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HomeTips & GuidesAuto Ignition Switches: All You Need to Know

Auto Ignition Switches: All You Need to Know

Understanding the inner workings of the auto-ignition switches is critical for any car owner. It helps you know the principles behind the ignition system and why your car may not start sometimes. 

Auto ignition switches come in many forms, from the old-school key-operated types to modern-day push buttons. But it’s essential to understand their different operation methods. 

Welcome onboard and learn everything about ignition switches in detail. 

What Is An Ignition Switch?

A Car’s Ignition Lock

A Car’s Ignition Lock

The car’s electrical system’s component controls the engine’s start, stop, and other functions. In conventional engines, an ignition switch features a key system, but the new ones are keyless. 

How Ignition Switches Operate

Starting a car. 

Starting a car. 

When you turn your car key or press a fob, you initiate the current transfer to your car’s cranking motor. So, whether it’s keyless or uses a key, any ignition switch’s underlying operation principle is similar. 

Types of Ignitions Switches

The age when all cars had only the essential switch is long gone, although classic autos still apply it. But there are other, more modern switches or simple buttons that you press, and the car starts. 

Key-Operated Ignition Switch

Inserting car keys into the keyhole for starting. 

Inserting car keys into the keyhole for starting. 

It features two main parts. First, there’s the tumbler and a specially designed unique key to each vehicle. During the car start, you insert the key into the terminal, which engages the tumbler to make an electrical connection. 

It spurs the starter motor into action, and the car starts. The opposite happens when you’re switching the vehicle off. 

Steering Wheels Lock

Car Steering Wheel lock Vector. 

Car Steering Wheel lock Vector. 

It is also a common feature in modern cars whereby the ignition switch is simply on the steering wheel. Therefore, to activate it, you must turn the steering wheel. 

Universal Ignition Switch

Per its name, this switch works perfectly for various autos, including motorcycles and typical cars. 

It is similar to the key-operated switch we have covered above, as it has a crucial system. Inserting the key initiates metal contacts that initiate an electrical connection, thus starting the car. 

Push-Button Ignition

Pressing Engine Start Button. 

Pressing Engine Start Button

It guarantees convenience when starting the car because it is a keyless system. All you need to do is press the brake pedal and push the button, and that’s all: the car starts. 

It is typically similar to unlocking your mobile phone, making it a darling for many drivers due to its simplicity. 

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Man using RFID protection pouch for car key. 

Man using RFID protection pouch for car key. 

This kind of switch is even smoother than the push button because you do no apparent action to start the car. You simply need to be near it, and the car RFID reader will decode the frequency of your car fob. What’s more interesting is that you can read it even while it’s in your pocket. 

Symptoms of a Bad Ignition Switch

If your ignition switch is not working, you will have problems starting your car’s engine, which can be inconvenient. So, it would be best to identify what is ailing the ignition switch. Some of the symptoms you should check include the following: 

Engine failure

The car engine won’t start. 

The car engine won’t start. 

It is the primary warning sign that the ignition switch is faulty. Remember that its primary role is to enable you to start the engine. Therefore, when it fails, there won’t be a means of current transfer to the starter motor, and your engine won’t start. 

Also, you could have an issue with the starter solenoid. It could be unresponsive or stuck, and the car won’t start. So, the overarching rule is always to ask your mech what’s ailing your vehicle. 

The car Starts and Stalls.

If your car’s ignition switch is faulty, it could still allow the engine to start but then stop after some time. Although the switch is still functional, it supplies insufficient current. 

In addition, if the ignition contacts are faulty, the car coils start and stall again. So again, it is best to engage a mechanic to check the issue and provide a remedy. 

Failure of Lighting Functionality

Dim Car’s Headlights. 

Dim Car’s Headlights. 

The car’s lighting also depends on the current moving to the starter motor. So, when the ignition switch fails, it could also impact these functions.  

The Starter Motor Makes No Sound

The car starter motor is unresponsive. 

The car starter motor is unresponsive. 

When the ignition switch is faulty, you will hear no sound because the motor receives no power. However, don’t be too quick to rule the ignition switch because the neutral safety switch also causes the problem. 

So before you conclude the ignition switch is faulty, set your car to neural. Next, try starting the engine again. If the motor still does not make a sound, the ignition switch is the issue. 

The car key won’t turn.

Have you ever had a car running after disengaging the key from the terminal? Or when you try starting the vehicle, the key is stuck in one position and doesn’t turn? It is another telltale sign of a malfunctioning ignition switch. 

Other possible causes of the problem include ignition lock cylinder faults. 

How to Replace an Ignition Switch in Your Vehicle?

Car Ignition Lock and Key. 

Car Ignition Lock and Key. 

Here are quick steps to fix a faulty ignition switch without involving a mechanic. 

  1. First, disengage the negative battery cable to ensure no current flows while undertaking this procedure.
  2. Next, locate the metal ignition cylinder. It is usually beneath the steering wheel’s trim, so consider removing it first. 
  3. Unscrew the ignition cylinder module and replace it with a like-for-like type. We recommend using an original cylinder similar to the one you’re removing. 
  4. Once done, restore the steering wheel’s trim to cover the ignition cylinder and test the new switch. If you connect everything perfectly, it should be up and working immediately. 


We hope you understand how an Ignition Switch works and how to tell when it is faulty. Using the guidelines we have provided, you can change your ignition switch seamlessly yourself. 

Hi I am Christa, sales manager of Cloom.

I have extensive expertise and experience in wiring harnesses and I believe I can help you.

And we have a very professional technical team who can clearly understand the customer’s needs and give professional suggestions and solutions after receiving the drawings.

If you also have wiring harness needs, please send me the drawing so that we can give you our quote and start our business.

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