How to Remove an Ignition Lock Cylinder

A man works on a car.
  • 2-4 hours
  • Advanced
  • 150-350
What You'll Need
Ignition key
Core key
New core
Small screwdriver

Not all auto maintenance needs to be left to the pros.

If you are finding it tough to start your car, and have found no problem with the starter or alternator, you may need to replace the car's ignition lock cylinder. Although this job is usually done by a professional auto electrician or a mechanic, it is a job an enthusiastic DIYer can tackle on his or her own.

Most vehicles are fitted with a removable ignition lock cylinder or "interchangeable cores." These have the advantage of being removed easily. The procedure may vary between various manufacturers, but nearly all are altered using a special key.

Before you begin, you have to get the "core key" for the switch. The core key is like a master key. Rather than unlocking the car doors and locks, it enables the removal of the cylinder, or core, from the ignition lock casing. The core key is not used to unlock anything, but can unlock a gadget without a key. For instance, a screwdriver can be used to open a lock that does not have a core. Troubleshooting and replacing an ignition switch is work that you can do, if you follow the steps below.

Step 1 - Disconnect the Battery

Remove the negative cable terminal connection from the battery. Unscrew the screws to take out the upper and lower covers from the steering wheel column.

Step 2 - Remove the Steering Wheel

Lift the steering wheel up by pulling at the center cover. Disconnect the wires connected to the horn, and remove the steering wheel retaining nut and washer. Pull out the steering wheel to remove it from its shaft.

Step 3 - Strip off Wipers and Indicator Switches

Take off the windshield wiper and indicator switches by pulling them away.

Step 4 - Remove the Sleeve from the Steering Column

Remove the spacer sleeve from the steering column by sliding it up after you have removed the wiper and indicator switches.

Step 5 - Remove the Ignition Switch

Unscrew the mounting screws for the ignition switch. Pull the ignition switch out. Disconnect wires from the connector at the rear side of the ignition switch. Loosen the tabs to pull it out.

Step 6 - Remove the Core

Insert the core key into the core of the ignition switch, like any other key. Press down the retaining pin, using a small screwdriver. Turn the key about 10 degrees, to reach the off position. This will release the cylinder from the lock casing. When the key is free, it should be in the locked position.

Withdraw the key slowly from the lock. The cylinder will also pull out of the housing, as you withdraw the key. Please note that if you turn the key back before withdrawing, only the key will come out.

These steps will vary, or you may have to perform some additional steps, depending upon the make and model of the vehicle. Refer to the vehicle manufacturer’s manual for more details. Each type of car may have a different method for removing an ignition lock cylinder.