Almost every other modern car will come with a set of spare keys and one huge problem – you forget to bring the spare keys with you. Why would you need them when you have your regular ones, right? Wrong! You won’t understand the importance of a spare key until you’re stranded outside Walmart with bags full of groceries and realize you’ve locked your keys inside the car.
“I’ve locked my keys in my car!” is the sentence said seconds before a disaster. If you’ve never locked yourself out of your car, had your keys stolen, or simply lost them, you wouldn’t know about the sheer embarrassment the moment produces.
We all mentally curse ourselves whenever this happens. But the worrying thing is that it happens to the regular person more often than they would like to admit.
So, how do you take care of this embarrassing situation by yourself? You would be happy to know that there are quite a few ways to gain access to your car when you’ve locked your keys inside.
Some are easier and more fool-proof than the others, some require tools on-hand, but the majority of them will work. Let’s take a look at a few workarounds to get you inside your car after you’ve misplaced your keys.
- Use a Shoelace
- Use a Coat Hanger
- Rod and Screwdriver
- Rod and Wedge
- Slim Jim Trick
- Use an Inflatable Wedge
- Use a Plastic Strip
- Tennis Ball Technique
- Call Police/Security Assistance
- Electronic Car Door Openers
- Important Considerations
- Final Thoughts
Warnings Before You Start
The locking mechanisms on cars differ from one model, make, and brand to another. All newer models generally feature power locks which basically means there is a remote control to open them. Older cars have manual locks. Some vehicles also have the locking knob located on the top inner side of the door by the window. Others come by the handle.
Before performing any of the hacks given below, make sure you figure out where the unlock mechanism is on the car (on both the exterior and interior of the door). Not every method is compatible with every type of lock.
If you’ve locked your keys in the car more than you would like to admit, you might think it’s a good idea to hide a spare key somewhere around the vehicle. Unless it’s a well-thought spot, you might be inviting a breacher to steal your car.
Make sure to hide the keys in a hard-to-reach and obscure area from where they can’t fall out. The small magnetic boxes sticking to the metal surface of the frame or body are your best bets. Isn’t it better to struggle a little to get the extra key than letting someone sweep away your car with it?
Use a Shoelace
Although it sounds too good to be true, a shoestring could be a valuable tool in opening your locked car door. Plus it’s most likely the one thing you have at any given time. On the downside, it only works on locks that open when pulled up.
First, take a shoelace and tie a little loop in the middle. Once it is laced around the locking mechanism, you can tighten it. Squeeze the string inside the car through the little space where the door is in contact with the car’s exterior. Now, hook around the lock, fasten the loop, and bring the string upwards. If you’re not a pro like this man, it may take more than one attempt but it should do the trick.
Use a Coat Hanger
We’ve seen this method countless times in movies and if we’re being honest, we personally doubted its authenticity. Turns out, it does work on particular cars. Modern cars have electronic door locks that will not be receptive to this technique so rule it out. But, if your older car has one of those bulbous knobs on the inside of the door that go up to unlock and down to lock, a coat hanger is the weapon you were looking for.
You need a coat hanger that you have to straighten out to the best of your capability. Form a small hook at one of the ends. Notice there is a rubber molding holding your window in the frame; you have to jam the hook down there. Consider it fishing but instead of reeling in catches, you’re trying to get inside your car.
Slowly lower the hook inside the door along with the frame until it reaches the lock button. Check to see if you can hook it. Maneuver the hook below it and pull up. If you did it right, your door should be unlocked. Funnily enough, this hack was what caused so many cars to be stolen back in the day. Once you know what you have to do, it really isn’t that difficult.
For your safety and others, make sure the car you’re attempting to unlock really belongs to you.
The Rod and Screwdriver
This isn’t the most readily accessible hack. You’ll need a flat head screwdriver and a steel rod. However, if you come across some junk lying around, look around for a sturdy, long pole instrument – that would be a good substitute. Pry the door open slightly using the screwdriver and push the rod inside. Push the unlock button.
Mind that using just any other metal object can damage your car’s interior and exterior, so be careful when trying this one.
Consider buying the proper tools if you were lucky enough to be stranded near a hardware store. You will be saving your car from a lot of poking.
A Rod and Wedge
A coat hanger wouldn’t work with electronic locks but this technique might. Depending on the working mechanism of your locks, a wedge could be the bridge between your locked door and the keys. This also works for the old school push-down and pull-up system locks based on how steady you can keep your hand.
For this one, you’ll need a coat hanger. Alternatively, any thin, long, sturdy rod should do. In addition, you must have a wooden wedge, think a doorstop.
Take the wedge and insert it at the top of the door against the door frame. The wedge has to be inserted properly inside the crack near the top-right edge of the door. Use the ball of your thumb as a hammer and start tapping it in.
Since the handle is locking the door down, the top-right edge of the door is farthest from the actual lock. That opens up a window of opportunity for you when you can gently insert the wedge in and create a small gap between the frame and door with minimal damage. The gap doesn’t need to be huge; you simply need enough space to shove the coat hanger or metal rod in there.
Refrain from using too many tools as it could damage your door. That being said, soft tapping on the wooden wedge wouldn’t have adequate power to dent or scratch the metal but you should get the space you need.
It’s time to go fishing again! After you make a small gap where needed, you have to reach in with your metal rod or coat hanger. Get to the locking mechanism and pull or push the button depending on what will open up the door for you.
An inflatable wedge would work fine too. The benefit to using this tool is that you don’t run the risk of damaging your car’s paint and neither are you using the force from a metal object to force it open. One problem we can think of with air wedges is that you probably don’t carry these on you at all times. They are most likely in the trunk of your car but since your primary concern is “locked my keys in my car,” we don’t think that would be very helpful.
Slim Jim Trick
This isn’t the beef jerky variation of Slim Jim. Chances are, you’ve seen the slim jims used for cars in movies. The thief is trying to break into the car and they need the perfect impromptu tool – the mighty Slim Jim! It’s not limited to Hollywood and there’s a reason for that. It kind of works. The reason we say “kind of” is because it’s compatible with older-style locks.
Push the slim jim inside the car door, similar to the technique of inserting a coat hanger or a wire. Carefully, work the locking mechanism when you come upon it and after a bit of prying, the door should swing open.
Use a Plastic Strip
Here’s the thing: There are tons of things lying around you or in your house that you can use to open a car door – you just don’t know it yet. For instance, we guarantee you never through a plain ol’ piece of plastic could give you access to your car if you lock yourself out of it! A long plastic strip can be bent in half and slipped through the door crack. As an alternative, you could use plastic wedges.
Similar to most of the methods mentioned here, this will only work for pull-up and push-down type locks (unfortunately). As long as you can trigger the locking mechanism with a rod, stick, or access tool, this is good.
Do you have a habit of locking your keys in your car? Consider investing in a long reach tool kit or a total lockout tool kit. Or, get an inflatable wedge or a set of wedges plus a long reach tool.
And, before buying anything, ensure the tools will actually work on your car. Refer to the owner’s manual to determine the type of locking mechanism your car has. If you’re still unclear, check in with a professional. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t keep the tool kit in the trunk.
Magnetic key holders are a fine option if you can hide it properly. You could hide it underneath the bumper and put the spare key there.
Hail Mary (The Tennis Ball Technique)
This is undoubtedly the most debated (and wild) method to unlock a car door. Forget all the sharp instruments and poking and prodding. You need a simple tennis ball for the Hail Mary.
Make a hole in a tennis ball. You can either drill one or use a screwdriver to literally tear a hole. It shouldn’t be too big, just small enough to cover the keyhole of the locked car door.
Once the tennis ball is prepared, line it up with the car door’s keyhole. Now, push against the back of the ball with as much force as you can generate. The entire concept revolves around making your tennis ball into a small air pump. Apparently, the tennis ball releases enough air pressure to create a force strong enough to unlock the door.
If you’re skeptical, you’re not the only one. This method has been the topic of questioning for too long now and many people have attempted it and failed. MythBusters, a popular show, even did an entire episode on it and debunked this myth, claiming it doesn’t work. This is why we wouldn’t suggest it as it could simply waste your time.
However, there are many videos on the internet that say otherwise. Hail Mary could be entirely dependent on fate.
Call Police/Security Assistance
If you’ve exhausted all other methods and don’t know what to do except having a mental breakdown in the parking lot, it’s time to call in help. Simply ring up the public safety department and they should send someone to help you out. It’s as easy as that. But do understand that the public safety department has a hundred other important tasks to attend to, so they may not treat you as a priority. Help could take hours to arrive.
Calling the police is another option, but don’t do this unless there are absolutely no other options. Call your friends and family first to come to pick you up or help you unlock the car. Let’s be real if you rang up the police and said “I’ve locked my keys in my car,” they will likely not consider it something the law enforcement needs to look into.
Yes, plenty of officers carry the required tools to assist you, but it will never be a top priority. You can waste their valuable time in the process which they could otherwise be dedicated to a case. However, if you don’t feel safe where you’re stuck, let them know and they would definitely consider.
Most towing services offer lock-out services, so that’s a viable option. Call 411 to check out the services available in your zone.
Electronic Car Door Openers
Modern-day vehicles typically come with state-of-the-art electronic door openers, otherwise known as digital keys. Companies knew about our struggle with the whole “Locked my keys in my car once more” narrative and created devices that don’t let you lock the car doors with the keys inside the vehicle.
The disadvantage is that if you lost the gadget, it would be super expensive and time-consuming to get a replacement. Not to mention how you’ll have to call a towing service to bring it to a dealer who will place an order for the new key.
It’s noteworthy that if you lose the opener outside your car, you might fail to start the ignition without it. A few models have override switches to solve this. Find out if you’ll be able to start your car without the opener and get to know the location of the override switch (if any) when you first get the vehicle.
Fortunately, each car key comes with a code imputed by the auto manufacturer. Given you have your personal identification with the key code number, a locksmith can make a new key for you. Write the key code number down somewhere, maybe on your diary or the notes app on your phone so you can read it out during an emergency.
You will also require the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Normally, it can be found by a panel on the dash over the steering wheel. You should be able to see it outside the car. Sadly, it could also be inside the door panel, in which case it will be of no help at all if you lock your keys inside.
If you can reach your insurance agent or have your insurance paperwork with you, the VIN is there on every page of the policy.
Locked My Keys in My Car: Important Considerations
Now, let’s go through some of the factors that you should consider if you’ve locked your keys in your car.
Get a Temporary Key
A temporary key can be made from the car dealership. It’s an inexpensive tool that will help you unlock the car door but it won’t start the car. Retrieve your original keys from inside and start the ignition. Again, you will need your VIN to prove the car belongs to you. Of course, you’ll need to get to the dealership for that. An Uber ride, perhaps?
Purchase a Car with Benefits
We already mentioned the newer car models that don’t let you lock the door if the key is in the ignition. Vehicles from Lincoln, Mercury, and Ford feature a cool door-mounted keypad where you can tap in a code that unlocks the door. If your car comes with a telematics system like Hyundai’s Blue Link, GM’s OnStar, or Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace, rejoice because there is a toll-free number you can call to have the car unlocked remotely.
Although pretty expensive, these systems let you download free apps that allow smartphone owners to unlock their car doors with a simple tap.
Things get more complex if you have lost the keys. First things first, get a locksmith. The price for a new key generally starts from $200. Some higher-end models come with high prices as they come with features so those will set you back several hundred dollars. In addition, you can buy those through a dealer. They will have to program the remote before that.
Annual auto-clubs could get you out of these sticky situations. Allstate, AAA, and other organizations offering roadside service will surely help you out but expect it to take longer. If roadside assistance says they are too busy to send help, ask them to get you in contact with a local locksmith.
If you aren’t subscribed to such a service, don’t worry just yet. Most new cars feature roadside assistance from the dealers or manufacturers within the warranty period. The details should be on your owner’s manual, but of course, you locked that inside the car too. Check for any remaining window decals as they can be there. No luck? Call the dealership to get the details.
Stay prepared at all times by storing the number either in your phone or write it down on a piece of paper.
It’s safe to say that almost every adult has that moment of “I locked my keys in my car.” It’s surely embarrassing and inconvenient but keeps in mind, it happens to people all the time. It’s difficult to always be adequately prepared for such an incident because who would keep a coat hanger along but not the actual car key?
Despite it being a stressful situation, you should remember that you will most certainly find a way to get inside your car again. Unless it’s an emergency where you have to access the car at any cost, don’t do anything that will cause irreversible or reversible but pricey damages to your car.