It’s one of those things that happens to everyone at least once.
You were in a rush. Maybe your keys didn’t quite make it into your pocket (i.e., they accidentally dropped on the seat). Or perhaps you thought you’d set those keys down for only a second while you grabbed something from the trunk. You’d never actually forget they were there….
No one is judging you here. At Insurify, we’ve got your back. We want you to feel secure in any situation—especially when you’ve made a forgivable mistake.
Because we’ve all been there: stranded in a diner parking lot all because we spilled coffee on our shirt and had an extra one in the trunk.
So read on for a few simple steps to get your doors unlocked and get you on your way.
Step 1: Breathe in…and out
Okay, so you’ve double-checked all your car door handles and confirmed that you’re locked out of your car. If you haven’t, double-check to be sure. Nothing says “pointless lockout charge” like discovering the glass hatch was open all along.
Now that you’re sure it’s locked (and, darn it, you can even see the car keys right there!), it’s time to take stock of your options. Begin with your spare key: Do you have one, and if so, who has access to it? A neighbor, spouse, or roommate might be able to bring you your key.
You may have also purchased a magnetic key case that attaches to the metal undercarriage of your vehicle. Key cases are popular among hikers and backpackers who don’t want to risk dropping keys in the woods. Generally inexpensive and durable, they can be purchased online.
But if you determine that your spare key is not accessible to you, it’s time to consider your other options.
Step 2: Do you have roadside assistance?
Easily one of the best buys in insurance, roadside assistance is offered through several different retailers. This service’s beauty is that you call a central line, and a customer service agent arranges for the help you need. And it does so with speedy response times.
And it’s not limited to lockouts. Roadside assistance covers tows, dead batteries, empty gas tanks, and even flat-tire changes. Best of all, there are several ways you might have access to roadside assistance.
Roadside assistance from your car insurance
Many car insurance companies offer a roadside assistance feature that can serve as a rider to your insurance policy. Services are usually limited, with shorter towing distances and sometimes fewer options. However, the service is also inexpensive, usually under ten dollars a month.
So this is an excellent option for low-mileage drivers looking to save while getting fully covered. And if you haven’t already purchased this add-on, it may be possible to buy and use it the same day. Just give your insurance company’s customer service line a call.
Roadside assistance from your dealer or vehicle manufacturer
If you recently bought a new car, there’s a good chance that it comes with some sort of roadside assistance. That’s especially true with new vehicles. Many dealerships will offer roadside assistance for the length of the original warranty, typically three years/36,000 miles.
Even used cars can come with a similar perk. Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, and GM all offer a roadside assistance service for certified pre-owned vehicles. And all the more so if you leased your car! You may want to give your dealer a call just to check.
If your dealer can’t, it’s also possible that the maker of your car might be able to help. Was your vehicle equipped with a service like On-Star? By calling the service line, you may be able to control the door locks remotely.
Roadside assistance from automotive clubs
Three top-rated companies offer roadside assistance independent of other companies, like your insurance provider or car maker. A significant advantage of using an independent company is that you don’t have to switch coverage if you switch car insurance companies or buy a different car.
Three of the most popular groups include AAA, National General, and Better World Club.
AAA is one of the most comprehensive roadside assistance services around. While its annual dues are more expensive than what you’d pay through your insurance company, AAA offers longer tow distances and more services. Plus, with your membership, you’ll receive discounts and perks on automotive and travel needs. For example, restaurants, hotels, and many attractions will offer a AAA discount, especially in touristed areas.
National General is less expensive than AAA and offers roadside services, discount programs, and other benefits. The company will also help you plan road trips and even send you the maps you’ll need for them. How’s that for service?
Better World Club is “America’s only eco-friendly auto club” and positions itself as an ethical alternative to other motor clubs. Not only does the company offer roadside assistance to drivers, but it also provides the only bicyclist assistance program in the country—an excellent option for eco-minded people and adventure seekers.
Roadside assistance through AARP
Not exactly a motor club, but also an independent provider, AARP roadside assistance is for drivers over 50. Allstate provides this service, but only AARP members can purchase it. Standard benefits include towing, flat tire, gas for empty tanks, locksmith services, and dead battery jumps.
If you’re unaware of AARP, it is a nonprofit association for Americans over the age of 50. Initially founded for retired teachers, today, the organization lobbies on behalf of older Americans, provides consumer information, and even offers community-focused volunteer opportunities to members and non-members.
Roadside assistance from your credit card company
Finally, several credit cards come with roadside assistance. This is most likely the case with cards that require an annual fee, but other cards occasionally offer the perk. The most common scenario that will be covered by your credit card is when you’ve used your card to purchase a rental car.
Either way, it can’t hurt to give that service phone number on the back of your card a call. Terms change, and sometimes perks are added. For example, Visa Signature is a somewhat new benefit program added to many Visa cards.
Step 3: If Step 2 doesn’t work, call a professional
So, your spare key is nowhere convenient. Your insurance plan didn’t include roadside assistance. And the two credit cards you own offer you no perks of interest. It’s time to call in a professional.
But who, exactly, do you call? A straightforward search to make is for a tow truck service. Most towing companies offer lockout services, and if they don’t, they can probably steer you in the right direction. Other options include professional locksmiths and automotive repair businesses.
The cost of a car lockout could be anywhere from $40 to $120, and most technicians will ask you to pay upfront or at the time of service. If you’re genuinely trying to avoid costs and know your way around a toolbox, you may try a DIY method.
Step 4: Try these locked car DIY methods
Did you say you were a handy person? Perhaps a DIY approach can work for you. There are a few tricks for breaking into your car if you want to go that route. Everything will depend on the locking mechanism in your vehicle, but the most common method involves prying open your window enough to get a wire coat hanger inside.
Most professionals have an inflatable tool for this. You can use a blood pressure sleeve if you happen to have one lying around. Slip the deflated sleeve between the door frame and the window and inflate it. If you, like most people, don’t have a blood pressure sleeve, you can try wedging something soft but firm between the glass and frame to wiggle the window open. A rubber door stop is an excellent solution.
But you don’t need to overdo it: a quarter inch is enough. Any more than that may cause expensive damage to your window. Once it’s open, slip in an uncurled coat hanger (or something similar) and hit the unlock button. For those without electric locks, there is a tool known as a slim jim that can do the same thing.
In an emergency, you might think you should break a window. Before you decide to go this route, be absolutely sure you need to. The cost of replacing a window is often more expensive than the cost of a lockout service. However, certain situations may call for such a move, such as a locked-in child or pet on a hot day.
Local police officers will be able to help you in such an emergency. If you decide to break your window on your own, be cautious. Protect your hands. Try to break small holes or light cracks first to avoid spraying shattered glass everywhere. Using the claw end of a hammer is the perfect tool. Afterward, be sure to repair the window as soon as possible.
Pro tip: if you have an older car, you can likely find an inexpensive replacement by buying used glass. I was able to find a replacement window this way for a third of the cost after someone broke into my car. And it looked good as new!
If you’re like me and saving money is at the top of your priority list, using Insurify is the two-minute way to find the best car insurance at the lowest rate. Take a couple of minutes, save up to hundreds a year. Really.
Dreading a lockout? Take these preventative measures
If you’re stranded at the supermarket with melting ice cream, this isn’t going to be helpful to you right now (though I bet the grocer will be kind enough to let you store your ice cream in the freezer while you wait). But if you’re reading this for fun or you want to avoid locking your keys in your car ever again, here are some suggestions.
Store an extra car key somewhere strategic. Whether you hand your key over to someone you trust or purchase a magnetic key box, it’s a great idea to have a plan. Even if you have a roadside assistance plan, having an accessible spare key can save a lot of time and effort.
And an option like the key box is a low tech solution. You know, just in case you accidentally lock your phone with your keys or find yourself out of cell service.
Never put your keys in the trunk at any point, in any situation. I truly learned this one the hard way (see the introduction). If you’re getting something out of your trunk and juggling your keys, place them in your pocket, purse, or shoe, or on the bumper. Anywhere but inside your trunk.
Consider installing a keyless or keypad entry if you’re a multiple-offender. Everyone has flaws, and habitually locking your keys in the car is a pretty minor one considering today’s technology. It will run about $300 to get one installed, but the convenience and safety it offers are priceless.
Bottom Line: Take it easy—it happens all the time!
Locking your keys in your car is a rite of passage. Call your neighbor, insurance provider, roadside assistance line, or local locksmith. And if you find yourself wholly unprepared, chalk it up to lessons learned and make a plan for the future.
The most important thing is to remain calm and take it easy on yourself. Chances are, you’ll be laughing about it later.