Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

How to Replace an Ignition Relay

picture of an ignition relay

When you turn the key and nothing happens, most people assume that it's due to a faulty starter or ignition lock assembly. Believe it or not, most power or starting issues displayed after the driver turns the key are attributed to the "middleman" of the vehicle’s starting system: the ignition relay or ignition relay switch. This component is connected to the ignition lock assembly and has a series of electrical connectors that supply power to other mechanical components. The term “relay” is applicable here, as the ignition switch relays information sent electrically to these components, allowing them to activate.

The ignition relay is supposed to last the life of the vehicle; however, there are some occasions when the relay will become faulty or wear out. Some of the common symptoms of a damaged or broken ignition relay include a low or dead battery, the car stalling or not starting, or loss of power to the dashboard lights.

Most modern cars that have keyless remote starting have a key that has a computer chip inside of it. This requires a different type of ignition system and often has a very complex ignition relay system. The instructions noted below are for older vehicles without a chip-style ignition key or push button starting features. Please refer to the vehicle's service manual or contact your local ASE certified mechanic for assistance with modern ignition systems.

Part 1 of 1: Replacing the ignition relay

Materials Needed

Step 1: Disconnect the vehicle's battery. Locate the vehicle's battery and disconnect the positive and negative battery cables before proceeding.

You'll be working with electrical components so you need to remove any power sources before beginning this project.

removing the upper and lower steering column trim cover to gain access to the ignition lock cylinder

Step 2: Remove the steering column cover bolts. Find the plastic covers that cover the bolts or screws. Using a small, flat blade screwdriver, remove the plastic covers.

Note the size and style of the bolts and use the appropriate tool to remove the bolts. In some cases they will be Phillips head screws or standard/metric sized bolts that will require a socket and ratchet for correct removal.

removing the extra panels under the dashboard in order to gain access to the ignition relay switch

Step 3: Remove any additional dashboard cover(s). In some cases, you'll have to remove some additional dashboard covers located under the dash and near the steering column.

On most vehicles, the ignition relay will be located directly under the steering wheel housing, near the back of the steering column.

Step 4: Locate the ignition relay. After the covers have been removed, you should be able to locate the ignition relay switch rather easily. The relay switch will be connected to a series of electrical harnesses on both sides.

location of electrical harnesses attached to relay switch

Step 5: Remove the electrical harnesses. After you've located the ignition relay switch, remove the electrical connections that are connected to it.

There may be one or two harnesses, so refer to your vehicle service manual for exact instructions.

removing the ignition relay from the steering column

Step 6: Remove the ignition relay. The process for removing the ignition relay varies based on the individual manufacturer. There are two parts to removing this component.

First, you will need to remove the cover that is on top of the relay switch. This is typically held on by a 7mm bolt.

Second, remove the relay switch screws that attach the ignition relay to the steering column or support brackets. In most vehicles there are either two or four screws that must be removed.

Step 7: Reinstall the new ignition relay. Once you've removed the old relay switch, you'll be ready to install the new one. This process is a simple reverse of the removal.

Install the new ignition relay switch in the same direction as the previous unit. Attach the ignition relay to the steering column or the bracket with the screws you removed initially.

Reconnect the cover that secures the harness to the housing, then reconnect the electrical harness(es). Finally, reinstall the dashboard covers or panels that were removed and reinstall the steering column covers.

Step 8: Reconnect the battery terminals. Reconnect the positive and negative terminals to the battery.

Step 9: Clear error codes with a scan tool. On newer vehicles that have electronic control modules and a standard key ignition system, the Check Engine Light will illuminate if there was a problem detected by your ECM.

If these error codes are not cleared before you test fire the engine, it is possible that the ECM will not allow you to start the vehicle.

Make sure to clear any error codes with a digital scan tool before you test the repair.

Step 10: Test the new relay. Insert your key with the door open. If you insert the key and you hear the bells ringing, the first connection is good.

Next, turn your key to the accessory position to test those functions. Verify that the radio has power.

Once you turn the key to the next position, the ignition relay should send a signal to the fuel pump. Making sure the radio is turned off, listen for the fuel pump to prime.

Finally, start the vehicle. If the vehicle starts smoothly, then the ignition relay is working correctly.

It's always best to refer to your service manual and completely review their recommendations before taking on this type of job. If you've read these instructions and still don't feel confident in completing this repair, please contact one of the ASE certified mechanics at YourMechanic to complete an ignition relay replacement where it’s convenient for you.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
Icon-warranty_badge-02

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.

ASK A QUESTION

More related articles

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Flexible Clutch Hose
Common signs include difficulty shifting, low clutch fluid, and feeling no resistance at the clutch pedal.
Insurance Requirements for Car Registration in Kentucky
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet requires that all drivers in Kentucky carry liability automotive insurance, or “financial responsibility” in order to operate a vehicle legally and maintain vehicle...
How to Avoid Back Pain in a Car
If you have back problems, sitting in a car for an extended period of time can be excruciating. Even without back problems, you could experience discomfort and soreness from...


Related questions

Q: Car seats won't move; is it due to fuses or relay?

Hello. If the seat functions stopped all of a sudden then you either have a blown fuse or a bad circuit breaker. Both are common issues, especially if something is failing in the seat. I would usually check the fuses...

Q: Car making loud noise upon startup

Hello. Diagnosing a noise is difficult without hearing it. This could be a belt, the starter motor, or the engine. I would recommend getting the aid of a mechanic to help isolate the noise and come up with the correct...

Q: No heat, no sound, no nothing

Hi. An electrical diagnostic by a certified professional would determine if the blower motor, resistor, relay, wiring, and switch are operational. It is not unusual for the resistor block to go bad and certainly that can be looked at first....