What to Do If You Have Ignition Cylinder Problems

An ignition lock cylinder is a feature in many older cars on the road that is made up of a relatively basic system. The cylinder is set into your steering wheel column and has a key slot. When the key is inserted into the lock, it sends a coded signal via electronic wires that travel to the battery. If the code sent from the key matches the one from the engine, the vehicle will fire up. If not, or if a short or other roadblock gets in the way, the vehicle won’t start up.

In recent years, ignition lock cylinders have fallen by the wayside, having been replaced by push button starters and other keyless start systems which have their own anti-theft features. However, many cars still have ignition lock cylinders, and with the aging of their systems, problems can befall them.

Common Ignition Cylinder Problems

You can usually identify an ignition cylinder problem by the symptoms that pop up. By identifying the symptoms and tracing them back to the cause, you can generally figure out the source of an ignition cylinder problem.

The following is a list of symptoms your ignition cylinder could display and the potential problems they commonly signify:

Symptom 1: Your Battery Dies for No Reason

In this scenario, you may come out to start your car, only to realize your battery is dead—even though you’re sure that you turned off the engine and the lights the last time you used it. If this happens to you, it might be due to a short in the system that sends the ignition cylinder’s signal to the battery. It causes power to still be drawn from the battery.

Symptom 2: Your Car Doesn’t Start

If you put your key in the ignition and your car doesn’t start at all, you may assume that something mechanical is wrong with the engine and consider taking it to a car mechanic or the dealership. First, however, consider whether it might be a simple issue with the ignition cylinder. If there’s an issue with the ignition cylinder connection, it can stop the electrical connection between the switch and the fuel pump. If it’s a problem with the ignition cylinder, the dashboard lights and switches may work when you turn the key, but the engine itself won’t start.

Symptom 3: Your Car Stalls Unexpectedly When You’re Driving

This symptom has the potential to be dangerous depending on where it occurs. Your car fires up fine and you drive around for the most part unimpeded—until suddenly at a stop light your engine just stalls. This is another potential sign of a problem with the wiring, as it indicates that the connection is being lost during operation. If your vehicle stalls more than once in a short period, it’s important to call a locksmith for advice before it occurs in a dangerous situation.

Symptom 4: Your Key Gets Stuck

If your key gets stuck when you shut the vehicle off, it’s possible there’s an issue with the steering column. Sometimes turning the wheel back and forth can kick the column loose, freeing the key. There may also be debris or dirt inside of the keyhole that is causing it to stick. If you are experiencing a stuck key, especially if you can’t get it free? Call a locksmith for assistance.  

Symptom 5: Your Key Won’t Go Into the Keyhole

In this situation, your key won’t go into the keyhole at all. Usually this is caused by some kind of physical obstruction. Inspect your key first to assess whether there is any damage to the teeth or the body of the key. If so, that necessitates a locksmith replace the key. There may also be damage to the ignition cylinder itself, which may or may not be visible from the outside. This is often the case if you’ve experienced an attempted car theft. In this case, an inspection by a locksmith is a good choice.   

Preventing Ignition Cylinder Problems

At the first sign of any trouble, such as your keys sticking or your engine not firing up properly, consult a locksmith or a mechanic right away to prevent the problem from progressing to the point of a lockout from your vehicle. Don’t ever try to force your key in the lock and use gentle pressure when turning it at all times. Most people are not aware of how easy it is to damage your locks and keys.

Ignition cylinders represent a bygone era when it comes to vehicle security. As this technology ages, problems inevitably arise. However, if you’re having a problem with your ignition cylinder, it doesn’t have to be a cause for concern if you stay on top of it.