A spare key is one of those things that never seems like a huge deal until you need it. If you've ever lost your keys, had them stolen, or locked yourself out of your house or car, you know how difficult and embarrassing it can be trying to get your door open.
So, how would you open your car door without a key? And what about if you're locked out of your house? Here are a few workarounds to help you get back in when you're locked out.
The locking mechanisms on different types of cars vary pretty widely. All newer models have power locks with remote controls to open them, but older cars open only manually. Also, some vehicles have the locking knob on the inside top of the door by the window, and others have it by the handle.
Before reading on, make sure you know where your car door's unlock mechanism is on both the interior and exterior of the door. It'll impact which of these methods you may want to try.
The first time I saw this, I couldn't believe my eyes. It sounds too good to be true, but the car-opening tool you're most likely to have on you at any given time is a shoestring. Unfortunately, this method only works on locking mechanisms that unlock by pulling up.
You'll need to tie a small loop in the middle of the shoelace that, when placed around the locking mechanism, can be tightened. Work the string into the interior of the car through space where the door meets the car's exterior, hook it around the lock, tighten the loop, and pull the string up. It may take more than once if you are not a pro like this guy, but it should work nonetheless.
The coat hanger method is one method I'm pretty familiar with—I remember watching my dad use a coat hanger to unlock his car a few years back. I will say that it took him a pretty long time, but he eventually got it, saving him a call to the local locksmith and probably a hundred bucks or so.
You'll need a wire hanger so you can untwist it and make a hook that goes inside the weather stripping in the window. From here, you have to jiggle it around until you find the locking mechanism. It may take some time, but it's worth the trouble when you're desperate. If you have your phone handy, you can try googling your car's door locking mechanism to figure out where to aim the hanger.
This method works with horizontal locks as well, since you're working on the locking mechanism inside the door, not aiming too pull up or push down the button inside the car.
If you prefer plastic clothes hangers over metal, then you might want to try some other options...
All you need is a Phillips head screwdriver, a steel rod, and 30 seconds. Any long and sturdy pole-type instrument will do, so depending on how much junk you have lying around, you may be able to find a good substitute. Use the screwdriver to pry open the door slightly, then stick the rod in and push the unlock button.
WARNING: Using any metal object to pry the door open can cause damage to your exterior and interior, so be cautious using this method.
If you don't have the proper tools, it's still a lot cheaper to buy them if you're lucky enough to be stuck near a hardware store, rather than waiting around for a tow truck.
No, not the beef jerky kind of Slim Jim. You've probably seen the car version of a slim jim used in hundreds of movies by thieves and for impromptu car break-ins, but it's not just a Hollywood thing—it really works.
Again, this particular method requires an older style lock. You insert the slim jim into the interior of the car door the same way you would use the wire from a coat hanger, working the locking mechanism inside the door.
Using an inflatable wedge like Donnie Smith does help you avoid damaging the paint on your car and uses air to force the door open versus a metal object like the screwdriver method shown above. The wedge will create enough space to insert an access tool, a stick or rod, or some kind of coat hanger contraption, and all you need is patience and a steady hand to push or pull the unlock button.
Aside from the inflatable wedge, Donnie also recommends using a plain old piece of plastic to get the job done. It's pretty much just a long plastic strap which is bent in half and slid through the crack of the door. A set of plastic wedges would also work.
This method works for the pull-up type locks, or any unlocking mechanism inside the car that you can trigger with a stick, rod, or access tool.
For a lot of these methods, you could potentially make due with things around your house or already in your toolbox. You should also call around and ask friends and family if they happen to have any of these tools themselves.
If you have a habit of locking yourself out of the car, you could also invest in a complete lockout tool kit or a long reach tool kit. Or buy a set of wedges or an inflatable wedge, and long reach tool. What tools and methods work for you depend on what type of locks your car has, so make sure to check that against the methods above before buying anything. Also — make sure not to keep it in your trunk!
If you don't want to get locked out again, you could also invest in some magnetic key holders. Put a spare car key in there and hide it under your bumper.
In one of the coolest (and most debated) methods for unlocking a car door, a simple tennis ball could do the trick.
You'll need to make a hole in the ball, so a heated electric drill or screwdriver would do the trick. Place the tennis ball, with the hole on top of the keyhole, and push. The pressure created in the ball will force your car to unlock...or so they say.
This tennis ball method has more than a million views on YouTube, but does it work? The team over at MythBusters decided to test it out for themselves.
As you can see, there are plenty of arguments on both sides of the debate around this method. If you want to find out whether or not it works, the best way to do so is to try it out. Let us know in the comments if you have any luck.
If all else fails, there's nothing wrong with getting a little help. AAA is probably the most well-known car assistance provider in the nation. If you have the service already, you can call and have someone come and help you within half an hour. Even if you don't have the service, you can call in, become a member, and have someone at your car that same day.
I recently locked my keys in my truck when I was visiting my old university. I called the public safety department, and an officer came and opened my door using a car opener toolkit. It was as easy as that. Thankfully, I was dealing with an organization I knew, and they weren't busy at the time.
Calling the police is another possibility, but not one I would try unless you have no other options. While plenty of officers have the tools to help you, it's never a high priority, and you could be wasting their valuable time by calling in. However, if you feel like you're in danger staying where you are, they may be more willing to help.
For locks on houses and other types of doors, the method depends on the type of lock. Older locks are typically easier to open without a key, while newer ones can be a bit more tricky.
Bump keys are specially crafted keys that are used to unlock pin based locking systems, which are used on the vast majority of homes. Most pin systems are spring-loaded, and the ridges of the keys press against the corresponding pins, which then unlock the lock.
Bump keys are usually used for common home locks since most of these use a single-sided key. Since most cars have a double-sided key, these bump keys are generally not as useful on them. Check out this tutorial to find out how to make and use a bump key.
If you have a lock pick set, you can use it to break into your own house, as long as you know how to use it. You can buy a cheap lock picking training set, but if you don't want to spend any money or don't have the time to wait, there are a few ways to make your own.
If you've got a couple of paper clips, you can turn them into a lockpick using a basic multitool.
A butter knife can also be turned into a makeshift lock pick. Check out the video below to see how.
This is only the first part of the tutorial, but you can find the rest here.
And of course, you can't talk about lock-picking without bringing up the humble bobby pin. It's one of the most common household items that can be used to pick many different types of locks.
However, if you don't have a female in the house, you might not have any bobby pins lying around, so you might want to try out the butter knife or paper clips method.
If you're trying to get through a door with a standard spring lock—not a deadbolt—you can use a credit card or another flexible plastic card to open it. Just wedge the card into the gap between the door and the frame and bend it away from the knob.
If it's the right kind of lock, it should come right open.
If none of these methods work, the local locksmith will be fully equipped to help you get back into a locked house or car. Just remember to call around, because locksmith pricing varies pretty widely, and you could wind up paying 60 bucks for something that should have been $20.
If your neighborhood is fairly safe, there are many types of key hiders to keep a space in plain sight. Try this rock, a fake sprinkler head, or even a this cute turtle. No one will ever know your reptile friends hold a secret. If you're a little warier about your neighborhood, hide a spare key in a lockbox or combination-locked key safe. Keep the combination in your wallet, car, or on your phone for emergencies.
Also, give friends, family or neighbors one of those copies of your keys, just in case. Not only can they check on your house while you're out of town, but it could also save you from a costly locksmith call.
Not trying to get inside a car or house? You can break into padlocks using a beer can shimmy, bust into suitcases using a pen, decipher combinations on Master combo locks, brute-force your way in to American combo locks, and even break into safes with a little know-how. For more information on this hacks, check out our previous guide on breaking into locks.
Know of any other cool methods for opening a car or house door without a key? Let us know in the comments section.