Home Automotive Articles

Copyright - Things That Go - 2016

Things That Go

Got problems with your ignition key operating correctly?

My son is a locksmith and I will pass on advice that will prevent many of the common issues with ignition cylinder operation on GM vehicles, and other vehicles. Also many imports, but not to the degree of GM.

Key goes in but won't turn.

Key goes in but I have to wiggle it around to get it to turn.

Key won't come out.

Key pulls out while still in the run position.

These are most of the common complaints. Almost all of these can be prevented. The keys in GM vehicles is made of soft metal and thankfully is softer than the material used in the lock cylinder. The key wears quickly and the the pins in the lock cylinder do not clear so the cylinder can rotate. Of course this happens slowly so we do not notice but continued use with a worn key causes the lock to stick because the pins are tight against the case and this will cause increased wear of the lock and the key. As key's profile wears down it leaves debris in the key way and this can cause the pins in the lock to stick.

If the pins do not move easily the key may not come out. The pins have to retract to allow the key to move in and out of the keyway.

Problems with GM Ignition Lock

Find a locksmith who does a lot of automotive lock work. Many locksmiths hate automotive locks because they hate working outside on cars and hate the interlock mechanisms. When you think you have found someone who sounds knowledgeable ask them if they can read a key by eye and have ti cut to code. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER have a duplicate made off an worn key!! If the locksmith wants to put your old (used) key in a machine to make a copy, leave. Even if you have only used the key for a few months the sharpness of the key is lost and the copy will only degrade from there.

If you are at the locksmith and your truck is outside the locksmith should go outside and try the key, He/she should be able to tell if it's correct. If the key is cut to the correct code the lock will operate smoothly. If your old key is worn badly they might have to try several cuts before they get it right. The cuts at the tip of the key wear faster because as the key goes in and out, the cuts nearer the tip have to pass over many more pins, the cuts near the handle only have to pass over a few or just one. Give your locksmith some praise when they get it right.

I always recommend owners keep a fresh cut key for a spare. When the key you use daily is losing it's shape, looking more like a knife blade, take your fresh key to your locksmith and have him cut an new one, by code, not by placing your fresh key in a machine.

So what if you are having problems right now?

You first need to get the key out of it's stuck and you can't remove it.

If you have been used to wiggling it to remove it, you likely have already given up trying that as you are looking for solutions right now.

Without drilling the lock out, wiggling is about your only option. Usually by the time I see the truck/car I have only limited options. Wiggling, tilting the tip up and down, pulling slightly outward while trying all the above. Next comes the hammer! By gently tapping the handle of the key while gently turning can jar the pins to move. The key here ( see how I did that ) is NOT force, but gentle jarring. If you have compressed air you can direct a blast into the keyway alongside the stuck key. You can try some WD40 or some thin lubricant followed by compressed air. Once the key comes out, you need to act now. Most GM ignition lock cylinders are fairly easy to remove if you can rotate the key to the run position. YouTube

So now you have the key out and a fresh cut by code key.

Wash out the keyway with a good blast of WD40, followed by compressed air, cover the air nozzle with a rag so you don't blast your face. NOW use a heavier body spray lubricant. I use Moovit, don't know if you have any available where you are. WD40 is not a lubricant, it is a cleaner. It will wash away any lubrication that is present leaving whatever with no lubrication. Many of you use PB but I have never seen it or tried it.

Back to the Articles page

What to do?

The best thing you can do is to replace a worn key BEFORE you have problems!

Worn GM Keys

The pic to the right shows 2 keys, which one most resembles your key?