Car key extraction

Did your car key snap in the door or ignition? While it can be stressful if you’ve ever had a car key break or snap, it’s important to not make the situation worse by trying to force the key to turn.

Car locksmiths provide car key extraction services which remove any broken pieces of the key from the lock, as well as many other valuable services such as car key cutting to duplicate your broken car key and get you back on the road again safely and at a fair and competitive price.

Why car keys snap in locks

A broken car key does little to no good for getting you back on the road. Obviously, this happens most often when you go to open your doors or turn the ignition to get your car started, so it’s typically an inconvenience. Removing the broken pieces of a key from the lock can be risky, however, so it’s best not to try and force the key, to try to extract it yourself, or to mess around with it in any way.

Car keys can snap or break inside a lock for many reasons, but most often it comes down to a few common reasons:

  • Quality of the key: cheaply-made car keys can break, wear down, or snap sooner than high-quality keys. More importantly, keyless systems never snap because there is no physical key needed at all.
  • Frequency of use: the more a car key is used, the more wear and tear it experiences and the sooner it is likely to break or snap.
  • Maintenance: car keys should be kept in a dry and clean place to reduce friction and wear and tear that can consequently lead to them breaking or snapping.
  • Age: as time goes by, a car key can become more worn out and more brittle, leading to a higher chance of breaking or snapping inside of the lock mechanism.

In a 2018 survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), around 4 million Americans experienced problems with their car keys (or locks) in 2017. It’s impossible to say exactly how many of these problems were from snapped or broken keys, but if it’s a portion of that four million, it’s safe to say that it happens somewhat rarely.

Key extraction

Table of contents:

What are car keys made of?

Car keys can be made from various materials, depending on the type of key and on the specifications of the key manufacturer. The main types of materials used to make car keys include:

  • Brass & nickel-plated brass: brass is quite common on household keys and was frequently used in older standard car keys, whereas nickel-plated brass tends to be used for security keys due to its corrosion-resistant properties.
  • Steel: a strong, durable, and hard-wearing material, steel car keys are quite resistant to snapping and breaking.
  • Aluminum: although less common for standard physical keys, aluminum is widely used on many key fobs and transponder keys today.
  • Plastic: although never to be used for the key’s bitting, plastic is extremely common for key heads (e.g. transponder keys or VATS keys), key fobs, and keyless entry systems.
  • Carbon fiber: some cutting-edge car models use carbon fiber keys, an extremely durable and lightweight material.

How auto locksmiths extract broken car keys

Have you ever wondered how locksmiths extract broken pieces of a key from a lock? The process can vary depending on the circumstances, but generally, a locksmith will use either an extractor tool or a more comprehensive broken car key removal kit to get the job done.

An extractor tool is a simple handheld tool consisting of a handle and a long, flat piece of metal, usually with a slight hook at the very end. The extractor is inserted into the key profile and gradually plunged to where the broken key piece(s) is located. The locksmith then gently uses the hook to drag out the broken piece(s). Automotive locksmiths may have a wide array of these extractors in slightly different sizes and shapes to facilitate working with different types of lock mechanisms.

Sometimes, the key may be too difficult to remove with a key extractor tool alone. In such circumstances, a car locksmith may use a combination of tools such as needles, jigsaw-toothed extractors, and some lubricant to extract the broken key pieces.

When none of the above work, the locksmith may have no other option than to disassemble the lock mechanism altogether. This may involve taking apart the door lock or ignition cylinder, for example. Consequently, you may need to have the lock completely replaced if the mechanism has been damaged, which can end up costing a lot more than simply extracting the broken key. For these types of reasons, it’s best to only work with reputable and experienced automotive locksmiths near you.

Use an auto locksmith to extract broken car keys

Extracting broken keys from a lock or an ignition cylinder is a task best left to qualified car locksmiths near you. While it is possible to purchase a lockpicking set for yourself as a hobbyist, including extractor tools, not knowing what you’re doing could exacerbate the problem and lead to even more frustration and greater costs to get the job done right.

Automotive locksmiths can help extract broken car keys, program a new key for your vehicle, and even duplicate car keys while you wait, so the most time-efficient and least risky option is to call a car locksmith for these types of situations.

How to replace broken car keys

Once your broken car key has been fully extracted from the lock mechanism, you’ll need to get a new car key duplicated. Fortunately, car locksmiths can create a duplicate car key from a broken one or even create a brand-new key without the original on hand.

The method used to duplicate a car key can vary quite a bit depending on the vehicle’s make and model, its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and the corresponding type of key required, but generally the whole process should take around half an hour to an hour, including key duplication and programming as required.

Cost of extracting a car key from a lock

If you’re wondering how much it costs to extract a broken car key, the answer is a big ‘it depends.’ Generally, the cost to extract a broken car key in the United States can vary from around $80 to $200. If you require a duplicate set of car keys, the cost will be added onto this figure.

One reason why the cost can vary so much is from the amount of labor and complexity involved in extracting the key. If the lock mechanism needs to be fully disassembled, the cost will naturally be much higher than if the key were to be extracted in one go. Consequently, a simple car key extraction job might only take a few minutes whereas a full lock disassembly can take an hour or longer.

Normally, car key extraction jobs tend to be quick and easy for a skilled locksmith. One of the biggest reasons why a job might require disassembling the lock is because the customer tries and fails to force the key to turn, thereby making the problem worse. If at all possible, refrain from touching the key at all and let an automotive locksmith handle the job.

Frequently asked questions about car key extraction

What should I do if my car key breaks?

If your car key breaks, the most important thing to do is to not touch it. Instead, call an auto locksmith in your state to request broken key extraction services. It is helpful to notify the locksmith of which lock was affected, the type of key you have, and the make and model of your vehicle so that they can use the most appropriate tools for the job.

Can I extract a broken car key myself?

Yes, it is possible to extract a broken car key by yourself using a key extractor tool, but it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt to do so. DIY car key extraction methods may result in further damage to the lock, which can in turn lead to more costly repairs later on. Instead, seek the assistance of a professional automotive locksmith near you.

Will I need a new car key after extraction?

Yes, in almost all cases a duplicate key will need to be made after the broken car key has been successfully extracted from the lock. In cases of severe damage, the entire lock assembly may need to be replaced, although most of the time the lock will be perfectly fine after the key piece(s) has been extracted.

How can I avoid future car key breakage?

To avoid having your car keys break or snap in the future, it is best to keep your keys in a dry and clean place. Also, refrain from turning your key with excessive force and instead turn your car keys in a gentle motion.

How long does the broken car key extraction process take?

It can take anywhere from just a few minutes to an hour or longer to extract a broken car key from a lock mechanism, depending on the circumstances. Most of the time, the broken key piece(s) can be extracted relatively quickly and with minimal effort with the skilful use of key extractor tools from a patient and qualified car locksmith.

What if I do not have a spare key?

If you do not have a spare key and your original key has snapped inside of the lock or ignition, a car locksmith can create a brand new key for you after extracting the broken car key piece(s). While it is generally good advice to have a spare set of car keys, rest assured that an experienced locksmith can generate a brand new car key with or without the original if this ever happens to you.

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Car key extraction services near you

A broken or snapped car key can be frustrating to deal with, but it doesn’t need a cost a fortune to solve. Wherever you live in the United States, there are qualified and trustworthy car locksmiths that can assist you with car key extraction services.

Auto Locksmiths has over 400 vetted and approved car locksmiths operating in towns, cities and counties in the US. Use our network and get no-obligation quotes from dependable car locksmiths near you today.