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BMW "Spinning Key" Broken Ignition Lock Cylinder – E36, E34, E32, E31, Z3

April 29, 2010

This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.

car year: 1998
car model: 328is
The key rolls over and over and sometimes locks up and the last time the key would come in and out but the engine still ran. I tried to remove the cylinder by inserting the key and a small pin into the release hole and then turning left but it just turns round and round and will not come out. Can you help?</span>

The “spinning key” is a fairly common failure in the ’90s BMW models.  This is typically due to a broken lock pin in the ignition key cylinder assembly.  Replacement of the key cylinder is the common fix.  There are some points that must be considered in this repair.

All BMWs produced from Jan.,1995-on have various versions of the EWS security system.  This system has a codes chip in the ignition key and a receiver antenna ring around the key lock cylinder.  The code in the key’s chip is transmitted to the EWS control module.  If the code is not recognized, or there is no code (such as the wrong key or a corrupted key being used or an attempted theft), the EWS will not allow the engine management system to energize.  In other words, the engine will not start.  When dealing with these models (with EWS), any replacements of the key or the ignition lock cylinder must be handled through a BMW dealer, as the replacement parts must be properly coded to the vehicle’s VIN, in order for the EWS to work.

BMW models produced up through Dec.,1994 do not have the EWS and the lock cylinders and keys can be replaced with differing units.  In other words the replacement key and lock cylinder does not have to match the current key.  Of course, this means that you would have two different keys for the car.  One for the doors and trunk and one for the ignition.  If you wish to have the same key when the lock cylinder is replaced, you must order the cylinder from the BMW dealer, according to the VIN.

Below, is a YouTube video showing how to replace the ignition lock cylinder in an EWS equipped E36 model.  Other ’90s models will be similar.  Non-EWS models are similar, but have no EWS antenna ring.  This video starts at the removal of the lock cylinder.  The removal of the various trim panels, that is required in order to access the EWS antenna ring, is covered in the Bentley repair manual.  Non EWS models do not require any removal of the trim panels.

Bavarian Autosport stocks many of the Non-EWS ignition lock cylinders, and can order any Non-EWS lock cylinder assembly as long as you do not mind having a different ignition key.

BMW Spinning Key repair video

Bavarian Autosport

  1. Joe permalink

    I just got off the phone with Bav Auto. They DON’T carry door lock cylinders :-( The “Thule” lock cylinders that they list are for ski racks! They said door lock cylinders are dealer only items :-( :-( :-(

    • We CAN order ignition, door and trunk lock cylinders for most models (and keep many in-stock for older models). The cylinders will have a new (and unique) key. We cannot, however, order cylinders that are coded for the existing vehicle keys. This must be done through a BMW dealer.

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