Exploring Automotive Electrical Faults

Key Component: How To Recognize Ignition Switch Problems

Many manufacturers now favor keyless ignition systems on their new vehicles. This design can feel modern and luxurious, but plenty of cars on the road still use traditional ignition switches. When you turn your car's key, you move the switch to one of several different positions. The "start" position is especially crucial since this allows power to flow from the battery to the starter motor.

Modern ignition switches are more than simple electrical components, however. Nearly any car manufactured within the last several decades likely includes additional security features that read data from a chip on the key. These features help to protect against theft. Like any other part, they may need repairs at some point.

What Happens When Your Ignition Switch Fails?

Most commonly, a faulty ignition switch will prevent you from starting your car at all. Although this is the inevitable endpoint of many problems, most failures begin with more subtle symptoms. Recognizing when your switch is beginning to fail can help you repair the issue before it leaves you stuck in a parking lot or unable to get to work in the morning.

Early symptoms of a failing lock cylinder often include physical issues with using the key. You may find it hard to turn the key or difficult to remove it once inserted. If the problem is severe enough, you may not be able to remove the key at all. In these cases, forcing the key out can potentially further damage the key or the cylinder.

Electrical issues can also develop when your ignition lock begins to fail. You may be able to turn the key to the "start" position, but your starter does not engage. The engine may also stall while driving if the switch suddenly disconnects and cuts power. Stalls caused by ignition switch problems typically occur without warning.

How Can You Diagnose and Repair an Ignition Switch Issue?

Unfortunately, replacing an ignition switch is not usually a straightforward job. While this can be frustrating if you prefer doing repairs yourself, there's a good reason: your ignition switch is a crucial part of your car's anti-theft system. The relative difficulty of replacing the ignition switch acts as an added layer of protection against theft.

If you suspect that your ignition switch is beginning to fail, then the best course of action is to take your car to a repair shop as soon as you can. Early inconveniences like a sticking key or occasional stalling can quickly turn more severe. Ignition problems left unaddressed for long enough can leave you stranded far from home or cause your car to break down on the side of the road suddenly.

For more information about car repair, contact a local auto shop.