After many years of use, your car key may break off in the lock. When this happens, it renders the lock unusable until you can get the broken piece out. If your car was already locked when the key broke, you will not be able to open it, and you’ll need a new key as well.
The good news is that technology is rendering this particular question moot; over the last decade, automakers have begun to increasingly equip newer-model cars and vehicles with “smart keys” which contain a micro-chip to start your engine with a simple push of a button. The bad news is that if you lose your smart key and don’t have a spare, you’ll long for the aggravating antiquity of extracting that broken key out of your ignition lock.
Here are four methods to safely and effectively remove a broken key from the cylinder.
Method 1 of 4: Use a broken key extractor tool
Step 1: Turn off engine and park your car. Immediately after breaking the key, you should make sure the car engine is off, the emergency brake is on, and the car is in park.
Step 2: Lubricate the lock. Spray some lock lubricant into the lock cylinder.
Step 3: Slide the key extractor tool into the lock. Slide the broken key extractor tool into the cylinder of the lock, with the hook end pointed up.
Step 4: Turn the extractor tool. When you feel the extractor tool stop, you’ve reached the end of the lock cylinder.
Gently turn the extractor tool toward the teeth of the broken key.
Step 5: Pull the extractor tool out. Slowly pull the extractor tool toward you and attempt to catch the hook of the extractor tool on a key tooth.
Once you’ve hooked it, keep pulling until a small part of the broken key has come out of the cylinder. If you weren’t successful the first time, keep trying to pull out the broken bits.
Step 6: Pull out the broken key. Once part of the broken key has come out of the cylinder, you can use needle head pliers to pull the whole key out.
Method 2 of 4: Use a jigsaw blade
- Jigsaw blade
Step 1: Lubricate the lock. Spray some lock lubricant into the lock cylinder.
Step 2: Slide the blade into the lock. Take your hand jigsaw blade and carefully slide it into the lock cylinder.
Step 3: Pull the blade out of the lock. When the hand jigsaw blade stops sliding, you’ve reached the end of the lock cylinder.
Carefully turn the jigsaw blade towards the key and try to catch the blades on a tooth (or several teeth) of the key. Slowly pull the jigsaw blade out of the lock.
Step 4: Pull out the broken key. Once a small portion of the broken key emerges from the key cylinder, use your needle-nose pliers to pull the broken key out completely.
Method 3 of 4: Use thin wire
If you don’t have a broken key extractor tool or a jigsaw blade, you can use wire as long as it’s thin enough to slide into the lock cylinder, while being strong enough to maintain it’s shape both going into and coming out of the lock cylinder.
- Needle-nose pliers
- Strong/thin wire
Step 1: Lubricate the lock. Spray lock lubricant into the lock cylinder.
Step 2: Make a small hook. Use your needle-nose pliers to make a small hook at one end of the wire.
Step 3: Insert the hook into the lock. Insert the wire into the cylinder, hook end first with the hook pointing toward the top of the lock cylinder.
When you feel the wire stop moving forward, you’ve reached the end of the cylinder.
Step 4: Pull the wire out. Turn the wire toward the teeth of the key.
Slowly try to catch a tooth in the bent wire and pull the wire out of the lock with the key.
Step 5: Pull the broken key out with pliers. Once a small part of the broken key comes out of the cylinder, use your needle-nose pliers to pull it out completely.
Method 4 of 4: Call a locksmith
Step 1: Call a locksmith. If you don’t have the right tools on hand, the best thing to do is to call for a locksmith.
They’ll be able to extract your broken key and make a duplicate key for you on-the-spot.
A broken key in a lock can feel like a total disaster but you can save some cash and solve the problem yourself in most cases with just a few simple tools. Once you get the broken part out of the lock cylinder, a locksmith can make a duplicate even if the key is in two pieces. If you have any issues with your key’s ability to turn in your ignition, have one of YourMechanic’s mobile mechanics perform an inspection.