Key Turns But Won’t Unlock Car Door (What Should You Do)

I know the frustration of having a key get stuck or the sickening feeling of it breaking in the door. Maybe it doesn’t even unlock the door when you’re trying to get somewhere. All you want to do is get started with your day, but the key isn’t behaving. Can anything be done when the key turns but it won’t unlock the car door?

The most common reasons keys get stuck in the car door are because of lack of lubrication, the door has frozen, or there’s some damage to the lock. Maybe you have dead or worn out batteries in the key fob. Changing the batteries or a little bit of lubrication will usually get the key working again.  

Some of these issues can be solved with a quick fix, while some unfortunately will require a locksmith. Here we will discuss the reasons your key is not working in the lock as well as some quick, cheap, and easy ways to fix the problem. 

Reasons Why Your Car Door Won’t Unlock

Key Fob has Dead or Worn-Out Batteries

It may be difficult to tell when a battery is going bad until it completely stops working. But if you’re experiencing sporadic functionality, or a weak signal, then chances are the battery is starting to wear out. The only way to test this theory is by using a battery tester or replacing the battery.

Fortunately, replacing these batteries isn’t very difficult. Use a flathead screwdriver or a small pry tool on the fob and carefully pry it open. Inside you’ll find a small, round, usually silver “button” battery.

The small numbers on the flat side of the battery tell you what kind it is. Be sure to replace it with the same kind. These batteries are usually sold at most places that sell batteries, and some car parts stores. 

It’s never a bad idea to keep a spare or two hanging around just in case you need to replace the battery again.

Old Lock

If you’ve owned the same car for many years, chances are the lock is starting to wear down. Constantly sliding the metal key against the metal parts in the lock will eventually wear it down. The pins inside could wear down so much that they no longer work.

There could also be corrosion, rust, or other debris in the lock that is preventing the lock and key from working properly. Have you been experiencing a loose key? Do you have to wiggle the key around to get it to unlock?

When the lock begins to wear down because of years of use, it needs to be replaced or reset by a locksmith. You may be able to replace the lock yourself if you’re a handy person. Otherwise, you should call a locksmith to repair the old lock and key for you.

Frozen Car Door Lock

Unless you live near the equator, you’ve probably experienced freezing weather before. Even though your car’s lock is made of metal, it can still freeze up and make it difficult to unlock. Fortunately, there are a few hacks you can use to unlock a frozen car door lock. 

If you have a lock de-icer, all you have to do is give the lock a quick spritz and then carefully work your key in. Don’t force it, just be gentle until you’re able to unlock it.

For those who don’t have a ready can of de-icer, you can still thaw the lock using a hair dryer. You don’t even have to use the hottest setting, medium or even cool will work. The hottest setting might damage the paint so be mindful, you’re only wanting to heat up the lock to above freezing.

Another way to thaw out your lock is by using a lighter. Just heat up the tip of your key a little bit. It doesn’t need to be red hot. Getting the key too hot could damage the plastic around the key, or even burn your fingers. 

Warm the key up enough to melt through the ice. Repeat the process until the lock is thawed out and you’re able to turn it without torquing on the key. 

Insufficient Lubrication

Any time metal rubs against metal you need some kind of lubrication to reduce wear and tear. Door locks have plenty of delicate mechanisms that don’t typically get any lubrication. Sometimes this is all the door lock needs to start working like new again. 

The key is to not use too much oil, as it can gum up and attract dirt. The best lubricant to use is teflon-based. Graphite and oil can gum up. 

To lubricate your lock, turn your key on its side and apply a single drop, or a very quick spray. If the key is dripping, shake off any excess and then slide the key in the lock a few times, then turn it a few times once it’s loosened up.

Broken Lock Tailpiece

Door locks are comprised of many small internal parts. Sometimes these pieces bend or break, such as the lock’s tailpiece. If you are turning the key, and it turns very easily and does not unlock the door, chances are it’s broken the tailpiece.

When this happens you can unlock another door and climb in from the back door, or passenger side. To fix the broken lock though, you’ll need the expertise of a locksmith. 

The Lock is Damaged

Sometimes the tiny pins, tumblers, or the cylinder could break. In this case, you probably won’t be able to even turn the key. Don’t force the key or you may end up bending or breaking it.

This problem is again usually a job for a trained locksmith. A locksmith can replace the tiny parts inside and reset the lock. You don’t have to get a new key if you don’t want to because they can use it as a template when they retool the lock. 

That’s good because if you have to get a different key, either you’ll have to carry two keys, one to unlock the door, and another to start the car, or you’ll have to get the ignition re-keyed.

The key unlocks the door but won’t start the car.

As long as it’s the same key that works both the lock and the ignition, your ignition cylinder may need to be repaired. Just like locks, the pins and tumblers can wear down over time. This can be repaired by a mechanic or by a locksmith.

Damaged Key

Years of key use can also wear down the points on the key to the point it can no longer unlock the door. There may also be damage to the key. I’ve seen keys get bent, and even had some of the teeth broken off. 

Key damage especially happens when you get extras made. Sometimes the new keys are made of cheaper metal that doesn’t last as long and can be damaged easier. 

The only way to get a damaged key to work again is to have a locksmith cut you a new key. If your key has an RFID chip, you should get the new one programmed so it works as well. While you’re there, opt for a stronger key. Sure it may cost a little more, but it’s better than having to get a new key made every year or so.

Those were the most common reasons your key won’t unlock your door, but what if your car has a deadlock system? What is a deadlocked door? Can you open it when this happens? Keep reading as we cover deadlock systems.

Key is stuck in the car door.

Don’t force it. Gently wiggle the key until you can get it out or spray it with a little lubricant. If these don’t work, you’ll probably have to get a locksmith to help you out.

What is a Deadlocked Car Door and How to Unlock It?

Modern cars often have deadlock systems for added safety. The most common deadlock systems are child safety locks. When these are activated, the door lever inside won’t engage the door latch.

This safety feature makes it harder for people to break into cars. Even if they break a window—which makes a lot of noise, and can trigger a car alarm—they won’t be able to open the door from the inside.

When using a key to unlock a deadlock car door, you may have to turn the key farther than you normally would to disengage the deadlock system. Most of us are used to unlocking the door by pushing a button on the fob or touching the handle with the key in our hands.

Because of this convenience, it’s easy to not realize you have to turn the key a bit farther to unlock the deadlock system. If your car isn’t letting you in, even when you turn the key, try giving it a little bit more of a turn to see if that works.

You don’t have to give it a hard twist, just a little pressure should do the trick. If that doesn’t work, move on to the next step. 

How do you unlock a stubborn lock?

Most times a stubborn lock just needs some lubricant. Dab a little on the key and insert it in the lock. Gently wiggle the key around to get the oil on the sensitive lock parts and you should be able to turn it soon.

Call A Locksmith

If none of the above tricks work to get you into your car, you’ll probably have to call a locksmith. Of course, you may be able to try another door, and then you can drive to a locksmith, or replace the lock yourself if you know how.

Many cars now don’t even have keyholes on other doors if they have them at all. In such cases, you may be able to unlock the doors by downloading an app. If you don’t have this then you’ll need professional help. 


There you have it, several reasons your key won’t unlock the door but it still turns. You may need some lubrication to loosen it, you may need to replace the battery, or you have a worn out key. 

In some of these instances, you may be able to fix the issue yourself, but if nothing works for you, then the next alternative is to call a locksmith. They can shape a new key, replace a defective lock, or repair the tiny mechanisms inside.