How to Get a Broken Key Out of a Car Ignition

by Brynne Chandler

You have had a busy day. You get in the car, stuff the key in the ignition, turn it--and it breaks off in your hand. Don't panic. If you are away from home, try pushing the part of the key in your hand against the one in the ignition and starting the car. Once you get home, there are several ways to try to retrieve a broken key. There is no one, magical, foolproof method for getting a broken car key out of your ignition, so you are going to have to take deep breaths and be patient. A broken ignition key is annoying, but it is not the end of the world.

Use needle-nose pliers to pull the broken key out, if there is enough of it sticking out of the ignition to grab. Put a little melted wax, Museum Putty or Super Glue on the pliers before you grab the key.

Make sure that the ignition is in the "neutral" position so that the tumblers are not gripping the key. If it is in the locked position, insert a thin hacksaw blade--with the teeth facing up--next to the broken key, and turn the ignition to the "neutral" position.

Pull gently up on the hacksaw blade. If you are lucky, the teeth will grab the key and slide it out. Try this with the hacksaw blade behind the key, and again on top of the key. Most keys have a groove on them that the hacksaw blade can grab, so wiggle and twist the hacksaw blade around and see if you can feel it catch the key.

Try using the hacksaw blade and the pliers together--pushing with the blade and pulling with the pliers.

Cut or break a six- to eight-inch piece off of a wire coat hanger and use your pliers to fashion a small hook at the end. Slide this into the ignition behind the key and try to grab it. If that doesn't work, insert the wire in front of the key and try again.

Spray a little cooking spray or WD-40 into the ignition and try again with the hacksaw blade. Remember to try both in front of and behind the key, and to wiggle the blade. Do not spray the lubricant before trying the pliers or wire, because now your key is not only stuck, it is slippery.

Call a locksmith if the above steps do not work. Do it before you get too frustrated, because it is much cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace a key and a shattered ignition.

Tip

  • check Check your keys for signs of wear and tear. Before they break, they usually show small cracks where the shaft and the head meet.

Warning

  • close Do not use Super Glue unless you have the cotton swabs and acetone at hand, or you could end up with a broken key in the ignition with pliers stuck to it.

Items you will need

References

About the Author

Emmy-award nominated screenwriter Brynne Chandler is a single mother of three who divides her time between professional research and varied cooking, fitness and home & gardening enterprises. A running enthusiast who regularly participates in San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run, Chandler works as an independent caterer, preparing healthy, nutritious meals for Phoenix area residents.