DIY locksmithing
March 19, 2006 5:17 PM   Subscribe

DIY locksmithing? I locked my keys in my car tonight. Before dropping $70 to have someone open it, can I do this myself? Tools/techniques/tutorials?
posted by masymas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total)
How old and how tight of a car? Can you replace a window for less than $70?
posted by Ken McE at 5:22 PM on March 19, 2006

Get a slim jim from any automotive store around. Depending on what type of car you have, it should be somewhere between easy and moderately difficult to jimmy the lock with it. You slide the serrated edge between the window and the rubber weather stripping at the door, down about 9 inches, and attempt to catch the lock mechanism. Jiggle it until it unlocks itself. A coat hanger will also work, but you'll need to figure out how to shape it correctly.

posted by duende at 5:23 PM on March 19, 2006

If the car does not have side impact airbags, you should be able to do it with a 5 dollar slim jim. Be aware, though, that when I did this with my 1989 Celebrity I busted the lock while unlocking it. I had to take the door apart to repair it.
posted by Loto at 5:23 PM on March 19, 2006

Possibly helpful: Apparently a slimjim won't work on my car (a 1994 Geo Metro) - I only became aware of this after handing a towing company $80 to pry open my car door and stick a wedge in it while they flipped the lock with a yardstick. Give it a shot if you've got flip-type locks.
posted by soplerfo at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2006

Response by poster: it's a 1998 ford contour - I'm on my way to get a slim jim!
posted by masymas at 5:27 PM on March 19, 2006

I have had success with a wire coathanger (bend a hook in the end) although this was on a pretty old car (v. primitive and no automatic locks).
Basically you slide it down carefully between the rubber seal and the window then start feeling around for something near to the edge of the door in the vicinity of the lock that you can push down/sideways or hook into and pull up.

It is useful to keep an eye on the thing you press down to lock the door as you could see some correlation between whatever you are jiggling and it moving.

I've only had to do this a couple of times, but it was incredibly easy.
posted by azlondon at 5:29 PM on March 19, 2006

Use the wedget technique. I have had this work on a wide wide range of vehicles, when the coat hanger alone won't cute it.
Just get a "cats paw" or crow bar to pry the door a bit away from the seal, then get a wedge of some sort (door stopper, anything triangly that is pretty tough) shove it in the space that you just made so you have some more room to angle your coat hanger. Try to hit your automatic lock button, yank the handle to open the door, or reach clear across the car and do either of these on the other side.

Hope that helps
posted by Jonsnews at 5:37 PM on March 19, 2006

that would be "wedge technique"
I was just reading a tutorial on wget a minute ago and it seared into my brain.
posted by Jonsnews at 5:38 PM on March 19, 2006

I locked myself once out of a 1995 Ford Escort. It had a little hole under the door handle. I inserted a straight wire hanger there and the lock popped open. Check if yours has something similar.
posted by clearlydemon at 5:41 PM on March 19, 2006

If you have another person to help it, it's usually easy enough for one person to lightly pry open the door at the top while you slide a coat hanger inside the coar to pop the lock. My friend and I did this by his using a crow-bar to crack the door open when I bent the end of the coat hanger so it would catch the lock and it worked well. As others have mentioned, just be weary of cracking the weather stripping.
posted by jmd82 at 6:02 PM on March 19, 2006

Keep in mind that for someone who has AAA+, they get a certain amount of locksmithing for free with their annual payments. I'm not sure if you live someplace where finding this sort of person might be as easy as finding a slim jim, but the membership goes with the person not the car or the driver/owner, so if you're in someplace with good craigslist access or have a robust social group, this is another alternative.
posted by jessamyn at 6:05 PM on March 19, 2006

If you decide to use a slimjim, try to open the passenger side door. The driver side door has more wires to damage.
posted by malp at 6:31 PM on March 19, 2006

You might be able to use your antenna, if it detatches.

Whatcha want to do it this -- put your finger on the log and use your antenna/coathanger/whatever to push through the weather stripping down towards the lock. When you get there, you'll feel it on your finger.

From there, think about what direction your key turns. You'll wanna push the lock that direction, from the top.

What kind of car is it?
posted by ph00dz at 6:48 PM on March 19, 2006

Nevermind 'bout the car. (Missed that a second ago...) A slimjim might not be legal, depending on what state you're in.
posted by ph00dz at 6:50 PM on March 19, 2006

Your local Fire Department, believe it or not, will oftentimes assist you for free and get your keys out. Don't call through 911, though. And be very polite.
Bake them cookies. Don't burn them. Etc.
posted by disillusioned at 7:02 PM on March 19, 2006

Call a friend who has AAA.
posted by whoda at 7:03 PM on March 19, 2006

I had to do this just today on my '91 Daihatsu Mira; I'd locked the keys inside in the supermarket carpark. So I wandered about until I found a dumpster; sure enough, there were a couple of bits of plastic strapping lying about (the stiff, fibre-reinforced kind).

Grab a length of that, and fold it in half to make a double thickness. Crease the fold. Push the folded end gently between the front door seal and the B pillar (NOT between the window seal and the window glass), just above the bottom of the front window, as close to the internal lock button as you can get.

Push the strap end nearest the pillar (the one furthest from the window glass) a little further in than the other side; the fold inside the car will open up into a big loop. With a little jiggling and patience, you can lasso the top of the lock button with this; then gently withdraw both ends, so the loop is taut around the lock button. Now drag the whole thing upwards, and the lock button will pop up with it.

This technique works really well on cars with little knobs on the tops of the lock buttons, and not at all on other kinds. It doesn't scratch up your paint like wire does, or bend your doors like wedges can, and it uses materials you'll typically find lying about within a hundred metres of your car.
posted by flabdablet at 7:07 PM on March 19, 2006

This is where the yearly cost of AAA "pays off in spades!" Not to mention the free, detailed travel guide books, maps and travel booking services that many times are easier, cheaper and far less time consumig than hours on the Web burning into the wee hours of the morning. :-) Oh, and they'll bring you gas when you're stranded and also provide towing service.
posted by thebarron at 7:21 PM on March 19, 2006

You may not be able to use a slim jim with your Contour. We had a 1999 Contour and the door locks were electrically operated (even when you pressed the lock lever directly on the door, you'd hear a geared motor engage inside). If yours is similar, and if there's no long bar to engage with the slim jim, you may be out of luck doing it yourself.
posted by zsazsa at 8:04 PM on March 19, 2006

Call a friend with a AAA membership. Have them come over and call AAA and tell them that they've locked their keys in their car. A tow truck or locksmith will come over, open your car, and ask to see your friend's AAA card and that will be it. Your friend has to be present, though, so you may want to reward them in any way you see fit.
posted by redteam at 8:48 PM on March 19, 2006

Advice for next time: get one of those magnetic key boxes and stick a duplicate key to the car. Some forgetful men minimize the head of a spare key and carry the result in their billfolds.

Um, enough of the head should remain so that turning the key is possible.
posted by Cranberry at 10:40 PM on March 19, 2006

A friend of mine once called the auto club and signed up for a membership, then, when they asked if there was anything else they could do for her, she asked them to send someone to help with her car.
posted by acoutu at 12:21 AM on March 20, 2006

With AAA you're a member the minute you sign up. Call, join, call for service.
posted by Marky at 12:27 AM on March 20, 2006

AAA works, but there are other organizations that offer the same kind of roadside assistance for much less money. AARP is one; some credit cards have a program associated with them. Most of these programs do not have anything like AAA's trip-planning and map services, though. If that's important to you, stay with AAA.

My very limited experience says car door locks are among the easiest locks to pick (with lockpicks).
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:48 AM on March 20, 2006

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