Diagnosing a stuck ignition key

A few days ago I posted a question regarding a stuck ignition key for a "99 Honda Civic with an automatic transmission, since that time I have more diagnostic info for verification by some of the mechanics.

After my initial posting, one person (Tester) asked if the steering wheel locks when the key is in the off position. That got me thinking about narrowing down the symptoms to the problem. I called a local Honda specialist (who by the way was not excited about sharing much info), his question was “does the automatic shift into Park”, I told him it does and he concluded the problem is not with the shift linkage or the sensor that signals the car is in Park. He gave me the name of a locksmith to get a new key and possible a new ignition switch. As a side note he commented that he rarely sees problems with shift linkage or the sensor it is almost always the key or ignition. I then called the locksmith, to verify if he generally solves the problem with a key or ignition switch repair, almost always BUT NOT ALWAYS (that would really bite if you just paid for towing or service call plus the key or ignition repair).

The question for the mechanics, is this logic valid: if the shifter shifts into Park, the shift linkage is okay; then if the steering wheel locks when the key is in the off position this indicates the sensor (that signals the tranny is in Park) is okay, so it is likely (almost always ?) the problem is the key or ignition switch.

Thanks for sharing your expertise.

One thing you may want to try before having repairs made is to push the shifter forward a little more. I have a '96 Civic, which is the same generation and uses a lot of the same parts, and once could not get my key out of the lock. The transmission was firmly in park, but pushing the shifter forward a little more released my key. If you haven’t tried that, it’s worth a shot.

I guess the question is can you turn the ignition cylinder counter-clockwise to the fully off position? The key won’t come out unless the switch is fully off. Even with a bad key you should be able to jiggle it enough to clear the tumblers to get it to the fully off position.

I expect you are going to need a new ignition cylinder and probably switch too. Going forward, you could try my key/lock longevity technique.

  • Minimize the weight on the key chain. Remove everything but what’s necessary. The fewer keys, the better. One is best.

  • Wash the key in the dishwasher once a month.

  • Lubricate the key. I use one of those stubby pencils with a soft lead I get at the golf course, and rub the pencil lead along the working surfaces of the key once a week.