Thousands of drivers lock keys in cars each year—and now you’re one of them. Luckily, newer cars make it much more difficult to do this, but if you find yourself standing outside your locked car with your keys sitting in the cup holder, these tricks can be lifesavers. Before you send out the “locked keys in a car” SOS text, learn how to unlock a car door without your keys with these simple (and cheap!) methods.
What do I do if I locked my keys in the car?
Rest assured that “it’s getting far more difficult for consumers to get locked out of their cars, as most transponder keys won’t allow that to happen,” according to Mark Takahashi, senior reviews editor at Edmunds. Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader, agrees: “The idea of locking keys in cars is becoming a thing of the past.” If you do get locked out, calling a locksmith, roadside assistance service, or the police might be your best bet, depending on the situation’s urgency, Moody notes.
Does CAA unlock your car?
Roadside assistance providers like CAA can come in handy when you’ve locked your keys in the car, Moody says. If you find yourself in this situation, call CAA and let them know your location, the make and model of your vehicle, and your membership number. However, keep in mind that a professional may take a half hour or more to arrive, and you will have to pay out of pocket if you don’t have this coverage in your membership plan.
How do you unlock your car with keys inside?
Want to avoid an expensive call to a locksmith or roadside assistance professional? Fortunately, there are several cheaper tricks to unlock your car without keys, as long as you are patient and good with tools. Here’s how to get your keys out of a locked car—no locksmith required.
How do you unlock a car with a cell phone?
Gallery: 8 Things to Keep in Your Car in Case of Roadside Trouble (Reader’s Digest Canada)
Roadside emergency kit essentials
A Candle and Matches
A Warm Blanket
A Road Map
A Multi-Function Car Emergency Tool
Thanks to a growing number of car apps for your smartphone, you can unlock your car without breaking the bank—or a window. Many new vehicles offer free Apple and Android apps that allow drivers to control their cars sans keys. The apps turn smartphones into second key fobs, so users can lock, unlock, and even start their cars remotely. “The key is to pair [your car key] with the app before you lock yourself out,” Takahashi says. If you own a new car model from Hyundai, GM/Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Ford, or Honda, install the manufacturer’s app for the next time your keys get locked in the car. Here are more hidden car features you might not realize you have.
Good news: If you own an older car with manual locks and you’re wearing shoes with shoelaces, you might not need to call roadside assistance. Just tie a slipknot in the middle of the shoelace, creating a loop the size of your index finger. Then wiggle the shoelace around the right corner of the driver’s side door until the slip knot is inside the door’s seam. Now, holding the shoelace with both hands, move it in a back-and-forth motion like you’re flossing a giant tooth. Doing so will shift the slip knot further down the window and toward the lock on the car door. Carefully manoeuvre the loop over the lock, then pull the ends of the string to tighten the loop. When you think you have a solid grip around the lock, gently pull up on it to unlock the car door. Ta-da! You’re in! (You can also use a sturdy piece of string in lieu of a shoelace.)
Try a coat hanger
The coat hanger method is a classic; you’ve probably seen it used in a few movies. Like the shoelace trick, this method only works on older vehicles with manual locks. All you will need is a thin wire coat hanger and pliers. “Use the pliers to unravel the coat hanger so you have one side hooked and one that’s straight,” says Laura Gonzales, a marketing manager at Audi Bellevue. “You’re going to slide the coat hanger between the window and the weather stripping. Once the hook is below the window, you can start fishing around for the control arm. Once you find it, pull up with the hook and your door will open.” (Worried someone will try this trick on your ride? Follow these five car security tips to protect your vehicle.)
Use a wedge
To unlock a car without keys like a pro, invest in an automotive toolkit with a curved or inflatable window wedge. Just be aware that using a wedge to unlock a car can be a little tricky, warns Bill Evans, manager of J&E Auto Body in Clark, New Jersey. Start by pulling the top of the door frame out with a pry tool and pushing the wedge in to hold the door frame out. Then, using a long, skinny rod (it could even be a coat hanger), push the unlock button. “Triple A drivers and tow truck drivers usually do it this way, and that is how we do it also,” says Evans. This trick works on both old and new car models.
But there is a downside. “Even the experienced people will scratch the paint or tear the weather stripping during this process,” Evans says. “You may need to see a body shop to realign the top of the door frame since sometimes they remain bent out away from the body after the wedge is used.” Make sure the repair costs are worth it before using a wedge to get yourself out of your “locked keys in car” debacle.
Now that you know how to unlock a car door without your keys, check out troubleshooting tips for when your car won’t start.