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What to do if you've locked your keys in the car

minute read

    Locked keys in a car can be quite a conundrum. They are, after all, the very thing you may need to unlock the car — and there they are, just sitting there, tantalizingly out of reach. Getting your keys locked in your car can be anything from an embarrassing inconvenience to a potentially serious emergency. For that reason, it can help to know your possible courses of action for both ends of that spectrum.

    How to get keys out of a locked car

    When it comes to getting car keys out of a locked car, it helps to start simple before escalating to more extreme solutions. It may sound a little silly, but you might be surprised how often something like simply checking the other doors and windows (and maybe trunk) can yield an access point. Who knows? Maybe that one wonky lock you’ve been meaning to get fixed finally comes in handy. If you’ve got a car with a modern electronic lock system, there’s some good news: many of these systems won’t lock the car if it detects that the keys are inside (more on this later).

    If you aren’t too far from home, you might be able to head back home and retrieve a spare. Alternatively, you could try contacting a friend or family member who could give you a ride back or pick up the spare and bring it to you.

    Non-emergency situations

    If you and your car are both safe and not in any present danger, you can contact a local tow service or locksmith and wait until they arrive. You can generally find this information via a quick web search on your phone. If roadside assistance is included with your car insurance or you’re part of a roadside assistance program, you could also contact member assistance. Checking your policy details before calling can help avoid any unexpected fees. 

    Alternatively, you can try to call local authorities using a non-emergency line only. They might contact a service provider for you or give you the right number to dial.

    Emergency situations

    First responders generally won’t concern themselves with unlocking your car, but there are emergency situations such as when a child or pet is trapped inside where they can be contacted for emergency assistance. Depending on the urgency of the situation, they may dispatch a service technician or send first responders.

    It’s worth noting that not all police and fire departments have the equipment to unlock your car. In a dire emergency requiring immediate action, they’ll most likely just break open a window. This may not be ideal, but it could be the most direct course of action in an emergency. Attempting to do this yourself would be extremely dangerous, so it’s best left to professionals.

    The importance of this warning bears repeating: Misusing emergency lines for non-emergency situations can result in fines and even legal action. Getting locked out of your car is never pleasant, but it may not always be an emergency. Take a moment to ensure you’ve accurately assessed the urgency of your situation before dialing for emergency assistance.

    Tips to avoid getting locked out again

    Once you’ve gotten safely back into your car and come home, you have an opportunity to make a plan for preventing (or at least mitigating) future lockouts. A little preparation can go a long way on those metaphorically rainy days, so here are a few suggestions to consider:

    Keep spares handy

    Having a spare key will come in handy for those times you find yourself in a lockout situation. Getting a spare could be relatively inexpensive for a basic metal key or considerably more pricey for a key fob or smart key. Stashing that spare in your wallet or purse or leaving it with a trusted friend or family member could make a future lockout easier to deal with.

    Invest in lockboxes

    A secure way to hide your keys on the outside of your car is to use a lockbox of some sort. If you have a trailer hitch, there are aftermarket products that essentially turn it into a mini-safe. You can also get magnetic lockboxes that attach to your car. If you go that route, it helps to select a strong, high-quality magnet that can withstand your car driving over the occasional pothole. Alternatively, you may be able to have the lockbox permanently fastened onto your car at a local garage.

    Upgrade to keyless entry with mobile pairing

    Keyless entry systems that unlock by detecting the presence of your key fob have been around for some time. A more recent innovation also allows for keyless pairing with your mobile phone. You may be able to find upgrade kits that allow you to install these features on compatible vehicles. It’s a bit of an investment, but if getting locked out is a concern, it might be something to look into.

    In summary

    Locked keys in a car can be inconvenient to remedy, but not impossible either. As with many things in life, it helps to be prepared ahead of time (if possible). Investing in a lockbox or keyless entry could save you some future headaches. Simpler solutions like checking for open doors and windows or having someone retrieve a spare key for you may put you back behind the wheel and on your way. In the case of a true emergency, you may need to escalate to more extreme methods like having first responders conduct a forcible entry.

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