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DIY Car Repair – Have Hammer Will Travel

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yesterday started out like a normal Saturday – had breakfast, made my grocery list, and set out for the farmer’s market and grocery store. At least that was the plan. However, when I got into the car and turned the key, nothing happened. Literallly nothing. The key wouldn’t even turn. It was like it was frozen in place. So, I did the normal thing, and began jiggling the steering wheel from side to side while trying to turn the key. And that’s how I inadvertently locked the steering wheel.

So now I not only had a frozen ignition switch, but also a frozen steering wheel. Out of the car, back into the house, and given that it was a Saturday, when every car repair shop in America (or at least my tiny corner of it) was closed, I did the only thing left to me. Fired up the computer, launched Safari and googled the problem for a solution.

Now I have to confess, this happened to me once before, and the outcome wasn’t great. I was about 2 miles down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere without a phone. To make a long story short, I hiked to the nearest place I could place a call, and after the first tow-truck refused to come, got my mechanic on the line who summoned a truck for me. The upshot was a new ignition switch for the car and accompanying bills.

So back to yesterday. Google very helpfully displayed a long list of responses to “1999 Nissan key won’t turn.” About the first 3 pages of responses (okay a slight exaggeration) were along the line of, “jiggle the key while turning the wheel back and forth.” Not helpful since neither was in jiggling condition. So I googled, “locked steering wheel,” and was directed to jiggle the key while trying to turn the wheel back and forth. Hmmm…. Eventually, buried way down on the list of searches was a thread in which the responder mentioned the possibility of a problem with the tumblers in the switch going out of alignment and causing the key not to work, necessitating a new ignition switch. Flashbacks to several years ago and an expensive repair bill.

Before I resigned myself to that, and a weekend imprisoned at home (I live too a bit too far out in the countryside for walking or public transportation to be an option), I took one last look at the search list. There was one more thread that might be promising, so I opened it. In it was a reply from someone suggesting that lightly tapping the ignition lock with a hammer might allow the tumblers to fall back into alignment. A hammer? Surely not! But then, what did I have to lose? So, arming myself with a small hammer, I went back outside to the car and tapped lightly a couple of times on the ignition lock, inserted the key, and miracle of miracles, it jiggled! Then, while attempting to turn the key, I jiggled the steering wheel, felt the key turn, the steering wheel unlock, and the engine kick over. A hammer! Who knew? Well, apparently the savior that posted to that thread, and now, me.

I turned the car on and off a couple more times just to be sure, then went off to run my errands. I did stop to throw the hammer in the trunk, though. Never hurts to be prepared.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    lol, good old percussive maintenance...
    1263 days ago
    Sort of the same thing happened to me... I was driving one late afternoon and I stopped at my destination and the keys in my ignition would not turn to the left so that I could turn the car off. I tried and tried and suddenly they BROKE off ! There was tiny bit of key left in the ignition so I drove to place after place to get help and then home to get the spare and finally to the car Dealership way on the other side of PDX and left it there ......This was on a Friday and we have major commute issues between here and PDX Thank fully they had a loaner. I did need a NEW ignition but It could have ALL been so much worse and more expensive if I would have needed a rental car etc.....they had my car for a WEEK The hammer idea may have helped me re -set the ignition to get the key out... Any way GOOD STUFF Judy
    1333 days ago
    You did it! What a great story it makes now that all is well! Thanks for sharing.
    1337 days ago
  • JANET552
    I am so glad everything worked out ... and that you are going to carry that hammer around. Your experience is definitely an endorsement for google as well as the patience to keep searching cause you might just find the perfect solution!!
    1338 days ago
    Wow!!! Resourceful and persistent. Glad you didn't have to get towed and spend a ton of money!
    1339 days ago
  • KAYDE53
    I would have been in same boat here, no one open on Saturday! Kudos on your cleverness and bravery! I probably would have been afraid I'd make matters worse; although if I were mad enough I might have taken the hammer to the whole car!! Lol
    1340 days ago
  • KAREN608
    Love this as it had a happy ending, and no expense to you but time. Peter, Paul and Mary had a song, If I had a Hammer...... but in my household we also say when something doesn't work, we need a bigger hammer. For once hitting something worked, love it.
    1340 days ago
    OMGoodness! I'm glad you ... and Google ... figured it out! Google is my first "go to" when anything dies now. What did we do before???
    So glad you're good to go now...literally!
    1340 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/20/2017 6:22:51 PM
  • LINDAK25
    Love it! Google is the best, isn't it? I had a steering wheel that intentionally locked. It was a security feature. You had to turn the key while turning the steering wheel to unlock it. I've never had the ignition switch go out of alignment, but I did have one short out on me. That was exciting, there were flames and crackles! The only time I've used a hammer on the car was when the solenoid valve would get stuck.
    1340 days ago
    Love this story! Isn't Google wonderful? I've had this same experience with other non-car-related problems, where I'd have to go a few pages deep and follow different repetitive threads and then all of a sudden, there was the answer. It's like we get to play detective with all this knowledge at our fingertips.
    1340 days ago
    1340 days ago
    Good for you for continuing to dig into those posts! Glad you got it fixed. PS Lots of auto places open Sat where I live on LI (my son is a mechanic)
    1340 days ago
    Good info. Fixed. Few items this way myself from YouTube
    1340 days ago
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