How to Diagnose an Ignition Key That Won’t Turn

One of the most concerning issues that any driver can face at one point or another in their driving career is when the key is put into the ignition, but it refuses to turn.

The first instinct is to try to turn it harder, then to take it out and try again. Normally, a person will begin to think of all the different possibilities of what could be causing this obstruction of the turning of the key.

Frustration can set in very quickly because unlike some other car issues that may arise, seemingly out of nowhere, this is an issue that if not fixed, the car is not going to go anywhere. It will be impossible to even drive the car to a shop or mechanic in order to have them take a look at it. This can then cause the driver to panic as they begin to feel helpless and that their entire day and possibly week will now need to revolve around getting someone to come and take a look at the car to diagnose the problem.

Why Is My Ignition Key Not Turning?

However, there is good news for all people experiencing this frustrating yet quite common issue. The good news is that the problem of not being able to turn a key when it is inside the ignition can generally be easily solved by checking three main things.

The three factors that should immediately be checked when trying to resolve a key turning issue are general problems with components related to the ignition, an ignition lock cylinder problem, and finally, the issue can simply be the key itself. 

Caution: It is very important to remember that when checking these steps and when performing any sort of maintenance on a car that the parking brake is up and the car is in a safe and stable position.

Component Issues that Can Cause an Ignition Key to Not Turn

The first problems that can be the cause of the key not turning when inserted into the ignition are related component problems. There are three main components that are related to the ignition system which should be checked first when these issues arise, as they are the most common and the most likely to be behind the problem.

The good news is these components are the quickest to identify as problems and they are the easiest and fastest to remedy. The three components are as follows:

1 – The Steering Wheel

A built-in mechanism in cars and other vehicles prevents the steering wheel from moving once the key is removed. This same locking mechanism located inside the ignition system can sometimes cause the vehicle key to get stuck and not be able to turn when necessary.

The solution to this is generally a very simple fix. The driver should begin by grabbing the wheel firmly and moving it back and forth. They should create a jiggle-type motion with their hands so that the steering wheel is moving backward and forwards repeatedly.

Then, the driver should insert the key while the steering wheel is still being jiggled. The driver should then turn the key slowly while the wheel is still jiggling to try to unlock the pressure that is blocking the turning from happening.

When the pressure is relieved, the key should turn easily as it normally would.

2 – The Gear Selector

In automatic cars, sometimes the car must be in a specific gear in order to start the car. This is done for safety reasons and is implemented in most modern cars. The gears that the car needs to be in will normally be park or neutral.

If it’s seen that the vehicle is already in park, it is a good idea for the driver to then firmly grab the shifter and then jiggle it slightly back and forth to ensure that it is firmly locked into the gear. Sometimes the gear shifter will only be mostly in place, but still be a little out of place. The shifter needs to be totally locked into place for the key to turn.

After this is checked and the shifter has been jiggled into place, the key should be inserted once again and turned to see if this has fixed the key ignition turning issue.

As a reminder, this will only apply to cars that have automatic transmission system installed in them. Manual transmission cars do not have this safety locking mechanism for gears in place.

3 – The Battery

The third issue to check is the battery. This is an issue that some people will dread because there is no immediate and quick fix for this like some of the others. If the battery is dead and the car is quite new or high-end, then the key will usually refuse to turn at all. Higher-end and new cars have a very complex electronic ignition system, and this is one of the features of this system. The battery life will need to be checked to verify this. A jumper cable connected to another running engine can also help to verify this if you are stuck in a tight spot and you cannot check the battery life.

Issues with the Ignition Key That Can Cause Problems

When the first set of culprits have been eliminated as the issue, and when you are sure the issue is not the related components of the car, and then the next thing to check is the key itself. There are a few issues that are common with keys that may help explain what the problem is and these issues should be checked one by one.

1 – The Key Is Bent

Many times a car ignition will not turn if the key is bent. The bend in the key will make the ignition think that it is the wrong key and as a safety mechanism, refuse to start at all.

The tricky part is that many times a bent key will still fit snugly into the transmission and give the impression that the key still fits. In these scenarios, the key should be removed from the ignition and examined thoroughly.

If it is evident that there is a bend in the key, the key should then be hammered down flat and tried again inside the ignition.

Be very careful not to damage the key while trying to straighten it out. Use a tool or hammer with a rubber end in order to prevent denting and other damage.

2 – The Key is Old

This sounds strange, but a key being old is actually a common issue. Factory keys can go through a lot, and in time, they become worn out and out of shape. This prevents the key from locking into the pins inside the ignition the way they are meant to.

In order to verify this as the issue, a spare key should immediately be tried. If there is no spare key available, a new key will need to be made. This can be accomplished by copying down the VIN number and taking it to the dealership.

3 – Wrong Key

As silly as it sounds, many times people will pick up the wrong key. Many keys look the same, and sometimes the issue can be as simple as mistaking the wrong key for the right key. Always check twice to make sure that the key that is being used is the correct key for the car.

Issues with the Ignition Lock Cylinder

The key cylinder itself can have two common issues that can cause a key to stop turning when inserted into the ignition.

1 – Something Is Blocking It

Sometimes debris and other objects can get inside the key cylinder. When this happens, it needs to be cleaned out. In order to verify this as an issue, a flashlight can be used to look inside the key cylinder and see if there is anything to be removed.

When the cylinder is completely blocked up, sometimes metal can be found inside. A quick spray with an electric blower or a can of compressed air will generally do the trick.

2 – The Springs Are Stuck

Sometimes the springs and the pins inside the key cylinder can become locked or stuck in place. These pins and springs have to be set in exactly the right way to ensure that only a specific key will work on a car.

If the pins inside the key cylinder are stuck, they can be knocked back into place with a tack hammer by gently tapping on the ignition repeatedly. The goal is to loosen the pins, so strong force is not necessary and should be avoided.

After the pins and springs are loosened, the key should turn properly.

Fixing Your Ignition Key Not Turning

These are the most common issues that will cause a key to not turn once inside the ignition. For most people, checking and fixing these issues will fix the problem completely. When these problems fail to provide the expected result, a professional mechanic should be brought in to analyze the issue.

Is it Safe to Drive when a Car is Leaking Transmission Fluid?

Driving a car that is leaking transmission fluid can be risky. If a car is leaking transmission fluid, it may not run the way that it should, and that can lead to additional risks.

Transmission fluid is used as lubrication and enables your vehicle to perform at optimal levels, so if your car is leaking transmission fluid, be warned that it may not perform at its peak.

You will be able to notice the leak because a red, green, or translucent fluid will be dripping underneath your vehicle. You can usually see this fluid in your driveway or on the street if you park there.

Once you notice a leak, it is important to get a leak fixed sooner rather than later. Getting the leak fixed can save money and increase the long-term health of the vehicle. Spending money in the short-term can save money in the long-term if the issue is resolved by a trained and certified professional. If you contact a mechanic, they can perform an inspection and help you resolve the issue.

What Does It Look like and Feel like?

Knowing what transmission fluid looks and feels like can help you recognize when your vehicle is leaking it. Transmission fluid is red, green, or translucent. Transmission fluid also has an oily touch and feel to it, and it can be slick. Transmission fluid will have a similar texture to engine oil or brake fluid.

Causes of Transmission Fluid Leaks

A common cause of transmission fluid leaks are gaps within your transmission. These gaps can cause fluid to leak out.

Transmission Pan Leaks

Transmission pans are one common reason for the leak. There are two main causes of a transmission pan leak.

The first is that your drain plug or bolt may not be tight enough. It is critical that these are checked for their tightness because they can be loosened over time. It is also critical to make sure that after your transmission fluid is changed that you ensure everything has been tightened properly after.

The second cause is usually due to a hole or gap within the transmission pan. If there is a gap or hole within the transmission pan, you might experience a transmission fluid leak. A small hole within the transmission pan can cause the leak and is a common issue.

It is easy for an object, such as a rock, to puncture the transmission pan, so it is critical to make sure there are no holes in your transmission pan when you begin to experience a leak.

Cracked Seals

Seals are another cause of a transmission fluid leak. When seals are exposed to heat on a consistent basis, they are prone to cracking. Transmission fluid can seep through the cracks of the seals and this could be the cause for your leak. The output shaft or input shaft will usually be the part of the transmission that is leaking if a seal is the primary cause of the leak.

Failed Pan Gasket

A pan gasket may fail which can lead to a transmission fluid leak. The common reasons for a pan gasket failure are poor installation, bad alignment, or the fact that it is exposed to a lot of heat. The pan gasket is relatively inexpensive to replace, and you should consider doing so as soon as you can if this is the problem. Replacing the pan gasket when it has issues can prevent more transmission-related issues from developing down the road.

Cracked Torque Converter

The torque converter can be another cause of a transmission fluid leak in your vehicle. Cracks in the torque converter or damaged bearings can lead to a transmission fluid leak. These are not easy to fix, and due to their complexity, you should consider taking your vehicle to a professional and skilled mechanic if the torque converter appears to be the primary reason why the transmission fluid is leaking.

Broken Fluid Lines

The fluid line can become cracked over time. Standard debris that hits the fluid line or simply being exposed to a lot of heat can cause fluid lines to crack. In some cases, the fluid lines might completely break, and these will be an obvious reason for the transmission leak.

Like torque converter leaks, this can be complex to the extent that the best option is usually to go to a professional mechanic with the skills and training required to fix this problem and avoid further damaging your vehicle.

What to Do When Your Car Is Leaking Transmission Fluid

Once you notice that your vehicle is leaking transmission fluid it is critical to get the leak fixed. Although you can drive the vehicle, the leaking transmission fluid can be a sign of bigger issues down the road.

Getting a small leak fixed is wise to do before it becomes a bigger and more expensive leak to fix. If you do not get the leak fixed in the immediate future, you could have more issues in the more distant future, so for the health of the vehicle, it is often wise to get the issue resolved sooner rather than later.

Based on how the fluid is leaking an experienced mechanic will be able to know where the leak is coming from. This will allow the mechanic to diagnose the issue faster and more accurately than an untrained individual may be able to diagnose the reason as to why the transmission fluid is leaking.

If it is something as simple as a bolt or hinge being loose, the mechanic has the ability and expertise to fix the issue. If it is something more serious, the mechanic will be able to diagnose the issue and replace parts if that is what is needed.

Being proactive and contacting a mechanic will save money and enable the vehicle to last longer.

How to Read and Understand Check Engine Light (OBD-II) Codes

Mechanic Checking Engine

The Check Engine light can be somewhat of a mystery to car owners. When it pops on, it can indicate a wide number of issues with a vehicle, ranging from the mundane to the serious.

Part of the confusion around the Check Engine light is that it can indicate so many different things. The Check Engine light can refer to problems in the transmission, ignition, fuel system, emission controls, or computer circuitry, amongst other things. Symptoms of the problem may not be apparent. Therefore, we need the car to give us more information about what’s going wrong if we ever hope to fix it.

What Are OBD-II Codes?

Modern vehicles use DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Codes) stored on an onboard diagnostic computer (OBD) to let a mechanic with the right diagnostic tools understand exactly what is the trouble with the vehicle.

DTC, OBD codes, and OBD-II are terms that are now virtually synonymous. They all refer to the five-letter code you get from the onboard computer that indicates the problem.

How Do We Read OBD-II Codes?

OBD-II codes can be read from the vehicle using an OBD scanner. This is inserted into the vehicle’s OBD port, which you’ll usually find under the driver’s side dashboard near the pedals. OBD ports don’t require tools to access and have a 16-pin trapezoidal connector.

The scan tool will power up when it’s plugged into the OBD port and should have an option to ‘Read Codes.’ From there, it will display the various error codes the vehicle is complaining about. It is possible there are multiple OBD-II codes to read, so jot them all down.

How Do I Interpret an OBD-II Code?

OBD codes are all five letters and digits. This is all you need to get a good understanding of the underlying issue with the vehicle and take the next steps.

You can split the OBD-II code into four sections. The first section is the first character, which is always a letter. This is followed by a number from 0 to 3. The third section is the third number, which is always a number from 0 to 9. Finally, we consider the last two numbers together, from 00 to 99.

Check Engine Light Image

The First Character Determines the Overall Type of Issue

There are four possible letters for the first letter of the OBD-II code:

  • P — This indicated a problem in the powertrain system
  • B — This indicates a problem in the body system (e.g. airbags)
  • C — This indicates a problem with the chassis (e.g. anti-lock brakes)
  • U — This indicates a problem with the network comms system

OBD-II codes other than those regarding the powertrain are rare and require specific tools from the manufacturer to diagnose properly.

The Second Character Determines Whether the Issue Is Manufacturer Specific

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) chose a number of generic codes for the EOBD/OBD-II standard that are the same for all manufacturers, makes, and models. These are part of a generic list that all manufacturers use. We call these generic codes.

Some manufacturers have added their own error codes so that they can be more specific about the issue at hand. For example, if a new model comes out with an engine part that is not accurately reflected in the generic code list. We call these manufacturer-specific.

The second character of the OBD-II code (and sometimes the third) lets us know whether to check the generic list of codes or consult a manufacturer-specific list.

How the second character of the OBD-II code is to be interpreted depends on the overall type of issue ascertained from the first character above:

  • P0 — Generic
  • P1 — Manufacturer-specific
  • P2 — Generic
  • P30 to P33 — Manufacturer-specific
  • P34 to P39 — Generic
  • B0 — Generic
  • B1 — Manufacturer-specific
  • B2 — Manufacturer-specific
  • B3 — Generic
  • C0 — Generic
  • C1 — Manufacturer-specific
  • C2 — Manufacturer-specific
  • C3 — Generic
  • U0 — Generic
  • U1 — Manufacturer-specific
  • U2 — Manufacturer-specific
  • U3 — Generic

The most common codes begin with P0 (a generic powertrain issue) and P1 (a manufacturer-specific powertrain issue)

The Third Character Determines a More Specific Part

The third character can help you narrow in on where the problem lies. It is a number from one-nine. In the case of powertrain issues:

  • 1 — Problem with the fuel or air metering systems (e.g. the mass airflow sensor)
  • 2 —Problem with the fuel or air metering injection systems (e.g. the fuel injector)
  • 3 — Problem with the ignition system (e.g. engine misfire)
  • 4 —Problem with the emissions systems (e.g. the catalytic converter)
  • 5 —Problem with the speed control and idle control systems
  • 6 —Problem with the internal computer circuits and electronics
  • 7 — Problem with the transmission
  • 8 — Problem with the transmission
  • 9 — Problem with the transmission

The Final Characters Determine the Specific Fault

The last two characters determine exactly the error fault. At this point, you can check an online source such as OBD-Code to get a full understanding of the exact fault the OBD is warning you about.

Further Troubleshooting

Often you’ll get a string of OBD-II codes in a row that indicate a range of problems. This is not something to particularly worry about; focus on the first codes as they point to the real problem. The additional codes may just be symptoms of the original problem, so once you’ve fixed it, they’ll go away.

OBD-II codes are a diagnostic tool but the system is not particularly smart. The OBD can tell you about the sensors that are complaining or where it thinks there is an issue, but it is up to you to determine the true cause of the symptoms and solve the problem. Often, the underlying issue can be as simple as moisture on a sensor, a loose fuel cap, or a poor electrical connection. These relatively simple problems can still trip the Check Engine light and

Understanding the Lights on Your Dashboard

We’ve all been there. You get in your car, turn on the ignition, and as usual, you are greeted with a symphony of different colored lights on your dashboard display. But this time, one of the lights stays on. You try to understand what it means, but can’t quite figure it out. Whether it is time to worry depends on what light it is.

This guide will help you understand what each light means, and ways you can figure out the meaning even when you aren’t quite sure what the symbol represents.

Most warning lights are common to all makes and models on cars. This is done to avoid too much confusion. Their positions on the dashboard display can be different however, so it is always important to check with the car’s owner’s manual to be totally sure what each symbol means.

There are general rules to follow. Red lights typically signal an emergency. When a red light pops up, it is time to pull the car over immediately. Yellow, Orange, and Blue lights are typically far less serious, but should still be looked at and taken care of as soon as possible. Here is a list of the typical warning lights that can be found on a dashboard.

Check Engine Light

The engine is one of the most crucial and most expensive parts on any vehicle. If this light comes on, it is imperative to get the problem checked and fixed right away in order to avoid any serious long-term damage. A flashing Check Engine light signals a more serious issue than a constant light.

Low-Fuel Warning Light

When a car begins to get very low on gas, this light will come on to remind the driver that it is time to refuel. There is typically a sensor to turn this light on when the car still has around 80 to 100 kilometers of travel left, in order to prevent drivers from getting stranded. If this light is coming on faster than anticipated, it is important to get the car checked for any fuel leaks.

Tire Pressure Sensor Warning

All vehicles have a certain level of tire pressure that must be maintained in order to function properly. Low tire pressure can lead to the tires blowing out on the road. They are also necessary in order for braking and suspension to function the way they are designed to. When this light comes on, it means that the pressure in one or several of the tires needs to be checked, and air needs to be added.

Traction-Control Warning Light

When your car begins to lose traction to the road, this light will come on to warn the driver of the danger they are in. This typically will occur during rain or snow conditions, but can also happen if the traction control is switched off manually. If this light comes on, it’s a good idea to ensure traction control is turned on.

Glow Plug Warning Light (Diesels Only)

Diesel Cars rely on glow plugs to get the ignition started on their vehicles. When the glow plugs become faulty or need to be replaced, this light will come on to signal the driver of the issue. This could also just signify a faulty computer system.

Seat Belt Warning Light

This light usually comes along with a loud beeping sound or some other kind of warning to let the driver know that the car is moving but the seat belt is not fastened. This occurs via pressure sensors in the seat that detect if there is enough weight to assume a human is in the seat.

Door/Trunk/Hood Warning Lights

These lights come on to let the driver know that there is a something ajar or not fastened properly inside the car. Sensors can tell if all the parts in the car are not properly closed, and this light will come on to ensure that people in the car are aware.

Oil Pressure Light

Oil is important to ensure that the engine is properly lubricated and running as expected. When there is a problem with the oil, it is only a matter of time before there is a problem with the engine. If this light comes on, check the engine oil levels and make sure the car has enough oil inside of it.

Brake System Warning Light

Brakes are obviously vital to the safety and well-being of the driver and all passengers, and therefore should always be taken very seriously. If the brake system light comes on, the issue may be small. The brake fluid may need to be replaced or topped up, or the sensor may have become damaged. However, the risks of it being something more serious are too great and should be checked out by a professional immediately to ensure the brakes are functioning as they should be.

Battery Charge Warning Light

The car’s battery is responsible for a multitude of necessary actions in the car, such as headlights, power steering, and the engine itself. Without electricity running through the car, operating the vehicle safely becomes impossible. The issue may be resolved by simply changing out the battery, but the possibility of wiring issues also exist. A good way to test and see if the battery inside the car is at fault is to take it to a car garage or a service store where they can hook the battery up to a machine and test to see if it needs to be replaced.

Temperature Warning Light

This light is very important. If this light comes on, it is important to stop the car immediately and figure out what the issue is. When the temperature warning light comes on, the car is running at too high of a temperature and is at risk of burning out the engine. If you keep driving under these conditions, it won’t be long until you see smoke coming up from under the hood. The car may have run out of antifreeze coolant, it could be an issue with the radiator being clogged, the water pump may be malfunctioning, or it could be something devastating to the engine such as a blown gasket. Make sure to get this checked out immediately if you notice this light coming on again and again.

What Is Your Check Engine Light Telling You?

check engine lights

The check engine light illuminating is often accompanied by a sense of dread as you anticipate an expensive repair. The problem could indeed be due to a bad catalytic converter that requires an expensive repair, or it could be as minor as a loose gas cap. Often, it necessitates visiting your local mechanic to discover the precise defect.

When there is a malfunction, the car’s computer gives an indication by switching on the Check Engine light, also known as the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL). A single light can’t tell us too much about the exact issue at hand, however.

Early engine diagnostic systems before 1996 were specific to carmakers, mainly for compliance with the pollution-control requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency. From 1996 onward, all carmakers had to use a standardized protocol called OBD-II, which had a common list of diagnostic trouble codes (DTC). A universal connector, conveniently placed under the steering column, allows access to the code information.

Understanding the Code

There are a few hundred generic codes and thousands of power-train specific codes.

You can get the code information yourself by buying a code reader from a car parts store, connect it to the onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and decode using websites like Engine Light Help. Some code readers may help you to switch off the Check Engine light without repairing anything, but this may be shortsighted.

The “service required” light on the gauge cluster and the Check Engine light may cause confusion among drivers. They no connection with each other. The “service required” light indicates a need for oil replacement or some other routine provision. The problem indicated is not as severe as that signaled by the Check Engine light.

Different manufacturers provide check engine lights in various colours like orange, yellow or amber. Major problems usually mean the Check Engine light will flash, signaling you must get the car checked immediately.

Top 5 Reasons for a Check Engine Light

  1. A failing oxygen sensor needs replacement
  2. The exhaust system requires checking
  3. Spark plugs or plug wires need replacing
  4. The mass airflow sensor has failed
  5. The gas cap is not fitted correctly

What Should I Do When the Check Engine Light Comes On?

fix check engine light

When the check engine light switches on, it may blink or remain uniformly illuminated. If it is blinking or changes colour from yellow to red in some vehicles, the problem requires urgent attention. In both cases, a mechanic must check the car.

In the latest car models, a blinking light is normally due to an acute misfire, causing unburned fuel to enter the exhaust system, with the risk of damage to the catalytic converter. This can really cost a great deal to repair. In this situation, you should first reduce power and take the vehicle for a check immediately.

A steady light means that there is no emergency as such, but you still have to repair the vehicle at the earliest opportunity. Present day car computers are programmed to correct the problem to maintain performance level, but the mileage may reduce and pollutants and hydrocarbons emission levels may increase alarmingly.

In certain exceptional cases, the car computer will automatically reduce available power to protect the engine.

Try to locate any problem that must be corrected urgently. This includes checking of your dashboard lights and gauges to see if the oil pressure is low or there is overheating. Shut off the engine at a safe place.

You can also tighten the gas gap. This may correct the problem in many cases. The light will reset only after a few trips. In some vehicles, a loose gas cap may be signaled by a separate indicator.

You should reduce speed and load. Take the vehicle for inspection immediately to avert further damage and expenses.