Is a Heavy Keychain Killing Your Car’s Ignition Switch?

Wear and tear vary drastically from one car to another. Some are built to last and can take a beating. Others? Not so much. However, there are always actions you can take to limit wear and tear on your car and extend the life of all its various parts and pieces. One of them may be a lot easier than you’d think: keep that heavy keychain away from your ignition.

Is it bad to have too many keychains on your car keys? 

A number of heavy keychains together on one ring
Keychains | Markus Winkler via Unsplash

This is a tricky question with a multi-part answer. For instance, if you ask me, I’d say that many keychains on your car keys are an absolute necessity. That’s because I lose mine constantly, and the presence of large, brightly-colored, and personally endearing tchotchkes improves my chances of finding them. 

However, ask my husband, and he’d say that few things irritate him more than being whacked in the knee with my heavy keychain every time he drives my car. 

And if you ask the experts, they’ll say—it depends.

Is a heavy keychain bad for your ignition?

The myth that a heavy keychain is bad for your ignition and can cause damage is partly true, per Snopes. And they should know—they heard it from the Car Talk guys.

Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk once claimed that “the answer is that excessive weight CAN damage the ignition switch. We see it most often on Volkswagens, for some reason. But it happens on other cars, too.”

This is generally rare and unlikely to happen if you only have a few keys and keychains on your ring. But, a heavy keychain can cause problems over time.

How much weight can an ignition hold?

At this moment, there is no specific weight rating for car ignition switches—after all, why would automakers dedicate time and energy to testing and certifying that? However, while there isn’t a specific weight to shoot for, there are some basic recommendations from the pros: 

“If you have seven or eight keys on your key ring, you’re not going to do any damage. The ignition switch can handle that. But if you carry around 20 keys, that’s a fair amount of weight. That constant downward tug on the ignition switch can cause it to wear out prematurely.”

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, Car Talk

If we take the “nine or fewer” approach, assume that you want the full weight of your heavy keychain to be less than a few ounces. 

Will keyless ignition mean an end to this problem?

A hand presses the push-button start on a keyless ignition in a car
Keyless ignition | Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

There are some drivers who never need to worry about excessive charms on their keyring or a heavy keychain damaging their ignition—because they start their cars with the push of a button. 

Cars with keyless push-button start do still use an ignition switch, but it works a little differently. When the start button is pressed, it makes a connection to complete the circuit between the starter motor and the battery. This allows electricity to run to the rest of the system and start the engine.

If you’re like me and still putting key to ignition, like a peasant, do what I do: invest in a couple of miniature S-biners. Attach your various keys, chains, and charms to rings, and then, when you’re ready to drive, simply un-biner your car key for the trip. 

While this rumor about heavy keychains and ignition switches isn’t all the way true, and you’re probably fine driving with your stack of keys, it never hurts to be careful.

RELATED: How to Protect Your Car From Keyless Theft