5 signs your ignition switch is broken and what to do about it
Does this situation sound familiar?
You’re late for work. You jump into your car with your morning coffee and briefcase. Your coffee spills on the seat but you don’t have any napkins to clean it up. You fumble with your keys, drop them, pick them up, and finally, put them into the ignition ready to speed to work when suddenly the unthinkable happens…
Your car doesn’t start.
You try again. Still nothing. Now you’re swearing up and down and bashing in your steering column.
What’s going on? What is wrong with your car?
You might think it’s a bad battery or it’s faulty spark plugs.
It could be those things, but it might be something you’ve never thought of: your ignition switch.
There are a few sure-fire ways to know if your ignition switch is broken or not.
So we had some of our best car locksmiths weigh in on this issue. If your car is showing any of these 5 signs, then your ignition switch is probably busted. If it is, we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to fix it.
- No Lights Come on When Your Key Is in the “on” Position
OK, let’s start with the easiest sign. Turn your key to the “on” position. So not all the way to start it, but right before. Any lights on the dashboard?
If not, this could mean your battery or the ignition switch is bad. Now, with your key in the “on” position, turn on your headlights.
If your headlights work, then it’s probably not your battery that’s the problem, it’s more likely that your ignition switch is broken.
- Ignition Switch Has Overheated
Another simple way to know if your ignition switch has gone bad is if the switch itself is hot to the touch. All cars have a series of wires that connect the ignition switch to a variety of other terminals. If these wires become warped, or if any of the terminals start overheating, the wires will “arc” and melt the insulating base.
An overheated ignition switch will prevent your car from turning over and could start an electrical fire on your dashboard.
- Ignition Switch Pins Are Busted or Key Fob System Is Faulty
Now we’re getting into more technical territory so I’ll try to make this as simple and straightforward as possible.
First, you should know that your ignition switch is like your second wave of “anti-theft” protection. Without the correct key or code, your car won’t start.
If you have an older car that still uses a traditional key, then it’s possible that the “switch pins” have become worn out.
When you put your key into the ignition, what you’re actually doing is moving a row of pins inside of a cylinder. If the pins line up with your key, then it will allow you to turn the cylinder and start your car. If you use the wrong key, or if your key is damaged or the pins inside the cylinder are damaged, the car won’t start.
If you have a newer car that doesn’t use a traditional key, but instead uses a key fob, you have extra security, but you also have extra reasons why your ignition switch isn’t starting your car.
Your key fob has an “anti-theft” code that your car “reads” before it allows you to start the car. The circuit that reads your key is located in the ignition. If it fails, the car won’t start. The same would happen if the fob is broken.
- Someone Tried to Steal Your Car
Not all car thieves bust out windows and tear up your interior. Some are much stealthier. If they don’t successfully take your car, they may have left it damaged.
You might notice scratches around your ignition or a few stray wires sticking out from below your steering column. If your key doesn’t fit, or it won’t turn over, the thief probably broke your lock cylinder.
- Your Car Suddenly Stalls and Stops Working
Were you driving along when all of a sudden your engine shut off and you weren’t able to start it up again?
Then it’s possible your circuits may have been damaged. As we already pointed out, your ignition switch is connected to a network of wires and terminals. If these become loose, corroded, or broken, your car won’t operate.
What To Do If Your Ignition Switch Is Broken
For some of these issues, you might want to try to fix them yourself. We highly recommend against this. It is very easy to harm yourself or cause more damage to your ignition since the parts are small, intricate, and difficult to work with.
The best option is to contact your local mechanic or car key/ignition specialist and have them fix the problem for you. In many cases, the switch may not need to be replaced but will need to be cleaned, or only a few small parts will need to be fixed.