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Replacing an ignition lock

November 19, 2007

About two weeks ago, the ignition key broke off unexpectedly in the lock cylinder of one of our cars while trying to start it.  The car has some age to it, and the lock was becoming a bit stubborn, and this led to metal fatigue in the key.  Or perhaps, the car knows we are thinking about selling it.  

What to do?   As part of the key was visible, we might have been able to  extract it with some pointed tweezers and then use a spare key.  But, that would mean calling someone to give us a ride home first.  The alternative was to push the key all the way into the lock and use the remainder of it to turn and start the car.   We could drive home, but the balance of the key would be irretrievably lost in the lock, and we’d have to replace the lock.


Obviously, I went with the second option as I have replaced locks before, and conveniently forgot that they were on 1970’s model cars.    Had I known that the replacement lock was going to cost just over $200 on this Nissan, I might have opted for the “Call a friend” option.

 I disassembled the steering column, and the lower dash – and got to the lock easily enough.  The lock encircled the steering column and employed a top clamp and two special bolts that once tightened , shear off the bolt heads so that it can’t be taken apart. ( In the photo, the top clamp has been cut through along with the part of the bolts themselves.  The two bits are the bolt heads of the replacement unit that shear off once it is installed – diabolical.)

I went over my alternatives for removal of the lock.   Bolt cutters ? Too tight to get them in there.  Drill? Too close to the dash to drill the bolts out.    Hammer and cold chisel?   The word “Airbag” stared back at me from the steering wheel.  No,  the 4 lb mini-sledge was out of the question, as were the SDS hammer, and air chisel.    The Oxy-acetylene and plasma cutters were certainly out, and my angle grinders were  certainly too large to fit.    The clearance to the dash was too tight even for the Sawzall(tm).  

All the fun tools were terribly wrong for this job.  It was going to require restraint and finesse, neither of which are among my better qualities.   I wandered over to my neighbor’s garage and borrowed a battery powered moto tool with a fiber reinforced composite grit wheel.   Five minutes later and the old part was neatly cut free.   Fifteen minutes later, and all was reassembled and working as it should.

This was one of those times when less is more.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2007 3:21 am

    If it were anyone else, your 2nd to last paragraph (“I went over my alternatives…”), would sound extremely odd 😀 Glad to hear she’s up & running again

  2. August 9, 2008 1:19 am

    My key broke off in the ignition lock cylinder of my 1993 Saturn SC-1. I have removed the cover of the steering column, but cannot find the release tab referred to in the Saturn manual, and the pictures are dark, and unclear. Am I going to have to remove the steering column in order to get access to the release tab? If so, I think I”ll just put the whole thing back together, and leave it to a mechanic.

    Optional Information:
    1993 Saturn SC-1 SOHC

    Already Tried:
    My key broke off in the ignition of my 1993 Saturn SC-1. I am attempting to remove the ignition lock cylinder, in hopes that I can pull the piece of broken key out of the ignition lock. I have removed cover of steering column, but cannot see where the release tab is located, as shown in the repair manual. The pictures in the manual are rather ambiguous, dark, and unclear.
    Customer (name blocked for privacy)

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