Here’s What to Do If You Lock Your Keys in the Car

Updated: May 07, 2024

The next time you accidentally lock your keys in the car, you’ll want to try these genius tricks.

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Millions of drivers lock keys in cars each year—and now you’re one of them. Luckily, newer cars make it much more difficult to do this, but if you find yourself standing outside your locked car with your keys sitting in the cup holder, these tricks can be lifesavers. Before you send out the “locked keys in car” SOS text, learn how to unlock a car door without your keys with these simple (and cheap!) methods. Stay safe on the road, too, with these car safety features, secret uses for your key fob, a guide on how to change the battery in a key fob, and car gadgets that improve your driving skills.

What do I do if I locked my keys in the car?

Rest assured that “it’s getting far more difficult for consumers to get locked out of their cars, as most transponder keys won’t allow that to happen,” according to Mark Takahashi, senior reviews editor at Edmunds. Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader, agrees: “The idea of locking keys in cars is becoming a thing of the past.” If you do get locked out, calling a locksmith, roadside assistance service, or the police might be your best bet, depending on the situation’s urgency, Moody notes.

Will the police unlock your car for free?

In a high-risk scenario—like if a child or animal is locked inside the car—dial 911 immediately and tell them your vehicle’s make and model and where you are located. Emergency services like the police and fire department will arrive more quickly than a locksmith or roadside assistance. Often, the police will break the window or use a thin metal device that can unlock the door without the key, Moody says. While they won’t charge you for the service, you should only call them in emergencies, and you will have to foot the bill to repair the damaged window.

Does AAA unlock your car?

Roadside assistance providers like AAA can come in handy when you’ve locked your keys in the car, Moody says. Not only are AAA services available around the clock, but AAA members also get one free lockout per year up to a fixed cost, depending on the membership level. If you find yourself in this situation, call AAA and let them know your location, the make and model of your vehicle, and your membership number. However, keep in mind that a professional may take a half hour or more to arrive, and you will have to pay out of pocket if you don’t have a membership or if you get locked out more than once.

How do you unlock your car with keys inside?

Want to avoid an expensive call to a locksmith or roadside assistance professional? Fortunately, there are several cheaper tricks to unlock your car without keys, as long as you are patient and good with tools. Here’s how to get your keys out of a locked car—no locksmith required. And in the future, try these simple methods so that you never lose your keys (or anything else) again.

How do you unlock a car with a cell phone?

Thanks to a growing number of car apps for your smartphone, you can unlock your car without breaking the bank—or a window. Many new vehicles offer free Apple and Android apps that allow drivers to control their cars sans keys. The apps turn smartphones into second key fobs, so users can lock, unlock, and even start their cars remotely. “The key is to pair [your car key] with the app before you lock yourself out,” Takahashi says. If you own a new car model from Hyundai, GM/Chevrolet, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Ford, or Honda, install the manufacturer’s app for the next time your keys get locked in the car. Here are more hidden car features you might not realize you have.

How do you unlock a car with a shoelace?

Good news: If you own an older car with manual locks and you’re wearing shoes with shoelaces, you might not need to call roadside assistance. Just tie a slipknot in the middle of the shoelace, creating a loop the size of your index finger. Then wiggle the shoelace around the right corner of the driver’s side door until the slip knot is inside the door’s seam. Now, holding the shoelace with both hands, move it in a back-and-forth motion like you’re flossing a giant tooth. Doing so will shift the slip knot further down the window and toward the lock on the car door. Carefully maneuver the loop over the lock, then pull the ends of the string to tighten the loop. When you think you have a solid grip around the lock, gently pull up on it to unlock the car door. Ta-da! You’re in! You can also use a sturdy piece of string in lieu of a shoelace. Never leave home without one of these items—or these other must-haves on our road trip essentials checklist.

How do you unlock a car with a hanger?

The coat hanger method is a classic; you’ve probably seen it used in a few movies. Like the shoelace trick, this method only works on older vehicles with manual locks. All you will need is a thin wire coat hanger and pliers. “Use the pliers to unravel the coat hanger so you have one side hooked and one that’s straight,” says Laura Gonzales, a marketing manager at Audi Bellevue. “You’re going to slide the coat hanger between the window and the weather stripping. Once the hook is below the window, you can start fishing around for the control arm. Once you find it, pull up with the hook and your door will open.” FYI, that’s not the only secret your locksmith won’t tell you.

How do you unlock a car with a bobby pin?

For drivers with nothing but bobby pins and time, it can’t hurt to try this old-school trick on a manual car lock. Bend the first pin at a 90-degree angle and pull apart the second pin, slightly bending one of its tips. Place the bent side of the first pin into the lock and stick the second pin straight into the lock. While holding the first pin still, move the second one around inside the lock until it clicks open. This trick could damage your car if you do it incorrectly, though. If you’re nervous about damage, you can always leave it to the professionals and call someone to help.

How do you unlock a car with a wedge?

To unlock a car without keys like a pro, invest in an automotive toolkit with a curved or inflatable window wedge. Just be aware that using a wedge to unlock a car can be a little tricky, warns Bill Evans, manager of J&E Auto Body in Clark, New Jersey. Start by pulling the top of the door frame out with a pry tool and pushing the wedge in to hold the door frame out. Then, using a long, skinny rod (it could even be a coat hanger), push the unlock button. “Triple A drivers and tow truck drivers usually do it this way, and that is how we do it also,” says Evans. This trick works on both old and new car models.

But there is a downside. “Even the experienced people will scratch the paint or tear the weather stripping during this process,” Evans says. “You may need to see a body shop to realign the top of the door frame since sometimes they remain bent out away from the body after the wedge is used.” Make sure the repair costs are worth it before using a wedge to get yourself out of your “locked keys in car” debacle.

What to do before locking yourself out

Drivers who have regularly locked keys in cars can take certain precautions to save time, money, and hassle in the future. Takahashi recommends downloading your car manufacturer’s app, and Moody suggests getting a roadside assistance plan. You can also keep a spare key in a convenient place, like a small magnetic safe underneath the vehicle, Moody says. While some people attach extra keys to easily accessible locations on their cars, this could make your vehicle an easy target for car thieves. A magnetic key vault, on the other hand, protects your key with a code so only you can access it. Beware: These mistakes could leave your car vulnerable to thieves, too.

If you have a habit of losing your keys, check out this key finder that makes locating them easy.