Why Does My Car Key Only Go Halfway in the Lock? (5 Potential Causes)

There’s no good time for your car key to get stuck in your lock. Whether you’re on the way to work or going to a weekend barbecue, a stuck car lock will quickly ruin your plans for the rest of the day. If your car keys only go halfway in your lock, how should you fix it?

If a car key only goes halfway into a lock, it may be because the lock needs lubrication, debris is obstructing it, the lock is frozen, or you have a damaged key. Solutions include dry lubrication, spraying compressed air, thawing your lock, and taking your key to a mechanic or auto locksmith.

I’ll take you through each of these potential causes, plus the tips and tricks you need to fix any one of them, so read on.

Car key only goes halfway into a lock.

1. Your Lock is Dry

A dry lock is one likely cause of your car’s stuck key.

Locks naturally grow stiff over time. The average lock’s lifespan is about seven years, and your car’s lock is no different.

If there’s nothing wrong with your key, your lock is likely in need of lubrication. Beyond the process of elimination, there aren’t many other ways to determine a stiff lock as your cause.

That said, even if you suspect a different source of stiffness, it’s never a bad idea to lubricate your car’s lock. If you grease your car now, you won’t have to deal with a problematic lock later.

How to Fix a Dry Lock

There are a couple of ways to lubricate your car’s lock, but I recommend graphite lubricants.

Graphite lubricants are dry lubricants. Dry lubricants dry quicker than wet lubricants, making them less likely to attract dust and other gunk. Because gunk may mess with your lock even further, dry lubricants are perfect for your car lock.

To lubricate your car with graphite, start by administering a quick pump of graphite into the lock. Then, move your key in and out of the cylinder to spread the graphite around the chamber. After these two steps, you should have lubricated your lock.

I recommend Lucky Line Graphite Dry Lock Lubricant Powder from Amazon. The product’s small nozzle is perfect for car locks, and you’ll only need a tiny amount to fix your lock – which means a tube will last you ages.

2. Your Lock is Obstructed by Debris

Loose debris in your lock may also obstruct your key’s passageway.

Debris accumulates in your car’s lock in a variety of ways. Something as simple as dust can collect over time and cause an obstruction.

A larger obstruction may signal a failed attempt to break into your car. For example, if someone tried to use a toothpick or another lock-picking tool to break into your car, and the tool broke off in the process, it may cause an obstruction. If you suspect you have a major obstruction, contact a professional for help.

How to Fix Debris Obstruction

To fix an obstructed lock, you’ll take many of the same steps as lubricating a lock, with one crucial difference.

First, spray your lock with pressurized air to remove any dust or minor debris from the keyway. Then, lubricate your lock as I’ve already advised – administer the graphite, work it with your key, and you should be clear.

Pressurized air won’t remove larger objects from your car’s lock. If you suspect a more significant obstruction, I recommend bringing your vehicle to the mechanic. You may need to remove your lock from your car, which is quite an intensive process.

If you’re looking for a compressed air cleaner, get this Falcon Dust Disposable Cleaning Duster. This product’s nozzle allows you to reach into tight spaces like your car lock, and the compact size of the can means you can easily carry it with you when you travel.

3. You Have a Frozen Lock

Depending on the time of year, your lock may have frozen in place.

A frozen lock looks and feels precisely as you’d expect it to. Your key will feel rigid as it enters the lock, while frost will likely cover other parts of your car.

Frozen locks only occur in colder temperatures. As water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0°C) and below, any moisture in your lock will freeze as well. 

How to Fix a Frozen Lock

To fix a frozen lock, all you need to do is melt the ice. Although this solution sounds simple, you should use caution.

Remember that you shouldn’t panic if your lock is frozen. If, for example, you rush and try to pour hot water into the lock, the water may refreeze or cause a short circuit.

Instead, we recommend more tempered solutions.

First, you should clean ice from around your lock. This step will remove any ice that could obstruct your lock from the outside.

Then, try to de-ice the keyhole with de-icing spray or a lubricant such as WD40. Either one has a lower freezing temperature than water, so they’re far less likely to refreeze your lock.

Finally, try to warm your key with something like hot water, a hairdryer, or a lighter. Essentially, try to get your key warm enough that you can still hold it but that it will still impact your lock.

You may also like: How to Keep a Windshield from Freezing

4. You Have a Bent Key

Your key itself may also be the source of your lock’s problems.

As with any tool, a key wears out over time. Unless you always carry a spare, this problem is even more prudent with car keys – after all, who knows where you may get stranded when a car key gives out?

A bent car key is the most evident of the two distortions we’ll talk about today.

Car keys bend for reasons both serendipitous and ill-advised. Here are some of the potential causes of your keys getting bent:

  • Using your keys to open a paint tin
  • Using your keys to dislodge objects
  • Bumping into someone while moving your key
  • Slamming a door

If you’ve done any of the above recently, a bent key is a likely cause for your lock’s problem.

Bent keys can range anywhere from a slight tilt to a full-on L curve. The severity of the bend directly determines whether the key fits in your car.

That said, if your key stops halfway into your lock, it is bent too far.

How to Fix Bent Keys

Before you try to bend your back key yourself, try to ease your key into your lock and lightly turn it open.

Bulleyment reminds you to be gentle, as a bent or broken key lodged in your lock will only worsen the situation. Then, take your car to a mechanic or auto locksmith.

If you can’t drive your car to a mechanic, there are a few things you can do to repair your keys short term, such as tapping it lightly with a hammer.

Again, make sure to be gentle – a broken key is even worse than a bent one.

You will ultimately need to bring your bent key to a mechanic or auto-locksmith to properly fix it. Even if you bend the key back into place, it is now far more likely to bend again or snap entirely, completely obstructing the lock. It’ll be far less expensive to fix your key than your lock, so make sure to get it checked as soon as possible.

Additionally, consider comparing rates from your mechanic and your automotive dealer to see whether repair or replacement is cheaper. Both are equally effective, so comparing rates will make it easier to reduce your costs.

5. You Have a Worn Key

While more subtle than a bent one, a worn car key is just as ineffective as a bent key.

A worn car key is one that lacks the strict ridges that made it functional in the first place. While it may look normal to an outside observer, a worn key is pretty much useless.

Take a hard look at your key’s ridges for sharpness. Try also to compare your key to pictures of new models online. If either of these searches elicits red flags, it’s time to address the problem.

How to Fix Worn Keys

Avoid DIY approaches to the repair of a worn key at all costs.

Car keys come with a specific “key number” that signifies the exact shape of your key. Even professional auto-locksmiths use computer-controlled machines to brandish new blades. To try and fix the key yourself is a fool’s errand.

Instead, call an auto-locksmith as soon as possible. An auto-locksmith will know exactly how to duplicate your key and can make one on the spot.

I’d also recommend creating a duplicate key or two in case your key wears out again. Make sure to duplicate the new key and not the old, worn one.

Summary

Once you know what to look for, you’ll be able to determine the cause of your jammed car lock with ease.

If you suspect the problem is with the lock itself, try one of the DIY solutions we listed above before taking your car to the mechanic. However, if it’s the car key that’s the problem, get in touch with a professional as soon as possible.

Either way, be careful. If you make a mistake, you can quickly find that the cost to repair the issue is much higher than you expected.

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