The sad thing is, my lunch is in the car and I'm hungry!
May 18, 2006 8:23 AM   Subscribe

Calling all armchair MacGuyvers: My car is locked in my garage, and there must be a way to get it out.

I bought a condo in a converted apartment building a month ago, and it includes a detached garage. The garage is part of a long outbuilding divided by plywood; each apartment has its own stall, with no doors or windows.

Because the garage stall isn't attached to the building, it's been necessary to keep the garage door opener in my purse. I take it out, park the car, and then take it with me. Of course, it's easier to close the garage door by pressing the doorbell-type button inside, so last night the inevitable happened, and I locked the opener in the garage.

I have a small key that fits into the lock at the top of the door. I can turn the key, but nothing happens (though the lock will pull out completely with my key in it). The lock is attached to a wire inside the garage that I assume somehow operates the lifter thingy. But the garage door doesn't have handles or any apparent way to get inside except this key, which does nada. The key also fits into a lock on the side of the garage, but it doesn't turn its tumblers.

How to open the door? Is there a way to avoid a costly call to a locksmith, and would a locksmith be able to help anyway? Thanks in advance...
posted by hamster to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I guess the super can't help you? At least in explaining why the key doesn't work? That seems so obvious that I assume you must have done it already.

You could get a crowbar and try to force the door open from the bottom, although this could cause damage.

You could get someone to pick the lock, though it's probably easier to find a locksmith.

Finally, you could enter the undreground sewer system and cut the power to the entire system and then try the crowbar again.
posted by poppo at 8:31 AM on May 18, 2006

are there any vents in the roof? there should be - building code to deal with the any noxious fumes from an idling car.

can the vents be lifted? you may want to rappel down into your garage after squeaking open the roof vent.

Of course if this was a MacGuyver show, you would do this overnight, wearing a black mask, black pants and sweater :)
posted by seawallrunner at 8:37 AM on May 18, 2006

Garage Door Scanner

Some theory.

If you call a EE professor at the local college, he could prehaps get a student to come over there and build something to open the garage door for you, for the costs of the parts and some beer. Not to be sexist, but it wouldn't hurt to play the woman in distress.
posted by bigmusic at 8:38 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: The lock at the top of the door is there for use when you can't get the electric opener to work. The cable connected to the back of the lock is connected to a latch on the overhead track. If you give that cable a tug, you will feel that latch give way. (Don't try to pull it out of the ceiling, just a good tug to unhitch the latch.)
Once you've done that you should be able to lift the door manually. If you can wedge a screwdriver underneath the door, you should be able to get your fingers under it. Sometimes, the door will be light enough to just push up on the panels from the front without wiggling fingers underneath it. Failing either of those, after unlatching the opener, you can try putting a screwdriver through the hole left by removing the lock and use that as a handle to open the door. I had a garage with a very similar arrangement once, and being able to open it manually is quite handy.
The lock on the side of the garage is likely for the landlord's master key. I imagine that it is a key switch that just operates the opener. A locksmith could operate it for you, but he would be more likely to try the manual entry cable first.
posted by leapfrog at 8:42 AM on May 18, 2006

Have you tried lifting the door after removing the lock and pulling on the wire?
posted by 517 at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2006

Call the landlord, have him/her open the garage door with the key that fits the lock on the side of the door. Then demand a copy of that key.

You SHOULD have that key already, anyway. It's stupid to only have access via a single remote control.
posted by MrZero at 9:10 AM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: I bought the place, so I'm on my own--no landlord or super to help. I may be able to contact the seller/developer of the property, but he's not likely to help now that I've signed lots of paperwork (and he doesn't live in town).

No vents or ways in, unless I can convince a small child to clamber over the wall from a neighbor's port (and I know few small children and fewer neighbors).

I tugged on the wire quite a bit this morning--should something happen when I pull? I'll try pulling and trying to lift with a crowbar--that seems like the best idea so far. Should the door go right up, or is there something I should be worried about damaging?

Apparently I do have all the keys I should need, and it's odd that the key will fit into the side lock but not move. Should turning the key in the lock make the door go up?

Thanks for the great advice so far...
posted by hamster at 9:28 AM on May 18, 2006

Leapfrog's exactly right. You've gotta be able to open the door when the power's out. Once you pull on the cord and feel a click, you should be able to slide the door open with a bit of effort.
posted by sohcahtoa at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: To try and clarify: the key does not operate the electric motor that runs when you use the remote. That motor drives a device (usually a chain) attached to the door. when the motor's not running, it prevents the door from moving.

Pulling the lock cylinder should detach the door from the chain - maybe only momentarily, while you're pulling it. When you release it, it probably recouples the door and chain.

If you have a crowbar, wedge it under the door so pushing the end down pushes the door up, but don't push down until you're pulling the lock. If you can get the door to roll up a couple of inches, you can release the lock; it won't recouple the door and chain once they are moved.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:44 AM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is it a roll type door, or one solid piece that tilts? If it tilts you should be able to push on the top half of the door and have the bottom swing out.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2006

Do you have the manual for the garage door opener in the house? If you do, it may have info that will allow you to get a replacement opener that will open the door.
posted by JJ86 at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2006

How about the plywood partitions inside the garage? Can you get a neighbor to let you in an adjoining stall and just find a way through that way? Are the partitions all the way to the ceiling, or could you go over them? Is it literally just a piece of plywood or a wall sheathed in plywood? If it were just a sheet of plywood (which I doubt, must be a wall of some sort) I'd either just knock it down or cut a hole and repair afterwards.
posted by JigSawMan at 10:57 AM on May 18, 2006

Get into a neighbor's garage and take a look at the release in there in order to get an idea of how your garage may be rigged. Unfortunately if yours is like mine the release is just dangling in the middle of the garage with no way to reach it from the outside.

If all else fails you'll have to cut out one of the garage door panels and crawl in.
posted by Gungho at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2006

"Not to be sexist, but it wouldn't hurt to play the woman in distress."

If you're aware enough to tag a thought as sexist, the next step is probably to avoid putting it out there :)

If she wanted to play the woman in distress, she probably wouldn't have put a detailed post on mefi asking for Macgyver solutions...
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:20 AM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: Right now I'm wearing a dainty sundress and carrying a matching bag with a giant crowbar sticking out of it, which I will carry home on the bus. Damsel, definitely. Distess? Not so much.

Unfortunately, not all the units in the building have been sold, so there's no way to access the adjoining garage stalls. The plywood doesn't go all the way up, but I don't see myself climbing over an 8-foot plywood wall, even if I could get access to another stall.

The door is roll-top, in case that helps. What will the release look like? There are windows at the top of the garage door, but I was too short to see through them this morning. Is the wire attached the lock somehow related to the release?

This is so helpful--keep it up!
posted by hamster at 11:34 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: No real help now. I apologize.

But buy a replacement garage door opener to keep in the house. The driver mechanism and your other opener contain a series of dip switches (probably about 9 switches). If you set the new opener's switches in the same positions, it should open your door easily. Having an extra one stashed in your home will be invaluable. If you have a manual in the home, it may have the dip switch setting written inside, which would allow you to easily open the door with a replacement remoted.
posted by Seamus at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: On the ceiling of your garage you will find some sort of mechanism which attaches the door to a motor. This is usually a long bar with a chain that rattles around it. Sometimes it is a very long screw instead. At the top of your door there is a metal bracket (usually a bent L shape, but I've seen others) which attaches to the ceiling mechanism. At the point where the door bracket attaches to the track on the ceiling, there is a hunk of metal or plastic with a little catch, latch, or lever coming out of it. This is the release mechanism we've all been prattling on about. That lever should be attached to the wire (cable) that comes out to the removable lock on your garage door. When you pull the cable, it should disengage the door from the opener. It may "pop" out after a good tug, or it might be spring loaded and require you to maintain tension on the cable while you or someone else manually lifts the door. The door should move fairly freely once the release is tripped. It should not require significant effort to lift the door.
Also, note that most garage users go for years without having to use that release, so it may be a bit sticky. I have never seen one that didn't yield with a good tug on the line. You should not have to pull hard enough to break it, and you should feel some sort of "give"-- a click or spring or something-- as you pull the line.
If you don't mind the 1.5 MB download, get this manual:
Look at page 26. The little handle on a string hanging down is labeled "Emergency Release Handle". In your garage, that release lever (or something equivalent) should be connected to the little removable lock on the door. Page 32 contains instructions for using that handle.
Your door and opener may behave differently.
If you tugged and pulled on that line earlier, you may have already engaged the emergency release, in which case all you have to do is just lift the door. The crowbar will be helpful for the first few inches, after that it should slide right up. If you have to apply a lot of force, try pulling on the line at the same time you are lifting the door.
posted by leapfrog at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2006

Well, the partitions don't go all the way up. MacGuyver would get in via a neighbor's stall. Then stand on something sufficiently high to see over the partitions. Next, fashion a pulling device out of a broom handle, coat hanger and duct tape. Use the pulling device to reach the release handle in your stall. Pull the release, go back out and push the door up by hand.

I still think you should crawl over the partitions. Just pop in some appropriate MacGuyver or Mission Impossible theme music and go for it. You can hum it if you want, but full on amplified music from your house would set the mood better. Just remember to roll across the floor so the bad guys can't shoot you. Wear old clothing to avoid ruining your "dainty sundress".

Hope you get in! Keep us posted.
posted by JigSawMan at 1:06 PM on May 18, 2006

The remote transmitter (and opener receiver) may not have dip switches. Newer openers are digital, and the remotes "learn" the opening code, likea car-door-lock remote. I have a link to a place that sells remotes (at home). Check back tonight, and I will post it, if no one else does in the meantime. you'll need to know the make & model of the opener. (And the link and a new remote won't get you into the garage today.)

Good luck.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:52 PM on May 18, 2006

If you decide to give up and break in, I suggest you go in the regular door your key won't open. standard doors are loads easier and cheaper to replace than garage doors.
posted by Megafly at 2:43 PM on May 18, 2006

Here is the link I mentioned: AAA Remotes. They had a remote for my door opener at a much lower price than I found elsewhere.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

To clarify what I said earlier, that side lock (which your key does not turn) is probably intended to operate the garage door opener so you can leave the remote in your car at all times. If the key that you have does not do this, you should contact the seller to see if this lock works or not. I use a lock like this to access my garage door because my girlfriend keeps the remote in her car. It's very handy, and you can always make a couple back-up keys easier than buying extra remotes. You just turn the key in the lock and the door opens or closes.
posted by MrZero at 9:34 PM on May 18, 2006

The force required to lift a full width aluminum garage door manually can be substantial -- on the order of 50 to 80 lbs if the counter-springs are properly adjusted, more if they aren't.
If your garage door has a window panel in it, you may be able to get access to the manual release by knocking out a window pane (usually made of plastic, actually) which will be cheaper to replace than doing damage to the door by prying on it extensively, or using a jack.
posted by paulsc at 12:00 AM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, MeFi. Getting in turned out to be easy, though I'd never have figured it out myself. I put the key in the lock on the door, pulled out the lock, pulled steadily on the cable until I felt something give, and was then able to get a crowbar under the door, which lifted easily. Hooray!

The door is spring-loaded, so I couldn't pull it back down immediately; when I pressed the remote button, it made the motor's light blink and the chain ran through a loop. It did this about four times before it connected, and then I was able to open and close the door using the remote.

I'm off to the hardware store today to buy two spare remotes; I'll be able to reset their dip switches, so thanks for that great advice. I'm also contacting the property's developer to find out why my key won't turn in the side lock, and making a copy of the key I used to open the door this time.

Thanks again!
posted by hamster at 7:48 AM on May 19, 2006

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