Updates to car-lock technology have rolled out steadily over the years. Some are driven by convenience, such as the change-over to automatic, and remote locks. Others are driven by desires to enhance security, such as increased complexity of analog locks, or chips in keys that allow a lock only to be opened by the original key with the chip and not a copy. Generally, we’re appreciative of these added security measures that keep criminals out of our vehicles. However, there are those occasional unfortunate instances where we’ve lost car keys, or locked keys in a car, and those same security measures that were keeping us safe, are now working against us; preventing us from accessing our own locked vehicles.
Anyone who’s had this experience knows the sinking feeling that comes from discovering that you will in fact, not just be getting into your car and going about your plans; whether you were on your way to work, on your way home, off to an important meeting, a get-together with friends, or whatever it was that you were expecting to be able to travel to as usual without additional hassle. Instead you are now stuck waiting for a locksmith to arrive and let you back in, or if you’re feeling ambitious and don’t have somewhere pressing to be, you can spend some time looking up instructionals on car-entry, seeking out specific materials, and attempting to force entry to your vehicle. This however, is not as easily accomplished as it once was.
Like all locks, car door locks have come a long way in the past few decades. In the past, a locked car door could easily be surpassed by a determined person with a metal coat hanger and/or a piece of string. There are still models on the road that are susceptible to these techniques. However, as time goes on, they are seen increasingly less. These days, if you find yourself locked out of a car, chances are you have some pretty hefty technology between you and access to your vehicle. While certain sites on the internet would like you to believe that a car door can be easily opened using a tennis ball or cell phone, these and other “too good to be true” methods have been thoroughly debunked. It is actually quite unlikely today that you’ll be able to MacGyver your car lock with what you happen to have in your pocket.
The most common DIY solution to a lockout from a car with manual locks, relies on the coat hanger to imitate the mechanism of a slim jim. Slim jims used to be one of the primary tools utilized by locksmiths. They are thin pieces of metal with hooks on the end that can be slid in between the bottom of a closed car window and the weatherproofing into the inside of the door. The hook is then used to snag the lever that attaches the locking mechanism to the button on the inside of the door, and manually pull it upward, thus triggering the unlocking mechanism.
The danger in using these devices, particularly for the inexperienced, is that there are a variety of other wires and cables inside the car door in addition to the locking mechanism, that could easily be damaged by the metal hook. So you really need to have a solid understanding of the inner-anatomy of the car door before attempting this, so that you can visualize the parts you’re trying to manipulate. This issue is further complicated by the fact that the layout of these mechanisms varies between manufacturers. So if you encounter a locked door on a car-brand you haven’t jimmied before, you may have to relearn how to use the slim jim safely.
Lock-picking was another technique that used to be common when dealing with car lockouts, and can still be used effectively on some older cars. Picking a lock can be done with a few different methods, but is generally accomplished by using a small metal device or combination of devices that are inserted into the lock, and used to manually clear the pins or wafers that are blocking the lock from turning and opening. Most cars use wafer locks, which are generally a fair bit easier to pick than the pin locks used on most building doors. A few decades ago, these locks tended to be particularly simple, and easy for a competent locksmith to pick. Today’s car locks however, are a bit more challenging, and while picking one is usually still very doable for an experienced locksmith, it is generally considered to be an inefficient method compared to other options.
Door wedging is currently the most popular technique used by modern locksmiths to enter locked vehicles. Door wedging involves taking a physical wedge, which can be made of plastic, rubber, or wood and inserting it between the door and the door-frame. The wedge is then used to pry open a space large enough to fit in a long metal rod which can be used to reach, and manually activate the cars unlock buttons. Often, these secondary devices will have varying sizes of hooks to accommodate for different button locations.
There are a few older models of cars that have power locks which cannot be activated with the inner unlock buttons unless the key is in the transmission. In this case the secondary mechanism definitely needs to have a hook on the end that can be used to extract the lost car keys through the narrow opening, to open the lock from the outside. Locksmiths like to tell horror-stories about some of the keychains they’ve encountered while attempting this technique.
Like any of these methods, a wedge can be used by an inexperienced person. But they run the risk of ruining the paintjob, damaging the doorframe, or breaking a window. In the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing though, the wedge is generally considered to be the best method available to get a door open quickly, without a key, and with minimal risk of damage to the vehicle.