What to Do When You’ve Locked Your Keys in the Car

DIY tactics can save you money if you’ve locked your keys in your car, while calling in professional help may spare you time and aggravation.

Alani Asis
Written byAlani Asis
Alani Asis
Alani Asis
  • 3 years of content writing

  • Bylines with leading financial publications

Alani is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She aims to make complex topics more approachable through fun, digestible content.

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Danny Smith
Edited byDanny Smith
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Danny Smith
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

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Updated June 12, 2024

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Even with advanced lock technology like keyless entry systems, you can still find yourself locked out of your car. While it’s usually only a minor inconvenience, you may encounter situations where a locked car may be life-threatening, especially if a small child or pet is trapped inside.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, there are effective ways to regain access to your vehicle. Some methods won’t cost you a dime, while others may require you to spend some money.

How to open a car door with the keys locked inside

Before resorting to do-it-yourself solutions or calling for professional help, you should first:

  • Check all doors. Inspect all your car doors, as one of your passenger doors may be unlocked.

  • Look for open windows. If a car window is open, try reaching in to unlock the door from the inside. If the gap is too narrow for your hand to fit through, a small or thin object like a wire hanger may help you unlock the latch manually.

  • Contact someone with a spare key. If a friend or family member has access to an extra key, ask if they can bring it to you.[1]

DIY options

You can use DIY techniques when conventional methods, like someone bringing a spare key to you, aren’t an option. This can also help you avoid spending money on locksmith services. However, these strategies aren’t foolproof. You can end up damaging your car and having to pay for repairs, so be careful when using any of the following methods:

Slim jim (or a similar piece of thin, flexible plastic)

  • How it works: On the driver’s side, slide the slim jim between the weatherstripping and the window of your vehicle until you find a metal rod or lever connecting the door handle to the lock. Once located, hook the internal lock with the notched end of the tool and push or pull up to unlock the door.

  • Type of locks: This works for manual locks or automatic locks on older cars.

  • Pros: Designed specifically for unlocking cars, slim jims cause less damage to your vehicle or locking mechanism than other DIY methods.

  • Cons: There’s a learning curve required in knowing how to correctly use a slim jim, and it may not work on many newer cars.[2]

Smartphone app

  • How it works: Several modern cars allow for remote vehicle unlocking through a mobile app. It’s as simple as installing the app on your smartphone and connecting it to your car’s system, usually via Bluetooth.

  • Type of lock: Your vehicle must have mobile app compatibility, usually available for cars with electronic door openers or keyless entry systems.

  • Pros: Unlocking your vehicle through a cellphone app is relatively easy to use and requires no physical tools, minimizing the risk of damage.

  • Cons: This requires prior setup.

Wire coat hanger

  • How it works: With the help of some pliers, straighten the hanger so only the end is hooked. Then insert the tool between the door frame and the body, aiming for the unlock button. Once you’ve hooked the door lock, pull up to open the door.

  • Type of lock: The modified wire coat hanger trick works best on vehicles with pull-up locks, often only found in older models.

  • Pros: Wire hangers are relatively easy to find to use when you’re in a pinch.

  • Cons: You’ll have to maintain a level of precision; otherwise, you’ll risk causing damage to your vehicle’s paint or interior.

Shoelace 

  • How it works: Create a slipknot in the middle of your shoelace, then slide your lace through the corner of your door frame. Using both hands, move the shoelace back and forth through the door’s seam until your loop reaches the lock mechanism. Then, you’ll want to maneuver the lace until your loop hooks on your lock, tighten the slip knot around the lock, and pull upward.

  • Type of lock: The shoelace method works best for older vehicles with pull-up knobs.

  • Pros: Shoelaces are easily accessible, especially if you’re wearing shoes.

  • Cons: This technique may not work for cars with advanced security systems. Also, using a shoelace may result in cosmetic damage to your door frame or trim.

Inflatable window wedge

  • How it works: While deflated, insert the wedge between the car door and the door frame, then use the provided pump to inflate the wedge. This will create a gap between your door and frame. Once the opening is wide enough, you can use the necessary tools to unlock your door.

  • Type of lock: An inflatable works for various cars.

  • Pros: This method is versatile and typically very effective.

  • Cons: You can cause potential damage to the car’s paint and weatherstripping. This could also cause misalignment in the door frame.[3]

Cheapest recent rates

Drivers have found policies from Hugo, CSAA, Mile Auto, and more, for rates as low as $35/mo. through Insurify

*Quotes generated for Insurify users within the last 10 days. Last updated on June 12, 2024

Rates shown are real-time Insurify user quotes from 100+ insurance companies and Quadrant Information Services data. Insurify’s algorithm excludes anomalous quotes and anonymizes personal details, then displays refined quotes by price, date, and insurer popularity up to 10 days ago from June 12, 2024. Actual quotes may vary based on the policy buyer’s unique driver profile.

*Quotes generated for Insurify users within the last 10 days. Last updated on June 12, 2024

Rates shown are real-time Insurify user quotes from 100+ insurance companies and Quadrant Information Services data. Insurify’s algorithm excludes anomalous quotes and anonymizes personal details, then displays refined quotes by price, date, and insurer popularity up to 10 days ago from June 12, 2024. Actual quotes may vary based on the policy buyer’s unique driver profile.

Roadside assistance

Many drivers may feel uncomfortable attempting the DIY route. The good news is that you have alternative options to avoid the cost of a locksmith:

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/7955361cf0/customer-support-1.svg

    AAA

    The American Automobile Association (AAA) provides 24/7 roadside assistance if you find yourself locked out of your car. You can use the company for locksmith services if you’re an AAA member and even track the arrival of your service provider through the AAA mobile app.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/24f1697280/car-key.svg

    Auto manufacturers and dealers

    Your car manufacturer or dealer may include roadside assistance services in your vehicle’s warranty package. You can read your warranty packet or contact your insurer to inquire about coverage details related to car locksmith services.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/9997698e9e/emergency-roadside-service.svg

    Roadside assistance plans

    Several companies offer stand-alone emergency road assistance policies with lockout services. Your insurance company may also provide these benefits at little to no additional cost. Check your car insurance policy or contact your insurer to determine if this service is available to you.

Professional help

If you’re locked out of your car, a professional locksmith can help you unlock your car with little to no damage. Technicians may use slim jims or reprogram your car keys to gain access to your vehicle.

The downside is that you’ll have to pay a premium for this service. Locksmith assistance usually costs between $50 to $150, depending on multiple factors like the pricing structure of your local locksmith, the time of day, and the type of lock your car has.

Emergency assistance

Some situations may warrant the need for emergency services. For instance, you may need to call the police for help if your locked car is obstructing traffic and causing a potential hazard.

Keep in mind that you should only call law enforcement in emergency situations. They may also need to break your window to access your car, especially in the face of immediate danger, like a child or pet being trapped in your vehicle.

How to avoid locking your keys in your car

The best way to avoid locking yourself out of your car is to prepare for it. Here’s how:

  • Carry a spare key. An extra key can be a lifesaver if you misplace your primary key.

  • Ensure a family or a friend has a spare to bring you. Keep a spare key with a trusted person nearby to call on them if you lose your main key.

  • Leave your keys in the same place when exiting the car. Make a habit of keeping your key in the same place, like a specific compartment in your purse or a particular pant pocket. This way, you reduce the chances of misplacing or leaving it in your car.

  • Double-check before closing your door. After leaving your car, take a second to check your purse or pocket to ensure you have your keys on hand.

What to Do If Your Car Is Broken Into

What to Do If Your Car Is Broken Into

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Car lockout FAQs

Getting locked out of your car can be distressing. Here’s what you need to know if it happens to you.

  • Does insurance cover damage from trying to unlock your car?

    It depends. Comprehensive coverage will cover non-collision-related incidents, primarily vandalism, theft, and weather damage. You’ll have to ask your insurance company if your policy covers self-inflicted damages from trying to unlock your car.

  • Will the police unlock your car for free?

    Typically, yes, law enforcement will unlock your car for free. However, if your situation doesn’t pose an immediate danger, refrain from calling the police for help. Instead, call a locksmith or try a DIY method for unlocking your car door.

  • How many times will AAA come out for a locked car?

    AAA allows for four emergency roadside services per year, which includes locksmith services.

  • How do you unlock a car with your cellphone?

    Download the dedicated mobile app from your car manufacturer that connects to your car’s keyless entry system via Bluetooth to unlock the doors.

Sources

  1. J.D. Power. "How To Unlock A Car Door."
  2. United Locksmith. "What Is A Slim Jim Tool And Do They Work?."
  3. Reader's Digest. "Here’s What to Do If You Lock Your Keys in the Car."
Alani Asis
Alani Asis

Alani Asis is a personal finance freelance writer with nearly three years of experience in content creation. She has landed bylines with leading publications and brands like Insider, Fortune, LendingTree, and more. Alani aims to make personal finance approachable through fun, relatable, and digestible content.

Danny Smith
Edited byDanny Smith
Photo of an Insurify author
Danny Smith
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 4+ years in content creation and marketing

As Insurify’s home and pet insurance editor, Danny also specializes in auto insurance. His goal is to help consumers navigate the complex world of insurance buying.

Featured in

media logo

Compare Car Insurance Quotes Instantly

Secure. Free. Easy-to-use.
Based on 3,806+ reviews
4.8/5
Shopper Approved
ProgressiveLiberty MutualTravelers

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