NAPA Auto Parts Sterling, VA
45449 Severn Way
Sterling,  VA  20166-8918
(703) 378-6666
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Ignition Switches & Lock Cylinders

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Not Like the Olden Days

The ignition process of a vehicle may seem fast and seamless, but it actually requires the synchronization of many moving parts and pieces within your vehicle. In the early 1900s, automobiles were started by the driver manually cranking their engine to life. The crank, usually located at the front of the vehicle, was removed after turning over the ignition. This ignition method, while modern for its time, was still extremely dangerous to the operator. Engines could backfire if spark timing wasn't lined up, leading to burns, broken bones and more.

By the 1920s, most cars on the road had adopted a much easier, safer method of ignition by using starters. Ignition technology continued to evolve, and years later became what it is today: a quick, easy turn or push-to-start motion that sets off a variety of processes working in harmony to facilitate combustion.

The ignition process itself can get a little complicated. Once the ignition switch is engaged, the starter motor turns electrical energy from the battery into mechanical energy. That energy helps the starter motor to temporarily connect to the flywheel and trigger rotation. This is followed by a crankshaft movement, which also shifts the pistons. The motion provided by the starter motor brings the engine to life by activating the spark plugs and cylinders.

The key here is knowing the importance of a good ignition switch and cylinder lock, which are two integral parts of your ignition system that kick off the process. Without these functional components, your vehicle simply can't start.

The Start of Modern Ignition

First, your car recognizes the rightful owner/key trying to start the ignition by using its internal computer to transmit radio signals that speak to the programmed information on your transponder key. For newer vehicles, this can happen as soon as you enter your cabin using keyless ignition. For older vehicles, your key needs to be inputted to read these signals. This allows your engine to 'OK' the request to begin the combustion process.

An ignition lock cylinder helps start your vehicle's accessory functionality, such as dashboards, radios, the internal computer, etc. Typically located on the right side of your steering wheel, it's a wafer tumbler and key setup integrated within your ignition switch that, like most car parts, can succumb to wear and tear. It's like the lock on your house door, but rather than turn a bolt, the lock cylinder rotates your ignition switch. The switch and lock cylinder are two separate components to your ignition system. The lock cylinder is the mechanical receptacle for your key, while the ignition switch is an electrical device that triggers power transfer from the battery to the starter motor.

To replace the lock cylinder or ignition switch, you may have to remove the steering wheel, which can alter or disable the airbag system, so make sure to check your manual for vehicle-specific guidance. If you're not willing to install the replacement yourself, roll on over to your local NAPA AutoCare Center for expert and friendly maintenance service.

If your key gets stuck in the ignition or you experience difficulties starting your car, a faulty ignition lock cylinder or switch is possibly the culprit. You might also see a warning light on your dashboard signaling an issue with your anti-theft system. A lock cylinder housing repair kit or switch repair kit could solve your problems. Or, sometimes, you just need a new key. Remember to shop NAPAOnline for all your ignition and electrical needs from ignition keys to marine switch boxes.