There are circumstances where you might need to start a car without a key – perhaps you’ve lost your keys, or there’s an emergency that requires you to operate a vehicle whose keys are not immediately available.

Now, I don’t advocate turning into a petty thief or promoting illegal activities, but a bit of knowledge can be empowering and possibly life-saving in certain dire situations.

In this article, we’ll be talking about the somewhat controversial yet intriguing subject of starting a car with a screwdriver.

This comprehensive guide will cover:

  • Understanding how car ignition works
  • Required tools and safety equipment
  • A detailed, step-by-step guide on the process
  • Troubleshooting common issues
  • Legal and ethical considerations

Before We Start – A Legal And Safety Disclaimer

thief starting a car with screwdriver

Before we embark on this journey of automotive knowledge, we must underscore the legal and safety issues associated with starting a car with a flathead screwdriver.

It’s essential to note that this guide is intended for informational purposes only. Unauthorized use of this information to commit illegal acts, such as stealing cars, can lead to serious legal repercussions.

Furthermore, there are safety risks involved when dealing with a vehicle’s ignition system. Mishandling can lead to potential injury or damage to the vehicle. Proceed with caution, and always prioritize safety over expediency.

Understanding How Ignition Works

turning on a car

An ignition system is a critical component of any vehicle. Its primary function?

Initiating the car engine’s operation. It’s like the “start button” for your car, activating the combustion process that powers your vehicle.

The ignition system creates a spark that ignites the air-fuel mixture in the engine cylinders, leading to a series of small, controlled explosions that drive the engine’s pistons.

Key Components of the Ignition System

The ignition system is a finely-tuned orchestra of various components that work together harmoniously. At the heart of it, all is the ignition switch, a complex device that primarily controls the starter solenoid.

The starter motor gets its juice from the car owner’s battery, with the ignition coil boosting the voltage to create the spark required for ignition.

Additionally, there are other auxiliary elements like the distributor, spark plugs, and the rotor. Each has a unique role to play in the ignition process, allowing for the seamless transition from turning your car keys to hearing the satisfying purr of your engine.

How Does The Key Start A Car?

starting a car with a key

Starting a car with an ignition key involves much more than just turning a piece of metal. When the key is inserted into the ignition switch, it rotates the switch cylinder.

The cylinder’s rotation to the “start” position energizes the starter motor, which turns the engine over, starting the combustion process.

Once the engine is running, releasing the key will return the switch to the “run” position, keeping the engine operating while you drive.

Can you start a car with a screwdriver?

Vehicles that have immobilizers cannot be started with a screwdriver. You simply won’t be able to turn the engine on without the right key as the car’s Electronic Control Unit will not allow it.

If you have a car that is at least 20-25 years old, then you might be able to start it with a screwdriver. In case you don’t have a key, a screwdriver can be used to hotwire the car or it can be inserted directly into the keyhole.

Do bear in mind that all the methods mentioned below are not 100% safe, and you should try to start your car with a screwdriver only if you have no other choice.

Tools Required To Start A Car Without a Key

To start a car without a key, you’ll need a pair of wire cutters, some electrical tape, a screwdriver, and a hammer.

The screwdriver and hammer will be used to manipulate the ignition lock cylinder, while the wire cutters and tape will come in handy if there are wires to be dealt with.

Safety Equipment

Safety is paramount when dealing with automobiles. Some basic safety gear is essential to protect yourself during this process.

A pair of sturdy gloves will protect your hands, and safety glasses are a must to shield your eyes from potential hazards.

The 4 Different Methods To Start A Car With A Screwdriver (Explained)

turn on a car with a screwdriver

Before you begin, ensure the workspace is safe. Verify that the vehicle is in the park or neutral and that the emergency brake is set.

Start a Car with a Screwdriver – Method 1

Give this method a try before jumping to the next one as here you’ll need only a screwdriver.

Simply insert the tool right into the ignition switch and try to turn it the same way you would usually turn the car key. This method won’t work in the absolute majority of cases, but if you’re lucky, the ignition switch will turn on.

Just make sure not to apply too much pressure, and move on to the next method if the screwdriver is not turning.

Start a Car with a Screwdriver – Method 2

The main goal of this method is to generate an electrical circuit without using a key. When you put your key into the ignition and turn it on, an electrical circuit gets generated.

It goes from the battery to the ignitor and then starts the motor. Thankfully, the same can be done even if you have lost your key.

What You’re Going to Need:

  • A flathead screwdriver
  • A wire stripper (or a sharp knife)
  • Electrical tape
  • A wiring diagram

Step 1: Removing the screws

Remove the screws from the steering column cover. Once you see the access panels, pull them to get them removed.

Step 2: Locate The battery wires

Now that you can see the wires of the ignition system, you would have to find the bundle that is connected to the battery and the ignition.

Check the owner’s manual to locate the correct wires. Though the battery wires are typically red, there is no universal color that is used on all car models.

Step 3: Twist the ignition system and battery wires

Once you find the wire that is connected to the ignition system and the battery, use your wire stripper or a sharp knife to cut off some of the insulation from each end of the two wires. After that, twist the ends together.

This should make the ignition, lights, and radio turn on.

Step 4: Locate the starter motor wire

Find the wire that connects to the starter motor. It may be labeled as ST and depending on your car model, it might have either a yellow or a brown color.

Cut off some insulation from its end as well and make it touch the two twisted wires for a few seconds. The engine should start.

Ideally, you would want to use electrical tape to cover the end of the starter wire to avoid any accidents. The battery and ignition cables should stay twisted.

To shut off the car, you would simply have to remove the two wires from each other (the vehicle will die immediately).

Step 5: Unlock The steering wheel lock

You can skip this step if your car is not equipped with a steering wheel lock.

But if it is, you might be able to break the steering wheel mechanism by applying pressure or the mechanism will get unlocked once you try turning the screwdriver.

If you have a punch and a hammer, you can try removing the bracket that holds the ignition cylinder with the steering lock assembly to the steering column.

Start a Car with a Screwdriver – Method 3

What You’re Going to Need:

  • A flathead screwdriver
  • A hammer
  • A wrench kit
  • Safety gloves and safety goggles

Step 1: Getting ready

Put on a pair of safety gloves and goggles and insert the screwdriver right into the ignition switch keyhole.

Step 2: Disconnecting the car’s battery

You would have to disconnect the battery to prevent the risk of getting electrocuted.

  1. Locate the battery under the hood. Look for large, block-like components with two cables attached to them. If you can’t seem to find the battery, consult the owner’s manual (some car models might have the battery in the trunk).
  2. Find the negative terminal (the one marked with an ‘-‘ symbol). Unlike the positive terminal which is typically red, the negative terminal has to be black and have a black plastic cap.
  3. If your battery has plastic caps, remove them, and then loosen the nut on the negative terminal with your wrench (turn it counterclockwise). The reason why you might want to have a wrench kit is that there is no universal wrench that can loosen the nuts on all terminals. The two most common sizes of the terminal nuts are 10 mm and 13 mm.
  4. Remove the negative connector cable first. You would want to make sure that this cable does not touch the battery again until you are finished. Remove the positive connector cable as well after loosening the nut of the positive terminal.
  5. Now that your battery is disconnected, use a socket wrench to loosen the nuts on the securing clamp that holds the battery in place. Once you remove the clamp, you should be able to lift the battery (be careful as it’s quite heavy). Do bear in mind that taking the battery out is not necessary as long as you manage to isolate the cables.

Step 3: Tapping on the screwdriver with a hammer

Start carefully tapping on the screwdriver with a hammer. Once the screwdriver travels the length of the ignition key, it should break the ignition lock cylinder pins.

Be extremely careful with the hammer not to damage anything else in the car.

Step 4: Reconnect the battery to the car

At one point, you will feel that the screwdriver cannot go any deeper. This means that you have reached the cylinder pins (they are most likely broken).

Reconnect the battery to the car, and try to turn the screwdriver. If the cylinder pins are broken, you should be able to start the engine.

However, if the engine is not starting, then it looks like the pins are still intact. You would have to disconnect the battery and start hammering again. After a few good taps, repeat the process.

Start a Car with a Screwdriver – Method 4

If you have the key, but your car simply won’t start, you can use a screwdriver on the starter solenoid. This method will work if you have an old model with a solenoid that is not built into the starter.

You would have to make a continuity between the power terminal and the starter terminal. Touch both of the terminals together with your screwdriver to start the engine, but be extremely careful, as there will be plenty of sparks.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When you’re tinkering with your vehicle, particularly with complex systems like the ignition, you’re bound to encounter a hiccup or two.

The trick is not to panic. Instead, it would be best if you were prepared to identify and troubleshoot common issues that may arise during the process.

Just remember, when it comes to cars, the problem might only sometimes be where you think it is. Now let’s look into some of these scenarios.

Car Not Starting

If your car isn’t starting, there might be several reasons. Check the battery first – a dead battery can’t provide the energy necessary to start the engine.

Other potential issues include a faulty ignition switch or starter motor.

Damaging The Ignition Switch

If you accidentally damage the ignition switch during the process, your best bet is to break the ignition lock and contact a professional.

They can replace the damaged switch and ensure your car is safe to operate.

Start a car with a screwdriver

Things to Remember When Starting a Car with a Screwdriver

You should use any of these methods only in case of an emergency as they are quite dangerous for both you and the car. 

Whether you manage to start the vehicle or not, the ignition key switch might get permanently damaged (especially, if you opt for the method with the hammer). Also, do bear in mind that such manipulations will most likely void your entire warranty.

Here are a few other important things to remember:

  • You should not attempt to start the car with a screwdriver without safety gloves. If the screwdriver slips when you’re not wearing protective gear, you might get seriously injured.
  • When attempting to start the car with a screwdriver, you might see some sparks. You’re not doing anything wrong if that’s happening, just make sure that there are no flammable materials around you.
  • The battery has to be disconnected during the hammering process. If you’re not sure whether or not you have managed to properly remove the element, do not attempt to hammer the screwdriver.

In a nutshell, using a hammer and a screwdriver should be your last resort. If it is possible, call the professionals.

Final Thoughts

Starting a car with a screwdriver involves understanding the car’s ignition system, having the right tools, accessing the ignition switch, manipulating the ignition cylinder, and knowing what to do if things don’t go as planned.

Remember, starting a car with a screwdriver should be reserved for emergency situations and not used to circumvent lawful actions.

This guide is meant to equip you with knowledge, and how you choose to use it is up to your discretion and ethical judgment.