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How to Unlock a Car Door When You've Locked Yourself Out

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 4/8/2019 Warren Clarke
Here's how to get back in without damaging your vehicle.© Getty Images Here's how to get back in without damaging your vehicle.

Uh-oh. It's finally happened. You pull on the door handle of your vehicle and...nothing! You're locked out, and you can see the keys laying there on the console. Ugh.

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What steps can you take to unlock your car door if you’ve locked yourself out? While many vehicles with push-button ignitions have safeguards designed to prevent this from happening, lockouts continue to be a problem for millions of drivers whose vehicles use conventional keys for the ignition and door locks (and this goes for drivers whose cars have electronic key fobs). 

Call a Locksmith--or Not

If this happens to you and you have a membership with the Automobile Association of America (AAA), you can get assistance from a locksmith by placing a call to this organization. Free lockout service is one of the benefits of AAA membership.

You can also call a locksmith directly-some will take on car lockouts-but of course you’ll have to pay out of pocket for their service.

If you don’t have a AAA membership and would rather not pay for a locksmith, there are other alternatives. Here's all you need to know about how to unlock a car door when your keys are inside.

a hand holding a cellphone: Getting Roadside Assistance© Getty Images Getting Roadside Assistance Lockout Apps and Roadside Assistance

Some automakers offer smartphone apps you can use to access your vehicle during a lockout. For example, with an OnStar subscription from General Motors, you can use an app to remotely unlock your Buick, Chevrolet, GMC or Cadillac. Hyundai and BMW offer similar apps, as do several other automakers. Visit the website of your car manufacturer to see if a downloadable lockout app is available.

There’s another way in which carmakers can provide aid during a lockout: if you have a new or certified pre-owned vehicle, your car’s automaker may offer free roadside assistance for the first few years of ownership. In many cases, this service covers lockouts. If you own a vehicle that was purchased new or as part of a certified pre-owned program, check the manufacturer’s website to see if you’re eligible for roadside assistance.

a view of the rain: Manual Car Door Lock© Getty Images Manual Car Door Lock Use a String to Unlock the Door

A long, sturdy string like a shoelace can help you unlock your car door. Note that this method only works on cars that have a traditional, post-type door lock with a small knob at the top (as shown above). Here’s how to unlock a car door using a string:

• Tie a slipknot in the middle of the string. (Don't know how? Learn!)

• Use a doorstop or a thin piece of wood to gently pry open a space between the top of a front door's window frame and the vehicle body (as far rearward on the upper door frame as possible). If you handle this process too aggressively, you could bend the door frame, causing an air leak and wind whistle, so exercise caution.

• Use the opening created to lower the slipknot into the car’s cabin.

• Adjust the ends of the string until the slipknot is positioned around the door lock’s post, beneath the knobby upper end.

• Tighten the slipknot around the post by pulling both ends of the string.

• Once the knot is secure, pull the post upward to unlock the car.

a close up of a car: Armrest Door Locks© Michael Simari - Car and Driver Armrest Door Locks Try a Rod or Wire Clothes Hanger

You can also use a rod or a straightened wire clothes hanger to save the day during a lockout. This method works best on cars that have power door locks and their lock buttons located on the armrest:

• Use a doorstop or a thin piece of wood to gently pry open a space between the top of one of the car’s front-door window frames and its body. Proceed slowly and be gentle to avoid damaging the vehicle.

• Slide the rod or straightened clothes hanger into the opening you’re created.

• Use the rod or clothes hanger to slide or depress the car’s door lock flipper or button, and open the car door.

Remember, jockeying a string or a wire hanger into position in such a constricted space is extremely difficult. It can take quite a bit of time and many tries to maneuver these makeshift tools into place, but it can be done (we speak from experience). Be patient and don't give up! One of these methods may well help you to unlock your car's doors when you're locked out.

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