.

Not a vehicle mechanic, but I am a mechanic on other machines (aerospace ground equipment for the Air Force). I had somethin like this happen to me once on a generator with a start switch that is very similar to most ignition switches. The locksmith probably broke a spring or other small part in the switch, leading to the electrical portion of the ignition not working. Make sure the locksmith doesn’t try to say that his key works and you are out of luck. Locksmiths can break the small parts in there when being too forceful with their tools.

OK it sounds like the system is running in start, but not in run. Like I said, on some cars the ignition system get a separate power feed when in crank position. You ability to hold the key between on and crank, and the warning lights being on seem to confirm this.
This leaves us with two possibilities. Either the locksmith broke something in the mechanical portion of the lock when he made the key, or there is an issue with the electrical portion of the system.
Has the locksmith been back out yet?

Yes, unfortunately, I was downtown at the time in girlfriend’s car, so when they decided to call once they got close I let them know that my key was in the ignition and the door was unlocked. He said, “you know, there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do” - ugh. I said it’s likely something was damaged in the steering column or ignition switch during the process (this is before I figured out how to keep it “running” by keeping the key in a certain place). He later told me he threw in a new ignition switch but it didn’t change anything, so it’s not his fault. Whatever. I’m canceling my payment, since I’ll have to take it in now for repair, I’m sure.

Could this be the old burnt-out ballast resistor business? Although it’d be strange for it to happen exactly concurrently with the locksmithing work.

Make a deal with them - if you pull a used ignition from a junkyard they’ll make you a key for free.