Mounted to the steering column behind the ignition cylinder is the ignition switch. This part is responsible for activating nearly all of the electrical systems onboard your vehicle. When the switch fails, you’ll notice one or more problems that you’ll want to address right away.
Symptoms of a Bad Ignition Switch
Ignition switch problems can range from flickering interior lights to something more severe, such as a no-start condition from your vehicle. If you notice one or more of the symptoms below, it may be time to have your ignition switch checked by a professional.
Engine Won’t Start
A bad ignition switch won’t be able to supply power to the starter motor, ignition system, and other engine controls, preventing the engine from starting. Keep in mind, however, that engine issues may also be caused by other electrical and mechanical problems, such as a dead battery or a faulty starter solenoid. To be sure, it’s best to consult a certified mechanic for an accurate diagnosis.
Vehicle Starts and Suddenly Stalls
In some cases, a faulty ignition switch will still allow your vehicle to start. However, the switch may only provide momentary power to the fuel pump and ignition system, eventually causing your vehicle to stall.
Ignition switch issues may also prevent you from restarting your vehicle due to worn-out ignition contacts, which have become more sensitive to heat and vibration.
Intermittent Loss of Lighting and Other Accessories
A defective ignition switch may cause your vehicle’s interior lights, dashboard lights, and other accessories to turn off momentarily.
Silent Starter Motor
A silent starter motor can indicate a bad ignition switch. However, if you hear any clicking sounds from the motor, you may be dealing with something other than an ignition switch problem.
Difficulty Turning the Key
A stuck key is another symptom of a defective ignition switch, which may leave the engine running even after it is removed.
How the Ignition Switch Works
Your vehicle’s ignition switch has four positions that activate different systems:
The lock/off position cuts off power from all circuits and locks the steering wheel. For automatic transmission vehicles, this position also locks the transmission gear.
This position activates accessories, such as the radio, dashboard lights, and center console.
The ignition switch’s third position powers the vehicle’s engine controls and other circuits except for the starter motor.
The start position activates the starter motor and engine controls and allows the driver to crank the engine.
What Causes Ignition Switch Problems?
There are several reasons why your vehicle’s ignition switch may fail. Some of these include broken springs, worn ignition switch contacts, and temperature problems, which may prevent you from even getting your vehicle out of the garage. But if you do manage to get your engine running while having a defective ignition switch, it’ll most likely shut off while you’re driving.
A thorough diagnosis must be made to ensure that your vehicle is in need of an ignition switch replacement. An ignition switch replacement can cost you anywhere between $20 and $90 on parts and another $60 to $100 on labor. Costs may vary depending on your specific vehicle model as well as your location.
Keep in mind that installing a new ignition switch may require you to disable the steering column, which may deploy the vehicle’s airbags if done incorrectly. Some vehicles also require removing the air conditioning ducts.
To be safe, have a certified mechanic do it instead. Failure to replace a faulty ignition switch may leave you stranded in the middle of the road or cause your ride to stall in traffic, which is dangerous not only for you but for other drivers as well.
Products Mentioned in this Guide
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.