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Locked Your Keys in the Car? Here's What to Do Next.

Don't be ashamed-you're not alone. In fact, so many people searched for this topic on the internet that we decided to write this story.

© Ryan McVay   Don't be ashamed-you're not alone. In fact, so many people searched for this topic on the internet that we decided to write this story.

By Andrew Northshield, Popular Mechanics

It happens to the best of us: You’re frazzled, thinking about eight different things but not the moment at hand. The keys are in the car, the doors are locked, and you have an appointment in ten minutes.
All is not lost. You may not make your appointment, but there are solutions.

As firefighters, one of the core principles we’re taught is to solve the problem at hand while causing the least collateral damage possible. “Try before you pry” is one of the first lessons in any forcible-entry class. (We firefighters do much better when things are distilled to us in as few words as possible, and it’s a major bonus if you can make it rhyme.) The same principle should be applied to the keys-locked-in-the-car problem.

We are going to start with the least invasive methods and work up to the worst-case scenario.


First: In the event of an emergency-a person or an animal locked in the car-dial 911 immediately. If help is not quick in coming and you have to break the window, do so as safely as possible. Choose a window away from any occupants. If you have tape of any kind, use it to cover as much of the window as possible, as this will keep the glass somewhat together when broken. Safely remove as much glass as possible once broken.

Obvious Solutions

The first avenues of approach will be the ones that have the highest potential for success with the lowest potential for damage.

Check all the doors. While this may seem painfully obvious, it has solved this problem for me on more than one occasion. A member of the public calls us for assistance, we arrive, check the passenger door, and-owing to a faulty driver’s-side lock-gain access. People get tunnel vision in times of stress and forget the obvious.

• If that fails, call someone for assistance. If you’re not too far from home, see if someone can bring a spare key. If you are far from home, call the local fire department or police department-it may be a service they provide. If you are a member of a roadside assistance program, such as AAA or Good Sam, or have similar benefits through your auto insurance, call them. It may not be the most expedient method, but a professional with the tools of the trade is generally going to be worth the wait.

Forcible Entry

If you attempt all of the above options and are still locked out, forcing your way into the car might be your only hope. It would be good if you’re near a hardware store during business hours, because you’re going to need a few items. The kits we keep at the firehouse are simple: long metal rod, a few plastic wedges, and a flat air bladder with a bulb-style pump.

© Tim Boyle   New Ford Plant Features Flexible Manufacturing System

(We long ago abandoned the slim jim, with which we can cause more damage to the internal workings of a modern door, with low likelihood of success.) You don’t really need the bladder-and-pump situation, but here’s how to replicate the first two items from the shelves of a store:

• The metal rod ideally is rigid enough to hold under pressure, but flexible enough to manipulate its shape by hand. The best shape is to simply put a slight bend into the rod at the halfway mark. A thin threaded rod will work, and a heavy coat hanger can work, but it isn’t ideal as it will flex too much when compressed. 

• There are two good options for the wedge: felling wedges or construction shims, the longer and thinner the better. The best material would be nylon or plastic, second is wood, and a distant last, metal. The wedge is going to be inserted in one of the front doors, a few inches either below or in front of the upper corner opposite the door hinges. Ideally, use two wedges, one below and the other to the front.

© David Hagerman   Blue plastic molding wedges stacked on side view

The idea is to create just enough space between the door and the post of the car to insert the rod, without harming the paint or the structure of the car. Once the wedge(s) are in place, slide the rod into the opening and begin to attack the problem. Again, we have a few ways to approach unlocking the door. 

The most obvious path is to push the unlock button. While this might seem like the easiest, sometimes an easier path is to try and pull the door lever. If both methods fail and you can see the keys in the car, you can try to hook them and pull them out through the opening. Or, if you can get at the buttons on the keyfob, you can push on those as well. 

Another potential solution that will probably only work in the event of a locked running car: Attempt to push the window buttons. Again, this seems obvious, but it is surprising how many times it’s overlooked.

The Last Resort

© Ari Grey / EyeEm   How to Get Keys Out of a Locked Car

One other method that can be employed if there is a vertical door lock involves tying a loop in a string and working it down in between the door and the frame. You work the string into the door in the corner, pulling back and forth to get it in between the weather stripping and the frame, and then move the front string and the rear string down, in a see-saw method, until the loop is at lock height. The loop is lassoed around the lock and then pulled tight. At that point the two ends of the string are moved back up to the 12 o’clock position, gently tugged, and the lock pops up. Note: I have personally tried this a few times and have never found much success.

Or, In the First Place…

©   HitchSafe HS7000 Key Vault


Ultimately this is a problem that is easily avoidable. Having a spare key on your car is a solution that doesn’t take much effort, skill, or money. It can be as simple as zip tying a spare key in a secure, easily accessible location. If your vehicle has a trailer hitch, there are some options that turn the hitch into a small safe, with room for a few keys. My confidence in the magnetic key holders isn’t great, especially in the northeast where the pothole is on every state crest. If you do go that route, consider a secondary means of securing it beyond just the magnet.


Note: If you think this story need more information or correction, feel free to comment below your opinion and reaction.

Autos News: Locked Your Keys in the Car? Here's What to Do Next.
Locked Your Keys in the Car? Here's What to Do Next.
Don't be ashamed-you're not alone. In fact, so many people searched for this topic on the internet that we decided to write this story.
Autos News
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