Fixing an Ignition Switch Is an Intermediate Job For Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Fix an Ignition Switch at Home.
- DIY Difficulty Level: Intermediate
- Time Required: 20-60 minutes
- Tools and Materials:
What Is an Ignition Switch?
An ignition switch is a complex electrical component in a vehicle that reads the key placed in the ignition lock cylinder and determines whether it should activate the systems needed to start the engine and other components. Before the driver can shift the vehicle out of Park and into Reverse or Drive, the ignition switch reads the anti-theft coding in the key. In cars with keyless ignition, the ignition switch reads the coding that the key fob transmits, which is why this type of car won’t start if the key isn’t close enough to the vehicle.
Sometimes, though, the vehicle doesn’t start after you insert the proper key into the ignition or place the electric key fob in the car. This scenario is usually triggered by a faulty ignition switch. The wiring to the switch may have been damaged or disconnected, or the ignition switch may have worn out. A dead battery or damaged starter motor may also prevent the car from starting, so it’s helpful to test various components before starting an ignition switch repair.
Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Ignition Switch?
When the ignition switch of your vehicle becomes compromised, you may not be able to start or drive it at all. Even if you wiggle the key and the car somehow starts, an issue may arise while you’re on the road. Perhaps the automobile won’t shift into gear or shut the engine off on command. Either case could be problematic, so we recommend investigating ignition switch malfunctions as soon as you notice them.
Since fixing an ignition switch sometimes requires you to lower the steering column, it may be more challenging than you expect. It’s also risky to do this in a vehicle equipped with airbags if you need to remove the steering wheel, as you might accidentally deploy one.
When To Change an Ignition Switch
You should fix your ignition switch only when it stops working. Other times, the issues could be less pronounced. If you find it difficult to turn the key in the ignition or the vehicle is slower to start than usual, these signs can indicate an ignition switch problem that requires attention.
What Are the Common Symptoms of an Ignition Switch That Needs Replacing?
- Vehicle won’t start
- Difficult to turn the key
- Car is slow to start
- Switch only turns when you jiggle or wrench the key in the ignition cylinder
- Steering wheel is stuck
Keep In Mind
Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and only repair the ignition as advised for your make and model.
When replacing the ignition switch, you may also need to get new keys made for the new ignition switch.
How To Fix Ignition Switch
Step 1: Disconnect the Battery
Start by disconnecting the negative terminal on the battery. Use a wrench to loosen the nut or bolt that holds the cable in place on the negative terminal, and slide it off its post. Place the cable on the side of the battery to prevent it from touching a terminal while you’re working.
Step 2: Remove Steering Column Trim
To get to the ignition switch, you need to remove the trim around the steering wheel. Each piece may have plastic clips or screws and bolts that hold it in place. Review your manual to find out how to safely remove them. If your steering wheel blocks the ignition switch you can use a steering wheel puller to remove it from the column. Be very careful if your steering wheel has an airbag. You may wish to leave the job to a professional at this point.
Step 3: Remove the Ignition Module Cover
Some cars have a plastic cover that surrounds the ignition module, typically held in place by plastic clips. Release this cover by pushing the clips with your fingers or a screwdriver, and slide it out of place.
Step 4: Remove Ignition Switch
If you have keyless ignition, skip this step.
Insert the key into the ignition and rotate it into the position labeled “Accessory.” In most cases, this releases the security lock that holds the switch in position to prevent theft.
Step 5: Remove the Ignition Module
Check your particular vehicle’s repair manual for instructions on removing the ignition module. Every manufacturer has its own unique procedure, which is complex and specialized in order to prevent theft.
Step 6: Install New Ignition Module
Similarly, install the replacement module per the instructions in the repair manual.
Step 7: Reinstall Ignition Switch
Unless you have keyless ignition, install the ignition switch back where it belongs, the same way you removed it.
Step 8: Test the Switch
Reconnect the battery cable to the negative terminal and test the ignition switch before replacing the trim around the steering column. If the vehicle starts easily, turn it back off and disconnect the battery before putting the trim pieces back on. If it doesn’t start, pull the ignition switch out and try reinstalling it.
Step 9: Replace the Trim
Working backward from how you removed the trim pieces, place them back around the steering column and click them into place or replace the screws. Reconnect the cable to the negative terminal of the battery.
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