01 Explorer Ignition Problem

2001 Ford Explorer 4.0. The key spins freely in the ignition cylinder. There’s no resistance whatsoever when turning it and it doesn’t click to the multiple on positions, just turns completely freely like a key that you’d put in a toy car and turn.

Per several other recommendations, I already replaced the ignition lock cylinder which came with a new key, but it seemed to have made absolutely no difference and still has the exact same problem. What’s next?

Ignition switch.

Located on the steering column.


I just took apart the console under the steering wheel. Is the thing I circled in red the ignition switch?

That’s it!


The lock cylinder gear or actuator rod broke, numbers 5 or 22 in the diagram.

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I replaced the lock cylinder and now the ignition switch and problem still persists so this actuator has to be the problem.

Do you have a link to parts?or does the entire steering column need to be replaced

On dealer sites that sell parts on line, you will see illustrations of the parts. The numbers correspond to a list below the diagram that give the part name, price, etc. on most you can click on it and put it in your shopping cart. Be prepared though for the note no longer available or obsolete and it’s a dead end.

If no longer available you are into trying to find used assemblies to get the part off of. Usually you have to take the thing apart to see what is actually broken, then get the needed parts. Be aware you are dealing with the steering wheel and possible air bag components which are dangerous. If you see the parts are readily available, a dealer can be a good source for the most likely problems. Might want to just let them handle it. If the parts are no longer available, all bets are off.

Ford parts catalog online.

Upper Components for 2001 Ford Explorer Sport | OEM Parts Online

Hey everyone, so i found a workaround…i just put the key in the ignition and use the ignition switch to turn on and off the car. Is there anything inherently bad about doing this?


You’re just taking the place of the key/lock cylinder.


Does the steering wheel still lock up when the key is removed?

One day you will find the ignition in the accessory position over night and a dead battery.

I suspect that with broken linkage the steering is always locked.

The steering wheel does not lock. I think i will just drive the car like this indefinitely. The repair cost to take apart the entire steering column is almost half as much as the value of the entire vehicle itself

As long as you don’t require the anti-theft steering lock feature, that seems like it will work. On some car designs the designers probably expect the key move from “off” to “on” to “start” in the proper sequence for everything to work correctly. But it sounds like your car doesn’t have a “start” position on the ignition switch, that’s done with a separate switch.

Wrong again!

ford ignition


OP, suggest to explain more clearly what you mean. What do you do exactly to start the engine?

The ignition switch can be moved to each position: Lock, Unlock (Off), Run, and start.

This is not a farm tractor.

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What Nevada said is correct and to elaborate the key has to be in the lock cylinder to get the car to start using the ignition switch probably because there’s a chip in the key

Thanks for clarifying. Whenever a diy’er diddles w/the ignition switch, they should take into consideration the switch does more than just turn the car on and off. For example, when in the “start” position, the switch must do more than just powering up the starter motor. It has to also

  • run the fuel pump
  • power the ignition system
  • turn off power to high current loads, such as the headlights, electric window defrosters, seat heaters, alternator field coil, etc.

As long moving the ignition switch does exactly the same thing as rotating the key, should be ok. There may be other considerations, depending on the car, the steering wheel lock (already mentioned), and the switch is designed to prevent the key from falling out when going over a bump.