Key won't return to lock position or come out when it's cold out!

Dear fellow Car Talk listeners,

I have a '98 Buick Regal (yes, it was my Grandfather’s car…) with a couple of problems. I’m in trouble and I need your help!

My first problem only occurs when I’m trying to turn the car off. When it’s cold out, I can move the key freely in the lock to start the car. When I’ve arrived at my destination, however, I can move the key easily to every position except the lock position. I can turn off the engine, but I can’t get the key out, because it won’t go all the way to the lock position. I’ve tried two different keys, and the result is the same. I’m hesitant about spraying WD-40 or something in the lock, because the key has an electronic security thingy that I’m afraid of gunking up. This is a relatively recent problem and I’m wondering if it’s related to my next problem, which has been going on for… ehem… a few years.

My second problem, which may be related to the first, also occurs only when it’s cold outside. When I turn the car on, it sometimes will not shift out of park for a few minutes. I can use the shift-lock release to the right of the shifter to overcome this, so that’s not too big of a deal. The shift-lock release, however, has no effect on the key problem.

My car has a definite aversion to the cold, and probably expected my Grandfather to take it to Florida with him as both he and the car got older, but that wasn’t the case. I think my car is taking it out on me. Please help!

Thanks so much,

Dave Payette

Please don’t use WD-40 on any lock of any kind. While it may make it work for a short while, it will cause more problems in the long run. If you have a lock that needs cleaning or lubrication, pick a product intended for that use ( The WD in WD-40 is Water Displacement ). The light oils in WD 40 tend to form a gummy substance as it dries. WD-40 has it’s uses, but not in a lock.

It could be that the lock is just worn out.  I would suggest making a phone call or two and driving to a lock smith.  They will almost always be cheaper than a dealer and chances are the dealer is just going to call a locksmith to do the work anyway.  

 You or someone may end up disassembling a few things to get into the lock area where worn or dirty parts may need replaced.


Nothing much for me to add.

Sounds like you have correctly diagnosed the problem.

The shift-interlock is a bit gummy, which explains the problem occurring in cold weather.

Consult a locksmith that REALLY enjoys working on shift interlocks, or a dealership if yours is one of the exceptional ones.

Physician Heal Thyself!

why not, at least you can get an appointment!