My Car Key Won't Turn!

So your car key won't turn. No problem!

Man turning key in car ignition, close-up
Eryk Fitkau/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Your key won't turn. It's stuck. You're afraid if you turn any harder, it's going to break off in your hand. Don't do it! If your key breaks off in the ignition, you really will have a problem. Luckily, you don't have one yet. This isn't a problem that comes into the repair shop often, although I'm sure we could find somebody who had their car towed to the dealer because the key seemed stuck. I usually get a cell phone call from a friend, or friend of a friend, who knows I'm a car person and is seeking a quick answer to their stuck ignition key problem.

I'm happy to oblige them. 

Ever get in your car, put your car key in the ignition, and realize you can't turn the car key? It happens to everybody. Before you turn green, burst out of your blouse and rip the head off the key trying to force it, try this more gentle approach. Your car has a steering lock that clicks into place when you take the car key out of the ignition. This prevents thieves from being able to steer your car if they hotwire it. Nothing will actually stop a determined thief, but I guess automakers decided that the more stumbling blocks you can put in place to slow them down, the better. These steering wheel locks are very strong, so the chances of a car thief being able to simply overpower it are slim, although I've certainly seen some theft recoveries that revealed a thief did exactly that.

Back to your problem, you're sitting in the car ready to go, you put the key into the ignition, but you can't turn it.

Why is this happening? It's relating to that steering wheel lock we were talking about above, and the fix is so easy it shouldn't even be called a fix. Sometimes the wheel is turned to just the right place to keep your key from being able to disengage that steering wheel lock. All you have to do is turn the wheel a little bit in either direction while you turn they key.

Voila! Everything's moving again. Now get to work!

*This quick fix only applies to vehicles with a traditional ignition key, meaning a metal key that actually inserts into an ignition switch and turns to start the car. If you've got an electronic key (like most Mercedes built in the last couple of decades, for example) you won't have this issue, or if you do it's not something that's as simple as described above. Also, if your car has a starter button, but your steering wheel seems stuck, you'll need to go to the repair shop because it's most likely an electronic issue rather than a simple fix.