Can you think of anything more frustrating than getting out of your car, closing the door, and then realizing the moment it locks that your keys are still inside? It's one of the most annoying things that a driver can experience, compounded by the fact that you only have yourself to blame when it happens so you have to feel foolish on top of everything else. On the upside, you can take some comfort in the fact that you are far from the only person who's ever had to go through this. It happens often enough that many locksmiths list it as one of the services they provide.
When you do realize you've locked your keys in the car you don't have to resort to smashing a window to get them back again. There are several methods you can try to gain access to your vehicle again which could be successful depending on where you are and what you have handy to help you get the job done. Let's take a look at some of the most effective ways to unlock your car with the keys still inside.
The Shoelace Method
The shoelace method for getting your door unlocked is not a sure-fire thing but it can work on some types of cars. You need to have a pull-up locking mechanism rather than an electronic lock on your door for this to work. If you don't have that kind, then you're going to want to move on to one of the different ideas we have for you. But If you do have that kind of lock then perhaps this will work.
Typically, this is only going to get the job done on an older car, but it's always worth a try. What you need to do is create a slip knot with one of your shoelaces. Put the lace on the top right corner of your door and then wiggle it down until it's on the inside of the car, basically you're going to floss the car door with your shoelace until it gets inside. Once it is inside you can manoeuvre that slip knot over the lock button and if you pull up on one side of the shoelace it will tighten the knot and you'll be able to pull up the lock. As you can see, this is only going to work with a very specific kind of lock, but it has been successful for many drivers in the past so it's worth a shot.
The Plastic Strap Method
If you don't happen to wear shoes that have laces on them, you may be able to pull this one off. If you can find a strip of plastic, the kind that is used to bind stacks of newspaper for instance, you can bend that in half to create a loop and insert that through the door jamb of your car into the cabin of the vehicle. From there it works almost exactly the same as the shoelace method. You'll need to manoeuvre the loop over the lock and pull it up. Again, this only works for the kind of locks that have mechanisms that you can easily grab and pull out. If your lock has a small switch or a button, you may need to move on to the coat hanger method.
The Coat Hanger Method
One of the more old school ways to get into a car is to use a coat hanger to do the job. You've probably seen this in older movies as a way that thieves gained access to vehicles. It's not just movie stuff however, it can work in some vehicles.
So long as your car does have a manual lock you may be able to stretch out an old style wire coat hanger and then curve the end of it like a fish hook. If you have a pair of needle-nose pliers you can make a much cleaner hook at the end of your hanger. Ideally you want to create a V shape at the end of the hanger.
You can try to thread the hanger down into your door frame between the window and the rubber seal at the base of it. If you can get it down there, then it's a simple matter of doing a little fishing near where the locking mechanism is located to try to grab the lock pin and pull it up. This may be a much easier job if you've left your window open a crack and you can just put the coat hook in the open window, but of course that’s a less likely circumstance.
The Rod and Wedge Method
If you're unable to get the coat hanger down between the window and the frame of your door, then you may need to graduate to the rod and wedge method for accessing your vehicle. A wedge, like a small wooden door stop, is the best tool for this but you can use something like a paint scraper in a pinch if you need to as well or a screwdriver. Those methods are more damaging to your vehicle and can cause dents or scrapes in the paint, so if possible, stick with the wood.
For this to work what you need to do is place the narrow end of the wedge of wood at the top of your door frame, it’s about as far from the locking mechanism as you can possibly get. You can use the butt of your hand to hammer the wedge into the gap between your door and the door frame. Because your door is locked into the frame of the car down by the handle itself, the top of the door is not actually held in by anything at all. When you wedge the wood in it will slowly bend the door away from the frame. Obviously you don't want to do this too extensively as it could damage the car, but there will be enough give in the metal to allow you to open a gap between the door and the frame itself. That gap will be wide enough for you to use a metal rod or a coat hanger to reach down to the locking mechanism of your car.
This method is one of the most effective for giving you access to your car because, even though it may take some work to get done, no matter what type of locking mechanism your door has you should be able to reach the button and either push it, pull it, or otherwise activate it with the metal rod or coat hanger that you're using. You'll need a steady hand and some patience to get it done, and it may take a while to do, but it's better than some of the alternatives.
The Inflatable Wedge Method
This is typically not the kind of thing that you will think of until after the situation has already arisen and you don't have a way to deal with it, but if you're into planning ahead then you may want to keep an inflatable wedge around where you can get access to it. Inflatable wedges work like the wooden wedges or screwdriver that people use in a pinch to open their doors, but they are much less damaging to your vehicle. An air wedge is a simple little pad that you can insert between the door and the frame and then pump up with a hand pump. The air pressure will force the door away from the frame opening it enough for you to unlock the door.
The major downside to the inflatable wedge method of course is that you need to have already thought of it ahead of time and bought one. Fortunately they're not too expensive and you can get some decent quality ones for around $15 on Amazon.com. If you're willing to invest a little more money you can get some kits that also include everything you'll need to get your door open again safely, without causing any scratches or damages.
The Phone A Friend Method
Like the air wedge, this idea only works if you planned ahead for it, but this really is something you should do. Most cars come with a spare set of keys and even if yours didn't, it's a good idea to have a spare made up just for this case. Keep your key on you but keep a spare at home or with a trusted friend who can get access to it for you in a pinch. This is a good idea not just for locking your key in the car but if you happen to lose your key at some point in time as well, or if you're going to loan your car to somebody else and you don't want to hand over your whole keychain. It's never a bad idea to have a backup key in case of emergencies. Just make sure you're keeping it in a safe and secure location when you don't need it.
The Call for Help Method
If all else fails, then your best bet for getting to your car is to call in an assist from a professional. AAA or a local locksmith should be able to come to your car and give you a hand with it depending on where you are and the circumstances. Remember, this kind of thing does happen more often than you’d think so you're not busting out an unexpected or super surprising problem by calling for help. It could be embarrassing to be sure, but it happens to lots of people and it's better to ask for help when you need it than to potentially damage your vehicle.
The Tennis Ball Method
This one’s been spread around the internet for years now, and it claims that you can poke a small hole in a tennis ball, line that hole up with the keyhole on your car door, and then hit the tennis ball forcing a burst of air into the lock which will pop the mechanism in it and open your door for you. This method has been tried again and again with no success by many people. It's just an urban legend and pretty much a waste of time. Don't bother getting yourself a tennis ball if you find yourself locked out of the car, you're just going to spend a lot of effort with no success.
The Bottom Line
The way modern cars work it's pretty hard to actually lock your keys inside, but if you have an older car or something happens to your key fob then it's entirely possible that you can find yourself locked out with no way to get back inside. Most drivers find this incredibly embarrassing. It's not the kind of thing you want to tell anyone about, be it friends or roadside assistance or anyone else. On the other hand, if you don't ask for help you can't get help and a minor moment of embarrassment is probably something that you can deal with especially if it means you're going to get back in your car sooner rather than later. Just remember, like we said, roadside assistance has probably gotten calls like this a few times a week every week so you're not alone in this and there's no reason to not reach out for help when you need it.
If you're one of those kinds of people who definitely doesn't want to have to ask for help in a situation like this, then it never hurts to plan ahead. Get yourself an air wedge if it all possible or make sure you have some handy tools around that you could use to gain access to your car in an emergency situation. You can always try things like the shoelace method or the rod and wedge method on your own at home just for practice to see if you can do it. There's also the possibility you could pick up some lock picks on sites like Amazon in case you need to use those in an emergency as well. The kinds of things that could perhaps fit in your wallet in a pinch.
There's an old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You never want to expect that you're going to lock your keys in your car, but if you planned for it ahead of time it'll be a lot easier to fix the situation if and when it does happen.