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Locked Keys In Car? 13 Ways To Open A Locked Car With Keys Inside

Car Lockout

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So you locked your keys in the car? That’s fine. Take a deep breath and relax. This post only exists to help you, and the many people like you, get back into their locked cars. Our article goes over pretty much every way under the sun to get back into your car. These processes are in the order that you should try them.

Although I cannot keep you from skipping around in the article or beginning a process without reading it first, I would like to stress the importance of understanding the task before attempting it. And if you are going to skim the article, I would rather you do so with some idea of the full context you are missing.

Ways to unlock your car with keys inside include:

  1. Check Doors
  2. Check Trunk
  3. Remote Unlock Service
  4. String 
  5. Coat Hanger
  6. Wedge
  7. Probe
  8. Plastic Strap
  9. Lock Picking
  10. Slim Jim
  11. Police
  12. AAA
  13. Locksmith

DISCLAIMER

There is a strong chance that I will miss those that skip around in articles, as this information is offered in the introduction (the most commonly skipped over part of any article). For those of you that have played by the rules, I will not litter the rest of the article with warnings, save the instances that something is so important it must be stressed through redundancy. I will say everything once now:

  • Read everything, and read it in the order that it is written.
  • If any process is not working, refer to the “Further Problems” section.
  • All processes will take a bit of time. Keep calm and try your best not to get frustrated.
  • Doing any of these processes incorrectly may result in harm to yourself and/or your property.

Overview

The thirteen ways to open your car when the keys are locked inside fall into one of four categories. The first several methods will be based around double-checking that you are in fact locked out of your car. Once you establish that you are locked out of your car, we will take a look at the materials you may have on hand to get your key out of your locked car. Without those tools, you can try buying specialty tools. And after you have exhausted all of the DIY ways to open your locked car, there are still options to call for assistance.

Make Sure You Are Locked Out

Sometimes you are not as locked out as you think. The doors you have tried might be locked, but that might not be the only way in. This happens more often than you would think. People get overwhelmed and keep themselves from being fully aware of the situation. Keep things simple, and troubleshoot the problem. If your car key is not working, getting into the car may only be the beginning of your problems, but it is still somewhere to start. Begin with the simplest fix and move your way up.

Initial steps to make sure you are locked out of your car:

It is important not to skip over this seemingly obvious set of steps. The few extra seconds to double-check and triple-check that you are locked out of your car can save you a tremendous amount of anxiety and time.

Use What You Have Around You

shoe-string

Now that you are sure you are locked out of your car, take inventory of what you have around you. Look for tools that might be able to get you back into your locked car. You do not need the precise items used in the examples to be successful with these methods. Materials you find may be better or create different challenges than the ones discussed below. Find things that have the same characteristics.

Materials you may have around you:

Remember that you do not need to have these tools on your person. You can borrow string or wire coat hangers from any helpful bystander. As scary as the world may seem, it is still filled with people who are willing to help. Just use discretion when approaching strangers. If you are concerned for your safety, approach business owners or store employees in front of customers and let them know your situation. This will also preempt suspicious stares when you attempt to open a locked car with keys inside.

Buy Materials

There may not be any of these materials just lying around, and, in that case, you might need to go to a store and spend a couple of dollars. Home improvement stores, auto part stores, and big-box stores with general merchandise are your best bet. Similar to using tools you have around you, these items do not need to be the exact ones mentioned. Any similar object will do. If the keys have been left in the ignition, and the vehicle is still running, it is best to leave someone to watch the car. In the time it may take to make a purchase, a criminal may just open your door and drive away.

Tools you can buy:

When you purchase these materials, feel free to kindly ask the employee if they can help you use them. It can be very helpful to have a second pair of eyes and an extra set of hands when you are trying any of these methods for the first time. Just beware of the potentially bad advice of another novice. You can’t hold a non-trained helpful citizen responsible for damaging your car if you asked them for assistance.

Get Assistance

call-for-assistance

When all else fails, call a professional. If while trying to buy your materials you realize you will not be able to find the proper items, or you feel that you might not be equipped to use them ask to use the store phone. If you have cell reception at that location, you can also contact a professional car lockout service. Be calm, and collect your thoughts before you call. Have information such as:

  1. Your location
  2. Your type of car, make, model, and year.
  3. Where the keys are
  4. More information might be required or requested, but having the answers prepared should relax you enough to give further details.

Your options for assistance are:

When you’ve locked your key in the car, you only need to get back into the vehicle. You are unlikely to need additional services such as getting a new car key made, or fixing your door locks. But it is important to know that your car keys are locked in the car. Visually confirm that your keys are locked in the car before calling the police or AAA. If your keys are not inside, you will need to call a locksmith. A mobile auto locksmith is the only option that can come to your location, open the vehicle, and make a new car key without a spare.

1. Check Doors

Sometimes not all the doors on your car will lock. It is a scary idea, but it happens. Most drivers are most acutely aware of the driver’s side door and neglect the functionality of their other doors. Even if you do believe that all your doors lock appropriately, this might be the instance that they broke. Check all your doors!

2. Check The Trunk

There may be a way for you to enter the car through the trunk. If you have a hatchback-type car, the trunk is not even separated from the cabin of the vehicle. And not always, but sometimes there will be an access point from the trunk to the back seat. This often takes the form of a panel between the back seat that opens when pushed from the trunk.

3. Remote Unlock Service

You might want to try this before you go crawling through your trunk, but most people should be aware of their Onstar (or similar company) coverage. In the current new car market, it may be a feature that was thrown in at the time of purchase. Free coverage offers for new cars last about a year. You might try getting in touch with your dealership and seeing if you have it, or if it has run out. All of that phone call bureaucracy will most definitely make you wish you had a trunk to crawl through. If you do have this coverage, your doors can be opened remotely.

4. String Or Small Diameter Rope

If you have shoelaces, then you have the right tools for the job. This can be done with any string small enough to fit between the car door and the frame. This method will only work on cars with post locks. A post lock is an upright lock that is manipulated by being pulled up (unlocked) or pushed down (locked). Once you have your string, the next thing you will need is a little information on how to tie a slip knot. Firstly, the knot needs to be as close to the center of the string as you can manage.

Make a slip knot:

  1. Make a loop five inches left of the center of the string. Make it a little larger than the diameter of the hole formed when you touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb (size will be adjusted later).
  2. Grab the tail end of the right half of the string and move it into the hole (the tail end should be coming out of the hole toward you). Leave the shape loose. This will result in somewhat of a pretzel shape.
  3. Keep your thumb and forefinger on the crease of the original loop.
  4. The pretzel shape has the original loop and the loop created by the tail end entering the hole. Take the tail end back through the hole that is created (the left hole of the pretzel).
  5. Keep the pressure on the right end tailpiece of the string and the original loop crease and pull the two parts away from one another. This leaves only one loop.
  6. Now by pulling on the left end of the string the existing loop should contract. You can similarly expand the loop by placing your finger in the loop and pulling the loop apart.

Now that you have your string with a slip knot in the middle of the string, you are ready to open your door. Slide the string in between the frame and the door. Make sure to keep one side of the string parallel to the roof of the car and the other end perpendicular to the roof. Slide the string forward and catch the loop around the lock. Pull the loop closed and pull the lock upwards. You’re in, baby! If you’re not, keep reading.

5. Coat Hanger

Now sometimes our shoes don’t have laces, or maybe we don’t have shoes. In that case, try to find a wire coat hanger. You would be surprised by the number of places you might stumble upon one (see the conclusion of 3 Expert Tools To Open Your Locked Car). If there is a laundromat around, they may have one to lend you. Take into account that you will be disassembling the hanger (perhaps making it unusable).

If you cannot get a coat hanger, don’t fret. The same methods can be used with any thin piece of strong bendable material. It does not need to bend if it is long, slender, strong, and in the correct shape. If it is not strong, you will need to bend it over to strengthen the ends that will manipulate the locking mechanism. If it is not the right shape, then it will need to be bent to serve its purpose. If it is not long enough, or too thick, it will need to be bent to change these characteristics.

For Post Locks

Option 1: Make a Probe

  • Begin by straightening out the hanger.
  • Bend the hook more severely to get a “V”, or check mark shape (adapt this shape as needed).
  • Slip the hanger in between the door and the door frame, “V” first.
  • Try to hook the post lock and pull it towards you and upwards (pulling it towards you will give you some friction on the post).
  • When done correctly the door will open.

Option 2: Make a Slim Jim

WARNING THIS MAY DAMAGE YOUR VEHICLE IF DONE WRONG!

  • Straighten the coat hanger except for the hook.
  • Bend the hook more severely to get a “V”, or check mark shape (the small part of the check mark should be around the size of your little finger).
  • Slip the hooked end of the hanger in between the window and the weatherstripping.
  • Turn the hanger inside the door so that the hook is facing toward the car’s interior (while it is inside the door).
  • Move the hanger along the window until you see the post move.
  • Once you can identify what part of the door allows you to manipulate the post, begin to pull upward on the hanger (your hook may need to be reformed and bent back into place after a few tries).
  • You should be able to see the post move upward.
  • Keep doing this until the post lock lifts high enough to unlock the door.
  • When done correctly the door will open.

For Sliding/Push Locks

  • Begin by straightening out the hanger.
  • Bend the end of the hanger in a way that will give you the proper leverage and power to push/slide the lock.
  • You may need to place bends along the length of the straightened hanger in cases. where you need to reach underneath door armrests.
  • Slip the hanger in between the door and the door frame.
  • If you are working blind, try to get another person to look through the opposite window and guide you.
  • Depress or slide the lock, according to its function.
  • When done correctly the door will open.

To assist you with any of these processes, you may use a wedge. A wedge can be made out of any material, as long as it is shaped, or can be shaped, into a wedge. Be aware that the material may scratch the paint on your car. You can mitigate this by using a rag or piece of cloth between your car and the wedge. A screwdriver can also be used to wedge the door if one is handy (this poses the largest risk of damage).

6. Wedge

Auto Body stores may have air wedges or rubber wedges preferred for auto lockouts. If there is no such device try and find a door stop. This can be made out of hard plastic or rubber. A hammer might also be helpful to get the wedge deeper into the gap. A screwdriver can also be used to leverage the door (as previously stated). As long as the home improvement store you are shopping at has a lumber section, it should have a way to cut a piece of wood into a wedge. A wedge alone will not be enough. You will also need to use a probe tool.

7. Probe

The probe will follow the same requirements as the wire hanger section. It does not need to bend if it is long, slender, strong, and in the correct shape. If it is not strong, you will need to bend it over to strengthen the ends that will manipulate the locking mechanism. If it is not the right shape then it will need to be bent to serve its purpose. If it is not long enough, or too thick, it will need to be bent to change these characteristics. Depending on what type of wedge you are using, or if you are using a wedge at all, fewer characteristics of your probe will be constricted.

8. Plastic Strap

This is yet another method that only works on post locks. Big Easy makes a product like this. You will use this tool similar to option 1 in the post lock section of the coat hanger method. The plastic strap must be long and thin. The length should be longer rather than shorter, as it must be folded to work properly. The thinness of the material will need to allow it to slip between the door and the door frame while folded. 

That means that it will need to be at least half the thickness of the gap in your door. Sandpaper in the crease of the folded plastic strap will help immeasurably. You will try to loop the folded plastic around the post and pull it up and toward you. The plastic will most likely slip off due to the slickness of the materials. To give yourself just a bit of a bite into the lock, a fold of sandpaper fastened in that crease will make the process go much quicker.

9. Lock Picking

WARNING THIS MAY DAMAGE YOUR VEHICLE IF DONE WRONG!

If you have the correct tools and experience, this will work. If you are missing one or both of these things, don’t bother trying to pick the lock. The tools can be anything from paper clips to professional lock picks. Cars from approximately the mid-’90s and before can be picked quite easily. As long as the lock uses wafers it can most likely be raked, rocked, jiggled, single pin picked, etc. Take a look at your key. 

If you are not sure about what type of lock your car door has, that might be an indication that this step is not for you. The laser-cut keys of the modern age might be a little more difficult to manipulate for the average picker. If you are at all questioning your ability, do not try to pick the lock. Breaking or ruining the lock in any way will just make getting back into the car harder for the technician that will need to be called, and it will be very expensive to replace.

10. Slim Jim

WARNING THIS MAY DAMAGE YOUR VEHICLE IF DONE WRONG!

This method will be similar to option 2 in the post lock section of the coat hanger method. The main difference is that the tool will already be made. A slim jim is also more diverse in its abilities than most internet videos will show you. The effectiveness of the various methods will depend on your particular make and model. 

Be very careful when you are using this tool. There are many wires inside the door, and disconnecting them, or interfering with them accidentally, can cause further complications for your vehicle. This method creates the largest opportunity for you to harm the car. For that reason, the slim jim is the last tool you should attempt to buy. You should also not use it at all if you are not confident in your ability to use it.

11. Call the Police

Many police officers are equipped for this situation. Depending on the department and the busyness of the area, they may not come. Certain areas require that the car be running to require police intervention. Because the car is running, you are placed at more risk. A thief will be able to easily spot that the car keys are inside. This means that you cannot walk away from your car. If you feel as though you might be in danger in your current area, then this is a very reasonable option. 

The reason that this is so high up on the list of options for assistance is because it is an emergency response. You should try and use this service if there is a child or animal locked inside. If there is any other type of major complication where you must get back into your car out of fear of bodily harm, then you should most certainly call the police. On the plus side, they are not only going to arrive to protect you, and be able to do it faster than any other service, they can also unlock your car. Willingness and availability of this type of service will vary. This may not be the fastest option to getting into your locked car if you can do any of the steps listed above.

12. AAA/Roadside Assistance

If you have AAA, you can call them to unlock your vehicle. The vehicle locksmith blurb provided on the AAA website says: If the key that operates or provides access to the passenger compartment of the vehicle is lost or broken, service will be sent to gain entrance. If a locksmith is required, services valued up to $50 are covered for Classic members, exclusive of ignition repair/replacement. Services valued up to $100 are covered for Plus members. Services valued up to $150 are covered for Premier members. 

If the vehicle can’t be safely opened or made operable, or the locksmith cannot replace the key, towing services will be provided under the towing benefit. If your roadside assistance provider is not AAA, you should consult their membership handbook to see if they offer this service. At the very least they should be able to tow your car safely to its destination.

13. Locksmith Services

A locksmith is going to use the safest and most responsible option from this list. That choice will depend on the situation, the type of vehicle, etc. Provided you have hired a reliable company, your door should be unlocked very shortly after they arrive with no harm done to your car. Do a bit of research to know what to expect when you call a locksmith, and you should be able to detect if the company has the experience and professionalism you need.

Other Problems

These problems might complicate any of the steps above. They apply generally to the whole process, but more specifically to some steps than others. It is an addendum to the piece, so you can know why the things you are trying might not be working. It also takes into account the inability to take some of the actions required in the listed procedures.

BMW (1996-2000)

BMWs from these years will not open even if you manipulate the door locks and handles. As a security precaution, none of the electronics will work, when the car is turned off. That includes the door locks. If the car has been left running, then this should not be an issue. If it is not running, your best chance is to try and wedge the door so that you can retrieve the keys through the gap. This might take a little ingenuity in regards to the shape of the probe. 

Do not make the gap large enough to fit the keys until the keys are ready to fit through the door. A prolonged forced gap might damage the door. When you are using the wedge, also be careful not to stress the window. Too large of a gap can break the window. Picking the lock should also work. Just as the key will open the door, picking the lock will serve the same function. Refer back to the “Picking” section of step 3 before you attempt this.

My Keys are in the Trunk

If you happen to have locked your keys in the trunk, it is always a complicated affair. When the door is open there should be a button to open the trunk. In the case of the vehicle not opening by unlocking interior locks, it is probably best to call a locksmith. If the technician cannot pick the lock, then they will need to drill a hole in the trunk. This is the absolute last resort! The license plate will be removed and a hole will be drilled behind it. This will expose a wire that when pulled, will unlock the trunk. The keys can be retrieved, and the license plate will cover the hole.

Middle of Nowhere With No Service

middle-of-nowhere

You think just because there is nothing in your immediate area, and can’t get on your network, that you get some sort of special secret. If there was an easier way of doing this, I would have started with that. You might have to walk a couple of miles in your laceless shoes. Take inventory of where your car is so you can confidently explain its location to the technician that you call.

Head off down the road and try and find an open business with a working telephone. Look for road signs that may indicate what direction is closer. If you are reading this because you are following the rules and reading everything, then good job. I am proud of you, taking the abuse of some slacker looking for simple solutions. Keep on reading, you’re almost done!

Final Advice

If you have read the article and put it into action, you will not be locked out for long. Any of these methods alone will solve your problem, but you should always start with the path of least resistance. The trail set by this article should allow you to expend the least amount of energy and money. If you do end up having to get a locksmith or request assistance in some other way, things start to get expensive pretty fast. Don’t let this discourage you. A higher price gives you more control as a customer. The plusses of a cheap locksmith also come with the downsides of a cheap locksmith.

Let this experience set the stage for a new era of awareness and responsibility. This might be a good time to invest in duplicate car keys so that you always have a spare readily available. I hope that you found this information helpful, and I wish that you never need to use it again. Share the knowledge with loved ones and friends. Make sure that the people you care about are prepared for situations like this. If you have any further questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below, and I will get back to you.

Original Publish Date: November 5, 2015

Category: Automotive, Car Keys, How To's, Tools of the Trade


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