Even with today’s technologically advanced vehicles, it is still sometimes necessary to use a key to unlock or start your auto. And despite the strong metals used in making vehicle keys, it is possible for a key to break off, causing a real problem for the owner. Depending on the situation, you may be able to correct this problem yourself, but it is important to determine how bad the break is before deciding on a course of action. Even if this happens when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, taking a few minutes to correctly remove the key will save you from making the situation worse and possibly doing more expensive damage to your car.
So, your key has broken off in your ignition. Take a moment and breathe, then assess the damage and look at the condition of the piece inside the ignition slot. If the broken piece is partially sticking out of the slot, you may be able to remove it more easily with your fingers or the proper tools. Don’t let your frustration or the fact that you’re now running late, lead you to use the wrong method.
What You Shouldn’t Do
While you’re forming a game plan for removal, first consider a few things that you shouldn’t do at the risk of causing more damage. You don’t want to do anything that would push the key farther into the ignition slot. It’s also important to not use materials that could clog your ignition and make a more costly repair necessary. This would include using things like super glue (or other strong adhesives), magnets, and large metal items that you might stick into the slot.
Using a magnet strong enough to pull your key out would also run the risk of attracting small metal shavings into the area of your ignition slot. This could possibly cause problems inside this area that would require professional fixing later.
The same problem could happen by using a screwdriver to remove the broken piece. You could jam the screwdriver in the slot next to the key too tightly or push the key piece in farther – both of which could require a total replacement of the ignition mechanism.
You also might think about trying to carefully glue the broken pieces of your key back together in the hopes of then being able to pull the key back out, but this is a bad idea. This could backfire if any glue drips or leaks out where you don’t want it, essentially gluing the key in place and causing a much larger repair bill.
What You Can Do
You can use a pair of needle-nose pliers to grab the part of the broken key sticking out and gently pull it out of the ignition. If you have pliers with rubber tips on the end, that will provide a better grip on the key. If you’re working with metal-tipped pliers, you can use a gentle hold putty on the broken end of the key that’s protruding out to get extra grip. Just don’t use putty that solidifies into a stronger adhesive, or you’re back to a problem similar to using glue.
There are also tools designed specifically for this task. If you have access to a key removal tool, you can carefully insert the tool into your ignition slot and slide it all the way until it stops. You’ll then turn the tool so the hook on the end will catch on the broken key so you can slowly remove it. This is not recommended if you’ve never done something like this before. It can be easy to do the wrong thing and make your situation worse.
Using metal wires or other metal items to get the key out could also be problematic. Some recommend using strong, but thin metal objects like a hacksaw blade to attempt removal. However, if you use metal items that are too thick, you might get another item stuck in the ignition slot. Now you may have doubled your problem.
Get Help from the Professionals
If you can’t feel any portion of the broken key on the outside of the ignition slot, you will want to get professional help like an automotive locksmith. Unless this is a process that you’re familiar with, it is probably best to leave such a delicate operation to a professional. Even if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, taking the time to call a professional locksmith will save you from damaging your car’s ignition, which can require more costly repairs.