Ignition stiff/seized on 1999, Ford E350 RV

I live full-time in an RV which results in very bad condensation building up in the cab and over the past year, the ignition system has gradually got more and more stiff.
At first, it was noticeable that it did not spring back from “start” to “run” (the airbag light remained on and the fan/indicators did not work) but I just had to tweak it into the right position. This was mainly an issue when starting from cold.
Then, after a long drive with the heater on, it would not turn off. It finally took a wrench to turn the key off. Leaving off the heater seemed to help this but it gradually got worse and it got more and more difficult to turn it on.
I finally replaced the key cylinder but it made absolutely no difference and now the key physically will not turn.

I am now sitting in a vehicle with no propane and full waste tanks.


The problem is the ignition switch then? When you replaced the key cylinder, that’s not the same thing as replacing the ignition switch. I expect you’ll have to do that.

Here’s what I do for ignition switch routine maintenance. I wash the key once a month along with the load in the kitchen dishwasher. And I lube it once a week with one of those short stubby pencils you get at a golf course or public library, I run the graphite along all the key surfaces.

I’ve looked up the ignition switch and all I get is an electrical device. What’s the name of the receiver for the square block on the end of the key cylinder? I’m assuming that since there’s a physical problem with the key turning, that the problem lies in there.

I think you are referring to the ignition switch. Does it have a lot of wires going to it? A lot of spade connectors? If so, that’s almost certainly the ignition switch. When you turn the key, it turns a shaft inside the ignition switch, which moves contacts into place. Those contacts and/or the shaft are probably corroded.

There is a rack and pinion style gear in the column between the lock clyinder and ignition switch. You will have to disassemble the column to see what broke. Replace the ignition switch at the same time, it is probably binding.

In this link you will find the steering column illustration.


I haven’t taken off the floor panel but there’s a big metal unit (mechanical) with a cable harness in the back.
Out of sheer desperation, I turned the ignition (key inserted) with a wrench. It turned reluctantly, the steering lock is now off (the one piece of good news) and the engine turned over.
And over.
And over.
Until I disconnected the battery.
The key now turns freely and does absolutely nothing so I guess I snapped a rod.
I’m figuring I’ll bypass the damned thing altogether and wire up some switches (hot-wiring it in the meantime).
Does anyone know where I can get a schematic of the ignition harness?

A Ford dealer parts depts. might be willing to print out the diagram for you, esp if you go there when they aren’t busy. Helps if you bring donuts.

Other sources for schematics? Try googling. And I think Ford has a service where you pay $20 or something like that and they give you access to the factory service manual via the internet for a day or two. The FSM would have all the schematics. And your local public library may have this information too, either in hard copy manuals or via the AllData computer database service for auto repairs, if they subscribe. One more idea, I think AllData lets an individual purchase its use for a limited period of time, but just for one make/model/year. You can probably use that from your home computer, no need to go to library.

The ignition switch appears to be attached to the steering colum above the brake pedal and a rod from the lock cylinder operates it. A youtube video shows how to replace i

and the part is about $20 at O’Reilly’s. I recommend you avoid hot wiring unless there is no other alternative. Good luck.

excuse that link. I guess some Republicans know how to repair an ignition switch now.

Finally had to call for help from a mechanic.
It turns out that the purely mechanical ignition key has a rod going down the steering column to mechanically operate a switch on the ignition harness. No wonder I couldn’t make head or tail of the exploded diagram, this really offends my sense of design! Add to that that the rod is plastic, swells with moisture and then jams to the point where you are going to have to replace the steering column and I’m not feeling too charitable towards Ford right now!
At least I can use the switch instead of hotwiring it until I can rewire it into a more pleasing configuration. I’ll be damned if I’m going to replace it with the same p.o.s. design that caused the problem in the first place.
Thanks everyone for their help (although, Rod, I think you might have searched under the wrong “distributor”!).


Wow, that is a pretty complicated design for something as simple as the ignition switch. I guess maybe it offers some add’l theft protection. that might have been Ford’s thinking.

That’s for posting the update.