How do I fix my car's ignition?
December 25, 2004 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Locked out of my own vehicle's ignition. (More inside).

I attempted to start up my 1997 Toyota T100 yesterday only to find the key would only move halfway between "LOCK" and "ACC". Upon consulting the manual, I found a blurb instructing me in the event the key is stuck in the LOCK position: gently move the steering wheel from left to right while attempting to turn the key. I tried this to no avail.

After turning the wheel about 90 degrees to the left, the wheel was locked in that position. Now the key wouldn't even make it halfway between "LOCK" and "ACC" - it's just 100% stuck at lock. By giving the wheel a firm nudge to the left, I was able to free it and now I'm in the first situation again.

I'm going to contact a locksmith on Monday. In the meantime, can anyone offer advice?
posted by reishus to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
I don't know for sure about this situation, but I vaguely recall reading something in my Honda manual about having to unlock the ignition by prying a little flap off of the console where the gear shift is, inserting the key and viola! Might be worth searching for something similar.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:31 AM on December 25, 2004

If you have a lot of tension on the steering wheel from the front wheels it can make the key very hard to turn. Basically, in your steering column, there is a plate with notches or holes around the circumference. When you turn the key to "lock" a spring loaded plunger can engage the notches and prevent the steering wheel from turning. A lot of the time plunger is not lined up with a notch and you can turn the wheel a certain amount before it drops in the hole. When you turn the key to start, a lever withdraws the plunger. You can have a situation where there is a lot of tension on the steering wheel (the front wheels are against the curb) after you turn off the engine (and the power steering pump is not turning). The manual tells you to turn the steering wheel to relieve this pressure. Since the plunger was not in the notch before you turned the steering wheel and the key still wouldn't turn, I don't think this is your problem. It does seem to have made it worse though. You can release the tension on the steering wheel by jacking up the front end till the front wheels are off the ground. Your lock tumbler may just be worn (a heavy key ring can do this), if you don't have electronics in key, I would spray a little lube (wd-40 or the like) right in the lock and a little on the key (you can even buy lock lubricant made just for this). If you are really industrious you can pry (or unscrew, I don't know your vehicle) off the horn button and give the internal mechanism a shot of lube also. Good luck.
posted by 445supermag at 9:00 AM on December 25, 2004

Jiggle the shifter, as FB says, and that "gently" part in the manual is hokum. You're gonna need to really crank that steering wheel around.
posted by notsnot at 9:04 AM on December 25, 2004

Are you sure you're gearshift is in Park? The little plug on the shift console that FlamingBore referred to is an override for the Park interlock cable. If the interlock is engaged, it could be because the shifter is not in Park. So if it's the interlock that's preventing the car from starting, you can either jiggle the shifter, or remove the plug and push a small screwdriver into the hole to override the interlock.
posted by Doohickie at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2004

Caution: do NOT use WD40 in any lock. It'll eventually gum the thing up. Pick up some powdered graphite at any hardware store; it's made for this application.

Having said that, it sounds more like something in the lock is broken, and it'll take more than a little lubrication to fix it. But the powdered graphite is cheap and easy and just might work....
posted by Daddio at 11:14 AM on December 25, 2004

I have a remote-start system. I'm able to start up the car, delivering power to the power steering system. When the car is on, the steering wheel turns freely. I do not believe there is undo pressure on the steering system. Plus, when locking the steering wheel (on accident), I was not able to turn the key at all. I'm able to turn it a few degrees without a locked steering wheel.

(Remote-start doesn't fix my problem through, given you cannot drive the car unless the key is in the on position.)

The Toyota does have a rather comprehensive shift interlock - I can't take the key out if it's not in park. I can't shift it into park unless my foot is depressing the brake. I believe the vehicle is in park, but I suspect the interlock might be the problem anyway. I've tried jiggling the shifter around (with and without the brake depressed), but no luck. I will now hunt for info for overriding the interlock.

I was about to spray WD40 in the lock, but I'll wait until I can get my hands on a more appropriate tool.

It's been very cold recently (below freezing almost the whole weekend.) On a lark, I'll try remote starting the car, letting the heater run to warm up the cab, and giving it a go.
posted by reishus at 11:46 AM on December 25, 2004

Try pressing the brake pedal really hard while you jiggle the wheel back and forth.
posted by Vidiot at 3:36 PM on December 25, 2004

Could also be the starter/ignition -- if you have a very heavy set of keys, it drags on your ignition, and eventually compromises the thing. If you have a friend/neighbor that is a reasonably good mechanic, usually they can look it over and see if there's anything going on with the interlock. My husband's car had a similar problem, and he ended up being towed and then having a $125.00 bill to fix the starter. Also, if your key has a magnetic bit in it, you may have demagnatized it somehow. Good luck!
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:21 PM on December 25, 2004

I also have a Toyota, and have experienced the same problem, so I've been following this thread with interest. I do recall that when it happened to me, it was a very cold day, so I certainly don't think that letting the car warm up would hurt matters any.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:34 PM on December 25, 2004

I went to the auto store today, bought a $1.50 tube of powdered graphite, squirted a bunch inside the lock and a little on the key, and now it works perfectly! Thanks!

(I'm going to keep the rest of the tube in the truck in case of future incidents, anyone know if this is OK or do I need to be a little bit more active in fixing the lock?)
posted by reishus at 1:32 PM on December 26, 2004

Another problem solved by AskMeFi!
posted by Doohickie at 1:55 PM on December 26, 2004

« Older How can I get my mom to start smoking pot?   |   Liquor Shelf-Life Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.