For many student drivers, sticking a key into their car’s ignition is a thing of the past because of the advances in key technology in more modern vehicle models. Keyless entry remotes and handy key fobs allow for vehicle entry and remote start of the ignition with a single push of a button. However, there are still millions more student drivers out on the world’s streets that don’t have ignition start keys. In fact, these types of keys didn’t come into commercial circulation until 2004 when GM introduced them as a direct from-the-factory option.
It is definitely safe to say that there are still many more traditional keys out there than keyless entry remotes. This also means that there’s probably a few hundred to a couple of thousand of keys that inevitably get stuck in the ignition every now and again. After researching the topic, I’ve found a lot of tutorials and step-by-step guides but by far, the most interesting, is the ingenuity of using household items to release the key from its stuck confines.
Now, I will preface this by warning you, I am not a professional locksmith. Simply, I have found anecdotes from drivers living in dorms and apartments that have utilized the following sticky and powdery substances to remove a stuck key in a car’s ignition and thought it was a fun, or at the very least, an interesting read. So again, use caution before actually using any of these techniques. Let’s delve in!
No, this isn’t a comedy skit, cooking spray has been said to provide pinpoint lubrication to prevent the pins in your car lock from binding together. A stuck key in the ignition can mean a lot of things but most of the time, it’s usually an indication that the cylinder is jammed or broken which is preventing your key from easily sliding out. Using the cooking spray nozzle will allow you to be precise with an otherwise unprecise substance – oil. You also don’t want to oversaturate your entire dashboard. All you’ll accomplish with this is creating a mess and making it very hard to get a good grasp on your stuck key. Instead, carefully aim a quick spritz of cooking spray around the base of the key. This will allow for enough lubrication to enter the inside of the lock and cylinder for your key to slip out. Grab a dish towel to hold a better grip and yank firmly. Key still stuck? Wipe off any residual cooking oil and ensure the area is completely dry before moving onto the next household hack.
White Graphite Powder
Okay, so white graphite powder isn’t something you’ll necessarily find in every dorm room, however, you’d be surprised that your RA might just have some! It’s actually one of the most effective lubricants. It’s a mineral powder made of carbon atoms. It’s referred to as a dry lubricant yet it has an extremely slippery texture that makes it especially effective at loosening up a jammed key. Most graphite powder is available in tube form with a pointed opening allowing for precise powder deposit. Test out the powder by squeezing gently. You’ll notice powder puff out. Aim the pointed tube opening directly (or as close as you can get) into the ignition opening. You only need a very small amount of graphite powder to lubricate the pins enough to have your key come right out of its locked prison, this translates into a few quick puffs. After the powder deposit, make sure your hand are clean of debris, and give it a good yank once more. The key should slip out. If you’re in a particularly humid part of the world, graphite powder may not be the best option for you. Ensure you don’t get the powder wet or a sort of paste will develop.
Super Glue, Melted Wax, Silicon and Putty
Let’s say your key gets stuck and you attempt to yank it out. Instead of successfully removing it, you end up breaking it. Whether you’ve broken it clean in half or thirds or fourths, it seems to hurt all the same. Not only do you now have to find a replacement car key but you also have to deal with exacting the broken pieces. Heartbreaking? Yes, absolutely, but it’s also time to spring into action. First grab small pliers or even tweezers. If the exposed part of the key is too small to create a good grip, you’ll need reinforcements… literally. Poke around your garage or junk drawers for super glue, wax that’s been melted, silicon or putty.
We all know that super glue has this magical ability to bind wood, ceramic, rubber, plastic and more. It can also help remove a stuck key. How? All you have to do is apply a thin layer of super glue or any of other sticky substances above to the exposed part of the key to create a hardened glue barrier. It’s recommended you utilize a cotton swab for extra precision when applying the glue. It’s vital to allow this to set before attempting to pull the key out. Wait as long as you can to ensure it’s completely set and dry before moving onto the next step. Grab the tweezers or small pliers and give a firm pull. Your key is stuck after all, so even though you don’t want to place extreme force, you do want to pull the key hard.
Now, your key doesn’t necessarily have to be broken for you to attempt this. The hardened sticky substance is simply to create a more secure grip in order to extract the key. It’s actually recommended you utilize this method before the cooking spray technique because you won’t be able to have a good enough grasp on the key if it’s too slippery. Before applying anything, it’s probably a good idea to give it a good wiggle to determine how stuck it really is and choose your sticky substance after. Be very careful not to get glue, wax, silicon or putty into the ignition or you’ll have a whole slew of other problems.
All of these methods would also work on just about any key that’s stuck to any lock. From car doors to garage entrances, you can hopefully finesse your dorm or apartment supplies to successfully retrieve your key. You can also avoid stuck keys to any lock with some preventive “greasing”. The best lubricant recommendation is white graphite powder. Simply insert a small amount of power and run your key in and out of your lock a few times in order to successfully disperse the powder all the way into the lock’s pins.
Remember that you want to avoid creating even more serious problems inside of your ignition, so it’s quite important to avoid excessive force when pulling the stuck key, as well as being reserved with the amount of product you use! If you’ve given it everything you’ve got and you still feel like nothing’s working, it’s best to leave things to professionals to avoid a surge in ignition repair costs. DIYing anything can result in further key damage or even your car in general, so go ahead and call a local, professional locksmith with great reviews. Often, they’ll use a lock pick called a key extractor or if your key has shattered into multiple pieces, they’ll have to actually disassemble parts of your ignition to fetch the broken key parts.
However, I clearly hope one of the DIY versions works for you!
Author Bio: Maria Rivera is a tech writer and marketing specialist at Keyless Entry Remote, Inc. She currently resides in Austin, TX.