Locked Out of Your Car? Here’s What to Do

Natalie Josef
September 7, 2010

For car owners, one of the biggest fears is that we will lock our keys inside our vehicle—in the middle of a desert, with no cell phone, no water, and a child or cute little puppy in the back seat. While a lockout can happen (though probably not in the middle of the desert with a cute puppy), there are things you can do to quickly and safely resolve the situation.


Prevent a Lockout in the First Place

Instead of worrying about how to get into your locked vehicle with a coat hanger, prevent a lockout in the first place by preparing ahead of time. There are many options for you to choose from—here are some of them:

Magnetic Key Holder
While many of us hide an extra key to our house under a fake rock or a flowerpot, it’s a little more challenging to hide an extra car key on a vehicle. But it doesn’t have to be. All you need to do is buy a magnetic key case and attach it to the underside of your vehicle. There is a chance the key holder could fall off if you hit a bump, so make sure you buy one with a strong magnet—this is not the time to buy the cheap model. Consider buying one with a powerful rare earth magnet and a combination lock.

Attach it to a clean, flat surface and make sure the door slides up, not down, or gravity may pull the door open over time. Also, be creative about where you put it. Stay away from the most obvious spots—under the wheel well or the bumper. You can also tape a key to your vehicle—a good spot is behind the license plate.

Order OnStar
If you subscribe to OnStar, you have access to remote door unlock services. All you have to do is call 1.888.4.ONSTAR (1.888.466.7827) and provide the OnStar Advisor with your account number and PIN. OnStar remotely sends a signal to your vehicle to unlock your door. Plans range from $200 to $300 a year.

Sign Up for AAA
All AAA plans come with Roadside Assistance, which includes a lockout service up to $50. A membership only costs $70 a year and also includes tire, battery, and towing services, not to mention discounts at hotels.

Other Ideas
Some insurance companies include lockout services with your car insurance policy, so be sure to check. Also, some cell phone companies provide an emergency roadside assistance program for as little as $3 to $5 per month. It’s always a good idea to have a spare at home or to keep one in your wallet.


What to Do If You Are Locked Out

You kept meaning to buy that magnetic key holder. Ordering OnStar was on your to-do list, but it just kept getting pushed to the bottom. So, now here you are, locked out, and your good intentions won't help you now. What should you do? Here are your options:

Call the Police
You can call the police to help you get into your locked car. They usually have tools (like a Slim Jim) to help out. If you have locked your child in the car, tell them and they will come faster. The best part about calling the police? It’s free.

Call a Tow Truck or Locksmith

If you don’t have any other options, call a tow truck or locksmith. Even though it’s expensive (around $100), at least you will be able to get into your car. Some locksmiths will do it for free if there is a child trapped inside the vehicle.

Other Ideas
Whether it’s bending a coat hanger or using your cell phone to call home and having the person on the other end press the unlock button on your spare key-less entry fob, there are lots of creative and quirky ways people have come up with to get into a locked vehicle. Some actually work (coat hangers work on older cars, for example), but most don’t work, aren’t reliable enough, or can cause damage to your vehicle. Before you get carried away, consider calling the police, a tow truck, a locksmith, or a local dealership.

The best advice? Prevent a lockout in the first place by preparing in advance for it.

*** Note: If there are children locked inside your vehicle, call the police immediately. Remember to stay calm. If your child starts screaming, he or she will heat up more quickly, so try to entertain your child to keep him or her calm. Sing songs, jump up and down, make silly faces—anything you can do to keep your child laughing and impervious to situation. If it is extremely hot, you are in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t have access to a phone, you may have to break your window. Find a large rock or something similar and be sure to wrap your hand and arm in a shirt to prevent the glass from cutting you. Remember to do it as far away from your child as possible.


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

5 User Comments

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By , September 07, 2010
The police are no longer free anyplace in my area. They charge around $35 - $50 to unlock your car.
By < of , September 08, 2010
The BEST way to prevent from being locked out of your car is make it a habit to use the key to lock your car!! Thus you would always have the key in your hand.
By , September 08, 2010
I keep an extra key in my wallet, it has saved me several times.
By , January 25, 2012
carry a extra key with you,i always carry two keys
By , October 03, 2015
I just got locked out of my car earlier tonight, but here's the thing, I actually had the key and the driver's side was unlocked. The problem was the handle on the outside of the door was broken and there are no locks on the outside of any of the other doors, so the only way in was through the unlocked door I couldn't get open and the key doesn't work on the trunk either, you of course have to open the trunk from inside the car. Wish I had a keyless entry or a keypad on the door to enter a code to get in, but alas, I didn't. Don't know why only the driver's side has a lock on the outside. Why doesn't the passenger side? For safety reasons? Why? If someone was trying to break into my car, they'd probably just break a window anyway.