Locksmith Tips: Ignitions

Don’t do it yourself! Please?

I’ve seen a lot, and I mean a lot, of ignitions that have been ruined by enterprising folks that don’t quite get it. Youtube isn’t always the best source of knowledge, I suppose. One gentleman had drilled his GM ignition out with a half inch drill bit and ended up destroying the ignition switch behind it. Another gentleman took his Honda high security ignition out of the switch because the key would not turn, a very common problem with early 2000’s Hondas, but had rendered the lock cylinder irreparable through his efforts. I’ve even seen ignitions that have been so weakened by the customer twisting back and forth with the wrong key that it snapped in half!


Here are my tips:

  • Don’t replace your ignition if you have lost the key, even if you do not have a transponder key. Locksmiths and dealerships can cut a key from your VIN or even do what I do and find your key code with automotive lockpicks or lock disassembly, but if you purchase an after-market ignition and lose the key to it, there is no way for anybody to access the key code for that ignition. I can pick open and decode Ford, GM, Mazda, and Honda ignitions, but for most other vehicles, if you have an after-market ignition there is little that can be done but replace it with yet another after-market ignition. Before being hasty and replacing your ignition, call me and get a key for a good price, because if you lose the after-market key you’ll have to go through the costly process of replacing your ignition a second time. And, as I described, sometimes through bad luck or ignorance the process of getting the first ignition out incurs even greater costs.

  • Sometimes, people steal your keys. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to replace or re-key door locks for various vehicles, but I have to discourage this every time because it is more costly than anything else. For quite a few manufacturers, door locks are unavailable but through dealers and their purchase can only be made by the vehicle owner. Then the labor cost of installing them is also more exorbitant. If your key is stolen and you have a vehicle with a transponder, my advice is to have all the keys deleted from the ECU and whatever keys you possess reprogrammed to the vehicle, something that any locksmith or mechanic should be able to do. This would prevent the stolen key from starting the vehicle. If you have a mechanical key without a transponder chip, the cheapest solution by far would be to purchase a steering wheel lock, but these locks are very easily destroyed or bypassed. The best solution for this situation would be a change to an after-market ignition with a different key. And if you take that route, you can always swap the original ignition back in when the vehicle is safe from theft. If your key has been stolen and you have a vehicle with a mechanical key, be sure to give me a call, as I can remove ignitions without damaging them.


  • For owners of Hondas after 2003, if your ignition ever stops working, this is the reason why. See the wafer sticking up over the top? That’s all that prevents the key from turning the ignition. Honda instituted a split wafer system that is poorly made. The wafers have a large hole on the top and a very small hole on the bottom, so once the spring pushes the wafer entirely up and out of that small hole just once, it is unlikely to go back in and will thus be stuck. But don’t worry! If you call me, I can take care of it for under a hundred dollars, whereas Honda will charge up to $1500, mechanics charge right around $700, and other locksmiths charge anywhere from $2-400.

  • Do not damage the immobilizer ring, no matter what you do! Don’t take a flathead and pry against it, don’t try to force it off, don’t cut the wires, don’t do anything to it! If you damage the immobilizer ring, your transponder key won’t be able to communicate with the vehicle. Replacing these rings is an ordeal that is much more of a pain than replacing the key, so please, whatever you do, don’t touch it! Here are a few examples of vehicles that I simply could not start because the ring had been damaged, and I do not carry immobilizer rings as part of my inventory.


See the copper in the ring? This vehicle was way down in Fountain, a few miles south of the racetrack, so I was understandably pissed when I got there and found that the customer had broken the immobilizer in half for no good reason. That copper was blowing out of the vehicle in a ten foot strand when I got there, and then the customer took a few hours to get on site, making a bad job into a bad day, so I had nothing better to do than unfurl the copper. There must have been over fifty feet of copper strand in there… and it’s so thin! If the ring gets cracked, if you pry at the ignition with a flathead like the customer from the first picture, if you damage the ring in any way, those strands will snap and you will no longer have a communicative immobilizer ring.


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