An all-too-common problem in Chevrolet Sprints, Suzuki Swifts, Geo Metros, and Pontiac Fireflys occurs when the key breaks in half in the ignition. Unfortunately, almost every one of the keys created for these cars has a thin point in the key, where inevitably, at some point during the key’s life, it splits in two. If you’re lucky, it’ll break in your pocket. But more often than not, they decide to fall apart within the ignition switch.
The first thing to try is a locksmith. Some are pretty good and are able to retreive the half key with relative ease. However, if the locksmith is unsuccessful, or if you simply don’t want to spend the money, here is the method to disassemble the switch and remove the half key (since I was unable to find one anywhere).
The following procedure was done on a ’91 Chevrolet Sprint. Your vehicle may vary, and there are no guarantees. I also don’t take responsibility if you botch something up, or if anything goes wrong. EVERYTHING DONE IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is written mainly from memory, so expect less-than-perfect details and the possibility of some innaccuracy. This also isn’t in any way a “professional” method of doing things. In fact, my entire process screams unprofessionalism. But it worked for me. So hopefully it’ll work for you.
Step One – Remove the lock assembly.
First, disconnect the battery (unless you want to risk a spark show of course). The following then have to be removed: The steering column cover (4 screws), the steering wheel (center-horn part pulls off, and then there’s 1 nut to remove) , the signal-switch (3 screws), and the instrument cluster cover (4 screws). During this time, you will have to unplug/disconnect a few electrical connectors connected within the steering column and the instrument cluster cover.
At this point, you should have full view and access to the ignition lock assembly. Holding it to the steering column is a metal bracket with 2 bolts. Unfortunately, the 2 bolts aren’t meant to be taken out easily. The heads are rounded. If you are lucky, you might be able to get a needle nose pliers in there to unscrew them. I wasn’t so lucky, so I used a dremel to cut a groove through each of them where a flat screwdriver would fit. Once you get them to turn a little, they should come the rest of the way with ease. With both of these bolts out, the ignition lock assembly should come out (disconnect any electrical connectors still going to it).
Step Two – Getting in to the lock assembly (the hard part)
If you examine the assembly, you will notice 3 holes around the casing where the key/tumber/etc go into the casing. There are 3 pins in these holes which keep the lock part (the part that says “LOCK ACC ON START”) connected with the rest of the lock. If you have the tools to do it, remove the pins. If not, you could try drilling them, although the pins are pretty hard (tempered steel?). What I eventually had to do was to drill between the pin and the lock part. Once enough aluminum had been removed from the casing, a screwdriver with a couple hammer blows was enough to get the lock part out (complete with the pin). Doing it this way means that you will have to find a new way to keep the lock part connected to the casing when putting it back together (the pins will be useless since the lock will slide in and out). Keep that in mind.
From here on in, be very careful, springs, clips, and keys can go springing out and will get lost easily… When the lock slides out, you will notice 2 springs still in the casing. If they fell out, put them back in. Next, is a metal “plate” that is keyed to fit on the lock part only one way. Once it is off, there is a snap-ring that must be removed. with the snap-ring off, the tumbler should come out of the lock. With the tumber out, you have access to all the mini-keys. You should also be able to see the tip of the broken key. Using a strong wire, you can start pushing the broken key out. It may be easier if you remove the mini-keys as you coax the half-key out, but be sure not to lose any springs (and put the mini-keys back in the right order afterward). Once the broken key is partway out, you can usually tap the tumbler and the broken key will fall the rest of the way out.
Step Three – Putting it all back together.
Put a (new) complete key inside the tumbler to make sure the mini-keys all line up (they should be smooth with the tumbler. If 1 or 2 aren’t, you can either grind them down a little bit, or remove them altogether. Note that each one you remove will make it easier for a “wrong” key to fit also, which would potentially make it easier for someone to steal the vehicle.
Keep the key in the tumbler, and slide the tumbler back into the lock (without the key in, it won’t slide in). Put the snap-ring on, followed by the metal plate. Now slide the lock back into the rest of the casing. Make sure the 2 springs in the casing don’t fall out of place when you’re sliding it back on (I found it easier to hold them horizontally and do it – vertically, either the plate would fall off, or the springs would fall out). Test the key to make sure it’s working. If it’s not, something may be amiss. Assuming the key seems to work fine, if you were able to remove the pins, replace them now. If instead of removing the pins, you drilled out the aluminum like I did, you will notice that the lock does not stay tight in the casing (it always springs out a bit). I used J.B. Weld to reconnect them (using a large thick rubber band to hold it tight while the J.B. Weld hardened). If you do the same, make sure you clean all oils and grease first so the J.B. Weld sticks. Once it’s back together, the assembly gets reconnected to the steering column. The rest is pretty much the reverse of removal.
If you manage to completely destroy the lock assembly beyond repair (which is completely possible), you may have to buy a new one at the dealer.
Again, don’t do this unless you’re confident in what you’re doing. This guide is best for those who have already tried taking apart the ignition switch without success, and are looking for a few pointers here and there to help them along their way when they get stuck. It’s not for the average joe-blow, as it’s very easy to cause permanent damage to the ignition lock assembly.