96' Jeep either won't let go of key or won't start

So, I’ve been a fan of Car Talk since I was a young girl and have loved listening to all the puzzling cases. I’m both completely thrilled and saddened that I have a weird car question for you.

My Jeep has had some issues starting lately, so I took it into the shop and had a few repairs done. All seemed well until the next morning when I drove to work and tried to remove my key from the ignition. It wouldn’t turn all the way to the release position (but thankfully turned off!) so I was forced to leave the key in the ignition all day. I have the ugliest car in the employee lot, so I wasn’t too stressed about the situation. However, I knew I’d eventually need to leave the Jeep somewhere where someone may wish to walk off with a free car.

I decides the most likely fix was to replace the lock cylinder and in removing the current one discovered that I could remove the key! So I sprayed graphite into the lock and turned the key around a bit to get it lubricated and thought it would be all good at that point. Not so much.

Upon screwing everything back together however, I was frustrated to find that though the key would move to all positions, I could not start the car!

I’ve taken it apart again a few times to get the key out before parking and leaving my car, greased up all the pieces I can actually get to, and am at a loss for what I can potentially do myself to remedy this situation. I’m reluctant to start taking apart more of my steering column, having little to no actual automotive repair training (I mostly like to tinker) which leaves me placing this puzzle at your doorstep.

Any advice or insight would be more than welcome!



The ignition switch assy consists of both a lock and a complicated electrical switch. You may need to replace the entire ignition switch assembly, not just the lock cylinder. When you turn the key to “acc” does the radio work? With the key in “on”, do the normal dashboard lights and guages light up and work, like before? When you turn the key to “start” does the engine crank?

If nothing on the dashboard seems to be working with the key in “on”, and it won’t crank at all, you or your mechanic will have to use a dvm to figure out if it is the ignition switch assembly that is bad, just the lock itself, or it might just be a loose electrical connector to the ignition switch.

There’s a possiblity also that this problem has nothing to do with the ignition switch, but that a neutral safety switch is faulty or needs adjustment.

Radio works in either scenario. Jeep only cranks when the key won’t come out. If the key comes out, the car won’t start.

The Jeep starts in both neutral and drive just fine. The first time it was acting funny, that was what I checked and it was functioning.

All the electrical connections to the ignition assembly are working as far as I can tell. It’s just the mystery of either not getting the key out or not getting it to start.

The gear shift interlock was designed so that the ignition could not be turned to the “Lock” position if the gear selector is not in park. Be sure the shift lever is fully engaged into the park position and the T handle button pops out. I think you’ll find that there is a shift lever or interlock cable problem.

When installing the lock cylinder into the ignition switch check that the dowl pin is aligned with the hole. The first time you turn the ignition to the start or crank position the lock cylinder will push the dowl pin out into the retaining hole so it may be difficult to turn the first time. Also inspect the tip of the lock cylinder that drives the ignition switch, they sometimes crack and a piece of the lock cylinder may have fallen out when you removed it.

I agree with @Nevada_545. I also believe you’re problem is in the gear shift interlock. The neutral safety switch should only allow the car to start in Park or Neutral. If it lets the car start in Drive, you have a problem in the NSS or gear shift interlock. With the key interact problem, I’m leaning to the common connection, the gear shift interlock.

Starts in both park and neutral (when it’s wanting to start). I checked out the lock cylinder when I pulled all that apart. I’ve replaced it before due to a crack along the very back end of it, so I did look at all of that when I pulled everything apart.

It works fine when everything is not screwed into the rest of the column. I am not quite sure what the “flag” piece or the piece that moves in the crescent shape does exactly. Could it be one of those pieces that connects to the entire ignition/key assembly?

I’m totally lost at this point…