Key Turns But Won’t Unlock Car Door: 3 Reasons With Fixes

We’ve all faced those misfortune days when we’re in a rush to get somewhere but the car door lock won’t open. The majority of car owners prefer keeping their car doors locked to ensure their valuables are kept safe and someone can’t steal the vehicle. 

However, if the key turns and the car door lock won’t open, then, you might be stuck somewhere. If you too have been in a similar situation where the car key turns fine but the door lock won’t open, we understand how frustrating it can be.

There could be a couple of reasons why your car key turns but won’t unlock car door. Some of these include damaged car locks, damaged car keys, frozen car locks, lack of lubrication, or dead car key fob batteries.

a key turns but won't unlock car door

Top 3 Reasons Why Your Car Key Turns But Won’t Unlock Car Door

#1. Damaged Lock

It is very much likely that you are dealing with a damaged car lock if your car key can be turned when inserted in it, but the door lock won’t open. One of the reasons why car locks can get damaged is not using the key much. You might have been opening your car door via remote or fob too often. 

Another reason why the lock could have been damaged is due to blockage from dirt and debris. Besides, the door lock can also freeze in extreme temperatures. If you have been in an accident lately, the lock may have been damaged due to some impact.

Damaged Car Lock

Also, there are two parts of a car lock that might have been broken: the car lock cylinder and the lock assembly. If the key turns but won’t unlock the car door, then most likely, the lock cylinder has been damaged. 

Solution: If your car lock has been damaged, then, you need to repair or replace it. Here’s an article to help you fix your car door lock yourself. Try lubricating the lock and thaw it if you suspect it has been frozen. Else, you’ll have to seek the assistance of a professional locksmith for repairing or installing a new car door lock.

#2. Damaged key

A simple reason why your car key turns but doesn’t unlock the door might be due to the key being damaged. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your car key has to be broken into pieces necessarily. It might not be broken visibly but perhaps the grooves in the key could have worn down

If the depth on one or more of these grooves is incorrect, then the key won’t match the internal mechanism of the door lock. Keys are prone to wear and tear and with constant use along with lack of maintenance, they are quite likely to get damaged.

Solution: If your car key has been damaged physically, you need a locksmith to cut out a new car key via the key code registered in your vehicle. Duplicating your current car key will just create a copy of the damaged key. If you have a transponder car key, then the new replacement key will have to be programmed to open your car’s lock.

#3. Dead or Worn-Out Key Fob Batteries

It is very much possible that the batteries in your car key fob are dead. This is why the keys are turning but can’t fulfill their purpose because they’re out of juice. Batteries can run out from time to time, so this is a pretty common issue. 

How to diagnose if your key fob batteries are not working?

If your vehicle hasn’t been responding to your commands and signals sent from the key fob, it is very likely that the batteries are worn out. Also, the key fob may work sometimes, the buttons on the fob need a lot of pressing, and the car key fob might not be working from a distance. However, this might not be the only reason why your key isn’t working. 

Solution: If you are sure that car key fob batteries are dead or worn-out, you need to replace them. Check out the car manual and find the specific battery type that your key fob uses. Also, there might be some instructions to change the key fob batteries in the manual. 

Or else, you can find the guidelines online. You can get the car key fob batteries at any local hardware store, at Target, Walmart, etc, or online.

#4. Old Lock

Old Lock

Sometimes, when your car has been in use for several years, it is possible that your lock has become old and needs some lubrication to work properly. Also, there could be some dust or dirt stuck, or some rust that needs removing.

Solution: Use a professional car lock lubricant to lubricate the lock gears and have them working smoothly. Also, if something is stuck in the car, then the lubricant will help get rid of it. You can also use the video tutorial given below for reference while fixing the jammed car door lock:

#5. Frozen Car Door Lock

If you live in a place where the temperature drops to extremely low levels quite frequently, then, it is possible that some parts of your car lock might get frozen. This can prevent certain lock mechanisms from working and turning properly while you turn your car key in the lock. Not to worry because this issue is quite easy to fix as well.

Solution: Get a de-icer to thaw the car door lock. It is quite easy to use and you will be able to defrost your car door lock in a jiffy. Also, if you don’t have a de-icer, you can use a blow dryer on the car door lock to melt the ice.

We also written the article based on the problem of car door won’t shut.

#6. Poor Lubrication

One of the main reasons why a car key turns but doesn’t unlock the door is insufficient lubrication within the lock mechanism. 

To solve this problem, use a graphite or silicone-based lubricant designed specifically for locks

  • Apply the lubricant on the key gently and place it in the lock. 
  • Work the key in and out a few times to ensure that the lubricant is dispersed evenly.

#7. Poorly Installed Car Lock

Another possible cause for a car key turning without unlocking the door is an improperly installed lock. Misaligned components or a poorly fitted lock can make it difficult for the key to engage the mechanism and unlock the door. 

To resolve this issue, it’s best to consult a professional locksmith or your car dealership. They can diagnose the problem and make necessary adjustments or replacements, ensuring that your lock functions as intended.

#8. Dust Particles in Car Lock 

The lock cylinder may get clogged with dust and dirt, which prevents the key from properly engaging the mechanism. 

To resolve this, blast away any debris or dust that may have become caught inside the lock using pressurized air from a can

  • Give the can a few brief bursts while holding it a few inches away from the lock to remove any debris. 

#9. Broken Tailpiece

Lastly, a broken tailpiece within the lock mechanism can also prevent your car door from unlocking, even if the key turns as expected. If the tailpiece is damaged or broken, the lock may not function properly. 

In this case, it’s essential to seek the help of a locksmith to replace the broken part and restore the lock’s functionality.

By addressing these potential causes, you’ll be well on your way to regaining easy access to your vehicle.


Below I’ve listed the most frequently asked questions related to car lock problems:

How much does it cost to fix a broken door lock?

Fixing a broken door lock typically costs $100-$200, depending on the issue and labor fees. However, depending on the car’s model and brand, you could pay upto $600 to fix a broken door lock. Prices may vary based on your location and the complexity of the problem.

Can a car lock be replaced?

Yes, car locks can be replaced effectively. Both skilled locksmiths and car dealerships have the expertise to handle this task, ensuring your vehicle remains secure. The cost of lock replacement depends on the make and model of your car.

How do you know if your key fob needs to be replaced?

Signs indicating key fob replacement include erratic functioning, reduced operational range, and dashboard warning lights. These symptoms suggest that the fob’s battery or internal components might be failing, and it’s best to consult a professional for assessment and replacement if necessary.

What do I do if my car won’t unlock in cold weather?

In cold weather, if your car won’t unlock, try gently heating the key or lock using a portable heater, warm breath, or a de-icer spray. These methods help unfreeze and unjam the lock, allowing you to access your vehicle without causing damage.

Should vehicle door locks be oiled?

Since oil can attract dirt and grime, the debris accumulation can reduce lock effectiveness over time. Therefore, we recommend lubricating vehicle door locks with silicone or graphite spray. Proper lubrication maintains smooth lock operation and prevents jamming.

Final Words

Car keys not working could become a big problem if you don’t deal with it properly. Read through the above points thoroughly to ensure that you can properly diagnose the exact problem you might be facing with your car keys. Hopefully, this article will help you solve your problem of key turns but won’t unlock the car door. If not, then you must contact an automotive locksmith to keep from damaging your car lock or key any further.

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