A car’s ignition switch is literally a switch that introduces power to activate the electrical systems of the car. These systems include the starter components, the engine control unit, ignition coil, and many other parts.
That said, the usual design incorporates the ignition switch with the starter switch. So without it, you cannot start the car normally. Other than that, it can also lock your steering wheel preventing the car to be started without the right key.
Without the ignition switch, your car won't start
Overall, it is one of the most important parts when it comes to operating a car. It's one of the first things you’ll touch when starting the car, and it also serves as a security measure. Like most parts, however, an ignition switch might go bad due to several reasons.
Do note though, that there are more symptoms of a bad ignition switch other than your car not starting. It can be a faulty relay, a blown fuse, a faulty starter motor, a broken engine immobilizer transponder chip, or even dirty or busted up spark plugs.
How to diagnose a No Start Condition - Ignition Switch
For some newer cars, the fault might even stem from a scuffed push to start button.
To be sure that what you’re dealing with isn’t some relay or starter motor, here’s a list of five symptoms of a bad ignition switch.
Symptom #1: The key won’t turn
For older cars with a worn-out traditional turn-key ignition switch, there will come a time that it won’t move at all. This might be due to wear and tear due to friction, or it just flat out broke a piece.
Also, there are instances where dirt and dust have accumulated inside thus preventing the key to enter. Initially, you can notice this when the key turning action isn’t as smooth when it was new.
How to fix
When you feel that something’s different, try vacuuming it to suck out whatever’s blocking your key. If that doesn’t change anything, take it to a mechanic or an automotive locksmith.
Sometimes, debris can enter the keyhole and can prevent you from turning the key
In other cases, the key enters the hole and you can turn the ignition but the steering wheel lock doesn’t disengage. This is particularly dangerous, so give the steering wheel a few tugs before driving onwards.
As a side note, do clean your car keys before jamming them in. And yes, mud and dirt on the keys will eventually destroy your turn-key ignition switch.
If the turn-key ignition is hard and/or you cannot insert the normal car key, then you can try forcing in a screwdriver. We do not recommend this as it will not work all the time. Also, it will completely destroy the keyhole.
>>> Related: Advantages and Disadvantages of Push Start Ignitions
Symptom #2: The car won’t start
Another obvious sign that your ignition switch has gone bad is that your car won’t start at all. Do note that this can be indicative of other problems like the starter, the battery, fuel pump, vacuum lines, among others. Regardless, it's good practice to include the ignition switch as one possible cause of your car not starting.
How to fix
First, eliminate all other possible causes of the symptom. If you’ve pinpointed that the cause is indeed the ignition switch, then you might need to have it replaced.
Bringing along a set of jumper cables can go a long way
Symptom #3: The car shuts off by itself
If you’ve managed to start the car but then it turned off again, the car might not be getting enough spark. This is often attributed to a faulty ignition system. Like the symptom before however, this can also be linked to other issues like fuel flow problems, the spark plugs themselves, etc.
How to fix
Again, eliminate all other possible causes. If the ignition switch is the cause, try wiggling the key lightly while trying to start. You can also try to start your car in the dark, and take a peek under the dashboard.
If you see electrical arcs flying from any of the wires, you can tape them up then try to drive again. If this doesn’t work, get your ignition switch replaced.
Symptom #4: No noise from the starter motor
In normal situations, the starter motor creates a distinct sound when actuating. The starter itself will also produce a clicking sound when something’s wrong with it.
If you can’t hear a sound at all, either your battery has run out of charge, or something is wrong with your ignition system, possibly including the ignition switch.
The fault might also lie with the car's ignition coil
How to fix
Refer to how to fix symptom number 3 above. For fixing the starter, you might want to refer to our guide on how to fix a failing starter.
Symptom #5: The car’s accessories won’t turn on
Starting a car requires a lot of electrical power. If there isn’t enough power to start the car, you can be sure that there won’t be enough for the car’s accessories either.
If this is the case, check the ignition system. Most car models’ accessories will depend on the ignition system to activate after all.
How to fix
Check the battery first. If it has a charge then check the fuse for blown ones or loose ones. Either way, if your car accessories won’t turn on, your car won’t turn on.
So, for this issue, we recommend getting some help from a tow-truck. If your car has a manual gearbox, then you can also try push-starting it. If it does start with the said method, then there’s probably nothing wrong with your ignition switch, and another part might be causing your problem instead.
A generic, no-brand car ignition switch
Ignition Switch replacement cost
As with most car parts, the price of a replacement ignition switch will vary depending on the age of the car, as well as the make and model. More complicated, modern cars with push to start ignition systems will cost more. Cars with keyless starting will also come with their own faults when they break and will cost more than a traditional turn-key system.
Luxury car brands regardless of whether it’s a simple turn-key ignition or a fancy keyless automatic start system will typically cost more.
Just to give you a perspective, a “generic” replacement ignition switch will cost somewhere between Php 300 to Php 500 and above depending on the brand.
To conclude, the symptoms of a bad ignition switch are shared with many other failing parts of a car. This includes the battery, the starter, the spark plugs, fuel system, among others. As we’ve said, it’s just good practice to consider it as among the chief causes whenever your car doesn’t turn on.
For more helpful car repair and car maintenance guides, keep reading here on Philkotse.com.
Symptoms of a bad ignition switch: FAQ
1. How much does an ignition switch replacement cost?
Answer: The cost of the replacement ignition switch and the labor will vary on the car and many other factors. For this, we recommend approaching a mechanic to get a quote.
2. Can I bypass the car's ignition switch?
Answer: Bypassing the car's ignition switch is possible, but it's a very technical undertaking and is best left to a professional.
3. Where can I buy a replacement ignition switch in the Philippines?
Answer: For a compatible replacement ignition switch, we recommend visiting your car’s dealership.
4. Can I just hotwire the car? I don’t have enough money to have my ignition key fixed.
Answer: Yes, you can, but this will require you to remove the plastic cover on the steering column, look for the wiring harness, and several other wires and connectors. Also, this will only work in cars that were produced in the mid-90s. Bottom line, we do not recommend this, and please don’t blame us if you’re mistakenly caught as a car napper.
5. Can I fix a bad ignition switch myself?
Answer: Of course, you can, but as we’ve pointed out in several guides before, addressing a car’s electronic issues isn’t as easy as replacing a car’s suspension system. As such, we recommend getting the services of an expert. In this case, a car locksmith or an electrician.
Cesar G.B. Miguel