CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Smoke from keyhole

My daughter went to start her car and it made a harsh noise and smoke started comming out of the keyhole.

Does anyone know what it could be? And how to fix it? I was thinking the ignition switch could be shorted. Its a 93 Subaru Liberty.

Your thinking matches my thinking.

Defective ignition switches can cause fires. You probably want to pull a battery cable until this is fixed.

How much smoke? I assume it didn’t proceed to start? In any case, pull the steering column plastic shroud off and see if there are any obvious burned wires, conectors or burned smell. Check all of the fuses in the fuseblock as something should have blown in a short situation. I don’t think disconnecting the battery is a bad idea while the car is sitting but it is pretty rare that 12v shorts will cause enough heat to start a fire, auto fires are usualy a result of sparks combined with fuel vapors or fuel vapors and hot metal… As many Jaguar V12 owners will attest.

  • D

Can’t sit still on this one: "pretty rare that 12 volt shorts will cause enough heat to start a fire"
I’d have to respectfully disagree with that comment. It seems that Ford had an safety recall not that long ago due to faulty ignition switches “shorting out” and causing a fire. I have seen first hand what kind of damage happens when a positive charged wire shorts itself to a ground in an area of the circuit not protected by fuses. It isn’t pretty. I believe that many car fires can be atributed to wires shorting together, and heating up, and causing fires even without a source of gasoline. Obviously if you add gasoline being pumped into the mix by the fuel pump running, you have more than minor incident.

You’ve got to be kidding. It’s very easy to start a fire with 12V electrical systems. It only takes a few watts to start a fire, and you have thousands of watts available from the battery. Once a fire starts under the dash, the whole car will burn quickly.

(Dont’ believe it? Take a few feet of 18 gauge wire and connect one end to the positive terminal of the battery and the other to the negative terminal.)

I agree with other posts. Disconnect the battery cable until you can have it towed to a repair shop. My son’s inlaws had their Lincoln parked outside the attached garage. Late at night, with the car turned off and nobody near the car, something shorted under the hood. The resulting fire jumped to the eaves of the house. Not only was the car destroyed, but they were out of the house for almost a year while it was being rebuilt. The week before the fire started in the car, the cruise control had stopped functioning. The fire investigator thought that something in this circuit may have caused the fire.

At any rate, don’t hesitate. Disconnect the battery immediately.

The OP is likely quite right about the ignition switch and I also have to respectfully disagree that 12 volts won’t cause a fire. Example.

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/03/ford_recall_2003.html

My Lincoln was also under this Recall and a letter I received from FOMOCO advised me to quote: “do not park your car near your home, trees, or flammable objects until this repair is performed”.
Several homes in OK City were badly burned (different incidents) when Ford pickups caught on fire due to this problem. While parked at night and not being operated no less.

And Ford is not the only one. History is littered with Recalls about electrical fire hazards due to switches, lighting, etc. on many other makes and models.

Thanks so much everyone. Iv told her to disconnect the battery and she,s got someone comming out today to have a look at it.
Will let you all know what the outcome is.
Thanks. Leelita

It was the ignition switch. Lucky she knew someone who came over and fixed it for $15. Heaps better than $75 and hour. Thanks everyone. Iv posted a problem about my car if yous wanna help me out with some ideas. (Cracked Head Gasket)