What Are Bad Ignition Switch Symptoms?

The key electrical component of your vehicle is the ignition switch. It is commonly found behind the car’s lock cylinder. The ignition switch works together with the ignition lock cylinder in the process of starting the car. Drivers need to be careful and pay attention to the bad ignition switch symptoms. After a long period of time, it can start having issues since it can get worn out. There are six clear symptoms that will indicate a problem with the ignition switch. I will help you learn how to recognize them.

What Is the Ignition Switch?

The ignition switch can refer to two different car components. The first meaning of the ignition switch is the car’s lock cylinder drivers use when inserting the key. The second meaning is the car’s electronic switch that is located behind the car’s lock cylinder. It might be surprising to find out that some vehicles have one unit for two different components. But, in the majority of cars, these components are separate. I’ll be discussing in this article the issues with the electronic switch found behind the car’s lock cylinder.

How Does an Ignition Switch Function?

When a driver turns on the key, the ignition switch changes several positions in order to power various systems in the car. Generally, when you turn the first position, the switch activates electrical accessories; when you turn the second position, you give power to the ignition systems and the fuel. When you turn the key to the third position, you start the engine.

A young woman driving a car
The ignition switch is instrumental when you want to start your vehicle

What Are the Bad Ignition Switch Symptoms?

When the ignition switch wears out, you might start having problems when starting the car and driving off-road or in traffic. Just like when a clutch master cylinder, as well as a car thermostat, goes bad, you can first notice the clear symptoms. Here are the main symptoms of bad ignition you should know about.

You Cannot Start the Engine

If you are unable to start the engine, you might need to repair your ignition switch. Since it is the main component that will send power to your starter motor, ignition controls, and engine controls, it is the key culprit when you cannot get your vehicle going. The systems will not get the power that is needed.

The Vehicle Stalls While You Are Driving

The sure sign that something is wrong with your ignition switch is stalling. When your engine is working and the car all of a sudden stalls, you might need to fix the issue. In case you don’t pay attention to this symptom, the ignition switch will fail. The fuel and ignition systems will not get any power, and the engine will stop working. It will depend on the specific issue whether you will be able to restart the vehicle after a short period of time.

When You Start the Car And It Immediately Stalls

Do you have an unpleasant problem that when you start your car, it immediately stalls or the engine keeps working for a bit, and then it suddenly stalls? When your switch starts failing while it is at its “on” position, which is supposed to power the ignition and fuel system, the situation will look like this – the vehicle will start and then immediately stall.

The issue here lies in the fact that the switch is going to supply power to the ignition system and the car’s fuel pump; when you turn the key, the engine will then start. But, when it fails while it’s in the “on” position when the driver withdraws the key, the ignition and fuel systems will get cut off.

Problems With Removing or Turning the Key

Do you struggle with turning on the engine? Sometimes the key can get stuck while removing or turning it. This could indicate that the switch has been worn out. The key cannot probably connect to the ignition switch correctly. What can also happen, the engine can keep running even when the driver has removed the car key.

Problems With Powering on Car’s Accessories

You should suspect that something is wrong with the ignition switch when you are having issues with powering on your car’s accessories. If you insert the key and turn it to the position “acc,” the car’s accessories, like the dashboard lights, center console, and interior lights, need to be powered on by the ignition switch. 

When you insert the key and nothing happens (your dashboard and lights don’t get turned on) then the lock cylinder or ignition switch needs to be fixed. This could also happen in case you have issues with the wiring or the fuse. This is why it’s best to have a professional inspect and diagnose the main culprit.

There Are No Noises Coming From the Engine

It’s obvious that when you are unable to activate the electrical system, you won’t hear the typical noises from the engine when you turn the key to the “start” position. Instead, you might need to deal with clicking and grinding noises. If this happens, pay attention to your ignition switch.

Do You Want to Test Your Ignition Switch? Here Is How to Do It

After you’ve detected that there might be a problem with your ignition switch, you can run a quick test on your own just to determine where the real problem lies. There are easy ways you can use to do this. Here are the explanations for each one.

Use a Multimeter

The first option is to get your multimeter (I use KAIWEETS Digital Multimeter) and start running the test. Begin by turning your ignition switch off. Then, take the multimeter’s positive probe and attach it to the power feed wire of the ignition switch. The multimeter’s negative probe should be attached to some unpainted metal that can be found in the car.

Turn the car key to the on position and set the voltage measurement on your multimeter. Then, have a look at the reading on the multimeter. Remember the voltage. In case you discover that you are picking up low voltage from the car battery, less than 80 or 90 percent, the ignition switch is faulty.

Use a Test Light

When you don’t possess a multimeter, you can run the test with a 12 V test light. The most popular is Premium LED Bulb Automotive Circuit Tester. It’s a simple and straightforward process. All you need to do is turn your key to the “off” position and then get the module’s cable connector disconnected. Next, the S terminal of the starter motor solenoid needs to be removed. The engine will be prevented from starting in this way.

The following step is to turn your car key to the position “run.” The red wire and your test voltage should be connected. The same thing has to be done at the ignition coil’s battery post. Next, the key needs to be turned to the position “start” and connect the ignition switch’s white wire. At this moment, your lamplight should get turned on. In case there’s no light, it’s evident that the switch is not working properly.

Use the Spark Plugs

Find a spark plug that is located in the engine. Take one of the wires that are connected to the spark plug and remove it. One old spark plug needs to be inserted into the boot end of the plug. Next, put the plug’s metal part on a metal surface somewhere close.

Have someone start the engine and help you during the entire testing process. You should look at an old spark plug and search for a spark. In case there aren’t any sparks, you should replace the switch. You can also use a spark plug tester such as Ram-Pro Inline Spark Tester.

Use Ignition Coil

A frequently used test is one with the vehicle’s ignition coil. However, for this test, you require a multimeter that is set to DC voltage. What you should do is take the black probe and put it on the negative terminal of the car’s battery. Next, take your red probe and put it on the coil’s positive terminal.

Turn the car key to the position “on,” but don’t start the engine. Read the numbers that appear on the multimeter. You should be presented with 12V on the multimeter when your ignition system is functioning properly. But, a reading that is lower than 12V indicates an issue with the wiring, coil, or ignition switch.

For the test with the ignition coil, you will need to use the multimeter

Our Advice For Anyone Who Has a Bad Ignition Switch

When you determine that the cause of the above-mentioned symptoms is a faulty ignition switch, you should replace it. This can bring about costs somewhere between $30 and $100 for the parts, but for labor, you would have to pay an extra $50 to $100. Of course, you should expect differences in prices depending on the model and make of the new or used car and your location.

You should be aware that replacing an ignition switch might entail disabling the steering column. There is a chance that the airbags will get deployed in case this process is done improperly. Therefore I recommend not doing this on your own. It’s not as simple as changing a flat tire. The best thing to do is to call up a mechanic. Replacing an ignition switch incorrectly might create problems like having the vehicle stall every now and then or the switch failing unexpectedly while driving, which is especially risky when driving at night.

Cars get a salvage title in one of three scenarios - accidents, theft, and force majeure
The best decision you can make is to call your mechanic to fix the problem

Are You Able to Jump Start a Vehicle That Has a Faulty Ignition Switch?

Yes, jump-starting a car is possible. If you want to accomplish this, you need to find the solenoid and the positive terminal of the battery. Then, connect these two components. The solenoid needs to be disconnected from the ignition wiring. Use a screwdriver and attach your solenoid to the post where the switch is connected. After this is finished, the car should start.

A van driving down the road
Jump start the car with the help of a solenoid

How Can You Know That You Have a Faulty Ignition Lock Cylinder?

Turning the key will be difficult when the driver inserts the key and the lock is worn out and old. If there is a problem with the lock or the key, you will struggle with turning the key while the lock might jam. A chipped key or cylinder can also be the reason why you cannot remove the key from the ignition lock easily.

Can the Car Start Without the Ignition Switch?

Yes, there is a way to start the car without the ignition switch. First, remove the shroud underneath the steering wheel. You will find brown starter wires as well as the battery’s red wires. Red wires should be twisted and then you can touch brown wires in order to start the car.

car keys
In case you want to start the car, use red and brown wires underneath the wheel

Now You Know How to Get Your Vehicle Up and Running

As soon as you notice that the car is stalling, that you are unable to turn on the lights and the dashboard, and that the engine is making cracking noises, it’s time to inspect and test the ignition switch since these are the typical symptoms of a faulty switch. You can test the ignition switch by using spark plugs, a multimeter, a test light, and an ignition coil. Once you determine the right cause, I recommend that you go to your mechanic and fix the problem. Just like when replacing U-joints, if you do it inadequately you might have problems while driving and starting the car.