Ignition key lock

We have a 2003 Dodge Caravan (125,050 miles), on occasion will not allow the ignition key to turn in ignition cylinder on the steering column. This happens infrequently, but when it does it is obviously very inconvenient!! We have 2 keys and neither one will “unlock” the ignition. We have had some luck in jiggling the key in the slot, attempting to move the gear shift, etc. but it seems it is getting to be a more frequent problem. I assume the lock mechanism itself is worn and probably needs to be replaced…but is there something I can do to temporarily alleviate the problem or at least lessen the occurance of such a lock? Might it do some good to apply heat to it by use of a hair dryer? Can I spray a lubricant (wd-40) into the key slot, or would this do more damage than good? I have not asked a dealer about this problem yet. Thanks

Try jiggling the steering wheel instead. In many vehicles, if the steering wheel is up against one of the locks that keep it from turning when the key is off, it can be very hard to turn the key. Just turn the steering wheel a little to get it off the lock.

Don’t spray anything into the lock cylinder. If its not the steering wheel, you may need a new key, but get it made at the dealer from the VIN number. That way you get a brand new key and not a copy of the worn out key.

Yes, you probably need a new lock. You could try my own lock preventive maintenance ideas if you like.

  • As few of keys, gadgets as possible on the key chain used in the car’s ignition switch. Get the weight of the keychain as low as possible.

  • Wash the keys in the dishwasher once in a while. I do it once a month or every other month.

  • Every once in a while take one of those short stubby pencils you get at golf courses and libraries and rub the key surfaces with the pencil lead for a lube.

The little bumps on the key push the little tumblers up so they can allow the lock to turn instead of stopping it. If they are worn or sticking, or the key is worn, the cylinder will be blocked from turning. You can try a little graphite in the lock to try and lub it or you can pull the cylinder out and clean it up and inspect it. Or you can even pull all the tumblers out to make a key unneeded and no one except us will know. On one car, the passenger side lock was stuck, and one tumbler was corroded too bad so I just removed it. No one knows that only 4 of the 5 tumblers are operational making it slightly easier to pick the lock. Or just replace the lock cylinder, but myself, I’d have to take it apart first.

@Bing … Interesting idea, remove the tumblers. I can see how I could remove tumblers in my Ford truck’s ignition switch, it has a little hole in the face, right near the key hole; you poke a wire in that hole, put the key in, and then the inner part comes out. Then I’d presumably have access to the tumblers. But with my Corolla’s ignition switch, there is no little hole to put a wire in. At least not one I’ve ever seen. How would tumblers be accessed w/that type of lock?

I had the same problem, and fixed it with no cost - just a little work.
Remove the lock cylinder;

  1. Remove the screws from the bottom on the plastic two-piece cover. The cover can then be pried apart.
  2. With the cover removed, put the key into the lock and turn the key to the “on” position. If you have problems turning the key because of your problem, give the end of the key a gentle rap with some thing like the bottom of your shoe. This “rap” fix to turn the key is only a temporary fix to turn the key, and shouldn’t be used long term.
  3. Look at the bottom of the cylinder casting and you will find a small hole on the bottom of the cylinder casting. Push something like a small nail into the hole while turning the “lock cylinder/key” and you will find the cylinder will come out of the casting.
  4. At this point you can purchase a new cylinder and key -or- fix the old cylinder. If you purchase a new key/cylinder, you will need to have a different ignition key than all your other doors etc. The new key also has to be programmed to your car’s computer (a time consuming and elaborate process. -or_
  5. Take the cylinder apart, ( I don’t remember the process but it is self evident for anyone that is mechanically inclined.) You will find several (6?) paired flat bronze “tumblers” and paired springs in the cylinder. Remove the paired tumblers and springs one set at a time and place them on a piece of paper. Keep the order of the tumblers in order so you can reassemble them in the same order that you removed them.
    If you look closely you will see that the flat tumblers have a burr from the key going in-out-in-out. These burrs are what are causing you lock to hang up. The small springs that try and keep the cylinders against the key lobes are not strong enough to overcome the friction of the burrs!
  6. Take each of the tumblers and

Sorry I must be long winded. I got knocked off!
6) Take each of the tumblers and “file” them on each side with fine grit emery cloth or a sharpening stone to remove the burrs. Don’t remove a lot of material, just enough to allow the tumblers to slide without hanging up.
7) Remove any burrs in the cylinder and clean it with alcohol.
8) Reassemble the tumblers/spring in the cylinder. I didn’t use any lubricant since it attracts dirt and lint, but you may want to use a small amount of graphite.
9) Put the cylinder back into the casting, reassemble the plastic housing, and you should be good to go.
I understand this issue is on all Chrysler vehicles.
Hope this helps.

@georgesanjose Maybe Mike covered it but when you get the lock cylinder out, there is a brass plate that covers the tumblers. Slide the brass plate open and they tumblers are in there. Two for each hole in different lengths to correspond to the key bumps. If you get a new one, you can also take it down to the key shop and he can change the tumblers to fit the old key in about 5 minutes. All he does is replace the tumblers.

I used to have a guy at work that was in the secret service in WW II. I’d call him when someone locked a file cabinet without a key and he could pick the lock usually-so we talked about locks a little, and codes and of course putting people out of commission quickly.

@Bing … thanks for the info, it sounds like auto locks still have that little hole like on my Ford truck used to remove the cylinder, but now you have to remove the lock from the car first, is that right? … re: picking locks … There’s a famous physicist named Feynman who liked to pick locks as a hobby, wrote some books about his unusual interests, so I’d heard of his lock picking exploits. And I understood how that it could theoretically be done, but when I tried, I could never could never actually pick a lock successfully myself. Then one day, wanting something fun to read, I found this novel titled “The Lock Artist” (by Steve Hamilton) – and even though the book is a fiction piece and isn’t really about how to pick locks, it instilled enough confidence in me that such a thing could be done, that I was able to open all the unopened locks I had sitting in my “what should I do with this?” drawer. … lol …