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Most new cars nowadays are started by using a remote key fob and push-button ignition, but older cars still use a traditional key and cylinder mechanism. If you have an older car and find out one day that the ignition key won’t turn when you try to start it, here are four reasons why that could happen. Don’t worry; we’ll include the solutions to each potential problem as well.

1. Your car’s battery could be dead

An Advance Auto Parts employee tests a car's battery.
An Advance Auto Parts employee tests a car’s battery. | Getty Images

The first potential issue that could prevent an ignition key from turning a car on is a dead battery. Of course, it would be easy to identify this issue if the battery were completely dead since none of the lights or electronics in the car would turn on either. However, if the battery is only marginally depleted, then it’s possible that the key will simply not turn over.

Solution: If you know that the battery is old, then it could be time to replace it. If there is some life still in it, then you could get a jump start from another car and take your car down to the local auto parts store. Places like Autozone will replace the battery for free when you buy a new one.

If you think there could be a shortage in the electrical system, it’s important to have this issue checked out by a qualified mechanic.

2. The steering wheel is locked, preventing the ignition from turning over

A man sits with his hand on a BMW steering wheel.
A man sits with his hand on a BMW steering wheel. | Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa

According to Repair Pal, many modern cars have a locking steering column that activates when you take the key out of the ignition after each drive. Occasionally, the locking steering column can apply pressure to the ignition switch and prevent the key from turning when it’s inserted.

Solution: Grab the steering wheel and turn it back and forth. While doing this, turn the key in the ignition. If the locked steering wheel is the issue, then the key should move out of the locked position and start the vehicle.

3. The transmission is not in park or neutral

An automatic transmission shifter.
An automatic transmission shifter. | Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

If your car is outfitted with an automatic transmission, then it’s possible that the gear selector is not in the park or neutral position. Repair Pal reports that automatic transmissions are designed to only start when a gear is not engaged for safety reasons.

Solution: Simply shift the gear lever into the park or neutral position and try starting the car again. If this was the issue, the ignition key should turn freely when the transmission is in the proper setting.

4. There could be issues with the key itself

A woman holds a Peugeot car key as Fiat logo is seen behind.
A woman holds a Peugeot car key as the Fiat logo is seen behind. | Aytac Unal/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Lastly, if the other solutions don’t work, then take a look at the key itself. Is it bent? Do the grooves and channels on the key look worn out? If so, then the actual key can become worn out over years of use. If this is the case, then the key will eventually not turn the ignition over.

Solution: If you find that the ignition key is worn out or bent, then it could be a good time to replace it with a new one. Your local hardware store or locksmith should be able to cut and program a new key for you. You can also try pulling the key out of the ignition slightly and then turning it to see if the cylinder turns over. If not, then another solution would be to use the second key that the car came with.


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