What to Do If You Get Locked Out of Your Car

by Team eLocal
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eLocal photo by Matt Schmitz

There's nothing worse than slamming your car door shut only to see your car keys lying on the seat inside.

Don't panic! There's no need to resort to smashing a window to get your keys back. You can try several things if you're locked out of the car, including a few DIY unlocking methods.

What Do You Do If You've Locked Your Keys in the Car?

If you're locked out of the car, what you should do depends on how urgently you need to open it and what items you have on hand. Below, you can find out which services can help you unlock your car, along with some DIY unlocking methods.

In an Emergency

You'll need to get inside your car as soon as possible if there is a child, pet or vulnerable adult stuck inside. In this situation, the quickest way to get your vehicle open is to call the emergency services on 911. The police or fire service can assist significantly faster than a locksmith or a roadside assistance service. Usually, they'll gain access to your car by unlocking it with a thin rod or by breaking a window.

You won't have to pay for the emergency services to open your car, but you're responsible for repairing any damage caused. You should only call 911 if a person or animal is in danger.

Roadside Assistance Services

Roadside assistance services can be a godsend if your car breaks down, and they can also help if you're locked out of the car. Your membership may cover a certain number of lockout services per year. Otherwise, you'll have to pay a fee to have a roadside assistance service unlock your car.

Tell the operator your car's make and model and where you parked it when calling for help. Often, you'll have to wait 30 minutes or longer for the mechanic to arrive.

DIY Hacks

If it's not an emergency and you don't want to pay for roadside assistance, you can try several DIY methods to open the vehicle door. Many modern vehicles let you install an app on your smartphone that functions as a remote control key fob so you can unlock your car even if you lock the key inside.

However, smartphone unlocking isn't usually an option for older cars. You can sometimes unlock a car door manually using nothing but a shoelace. Tie a slipknot in the lace, and leave a loop large enough to slide your finger through. Next, push the shoelace behind the upper-right corner of the car door and pull it back and forth from either end to move it down toward the lock. Maneuver the knot over the lock and pull it tight, and then pull it upward to unlock the door.

You can also try unlocking your car with a straightened coat hanger if you have an older model with a manual lock. Leave a small hook at one end of the coat hanger, and feed it carefully between the bottom of the door window and the weather stripping. Move it around until you locate the control arm, and pull it up to unlock the door.

Alternatively, you can purchase a window wedge kit to open a locked car door. Use a pry bar to create a gap at the top of the door frame and push the wedge firmly inside. You can then feed a long, thin item, such as a straightened coat hanger, through the gap and press the unlock button inside the car. However, using a window wedge can damage the paint and weatherstripping. It can also bend the door frame, and you may need to pay to have it repaired.

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Do You Need to Call a Locksmith?

If the methods above don't work, your only remaining option is to call a locksmith. You may also prefer to call a locksmith if you don't feel confident about trying to unlock your car yourself or wish to avoid damaging it in the process. Locksmiths carry special tools that allow them to open car door locks.

You'll also need to call a locksmith if you've lost your car key and don't have a spare. The locksmith can rekey your car door, which involves changing the positions of the pins inside the lock to accept a new key.

According to Forbes, you should expect to pay a locksmith between $75 and $150 to unlock your car or between $150 and $300 outside regular working hours. Having a vehicle rekeyed costs between $50 and $300.

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