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

If you get locked out of your car, don't worry, it can happen to anyone. Some methods to fix the problem are more embarrassing than others, but regardless of how you got locked out, you need to keep your cool and follow these tips if you want to get back in.

01
Stay Calm and Think About Your Options

Businessman looking through window at keys locked in car
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Panicking in a tough situation is common. The last thing you want to do is call for help just to find out you had an unlocked door the whole time. Double-check each door and the trunk before making that call.

Know Where the Spare Key Is Located

Do you know where a spare key is? Think hard—there's probably someone who could bring it to you. Investing in replacement keys may pay itself back over time, and you'll often be thankful you did it. You may also be able to get a temporary key from your car dealer, though you'll need a friend to give you a lift and may need to establish ownership of the vehicle with the vehicle identification number or documents. This also isn't an option if you have a keyless model. 

02
Figure Out If You Have Roadside Assistance

Towing Service
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Car insurance. Verify you have a policy that provides roadside assistance by checking with your insurance agent before disaster strikes. Most car insurance policies don't automatically include roadside assistance. Don't be fooled by "comprehensive coverage" – even if you have this type of policy, roadside assistance may not be covered. Even if you have this coverage, it's possible that not all services will be covered. In some instances, if a roadside service professional isn't able to gain entry to your car, they'll need to call a locksmith to the scene – which may not be included. Confirm what your policy will provide. 

If you do have coverage, save your roadside assistance information in your phone. Take a picture of the card on your phone or email it to yourself. Keep it in your wallet in the event your phone battery dies.  These companies usually have arrangements with local tow companies and locksmiths, and are usually able to negotiate a lower rate. 

Coverage limits vary, but if you have roadside assistance it will probably cover a lockout of a vehicle. A lockout is usually one of the cheapest roadside assistance features. The cost of getting your vehicle unlocked by a tow service varies, and can be higher in remote areas when travel time is taken into account. Make sure to double-check all of these possibilities you might have before tossing your receipts in the trash.

Warranty service: New cars come with warranties, and many of those warranties provide roadside assistance. If you're lucky, it will cover the costs of a lockout. Know exactly what your warranty covers so that you don't lose out on some important benefits.

It's a wise decision to use your warranty-covered roadside assistance without purchasing redundant coverage. If you have a newer car, calling the dealership can speed things up.

Credit card. Your credit card might come with roadside assistance. The chances of having coverage increases if you pay an annual fee—these cards usually carry more powerful perks. Most cards no longer offer compulsory roadside assistance, but it's often still available to purchase. Call your credit card company to find out what your card offers. 

Auto club or program membership. If you belong to a nonprofit auto club like the AAA or are enrolled in benefits through programs such as the AARP, they'll generally provide you with lockout assistance. Check the details of your service type to ensure you're covered. 

03
Try to Unlock the Door Yourself

Woman unlocking a car from the outside
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Tow companies are professionals, which means they have the proper tools to do the job. For a DIY door unlock, you're going to need a few tools.

Most tow service companies use an inflatable device called a pump wedge to open the door. A handy hack (if you have it) would be to use a blood pressure cuff. It's strong enough to withstand the pressure without ripping. It's also possible you have one at home or could ask a friend or family member to pick one up if nearby. 

How to Unlock a Locked Car Door 

  • Slide a deflated blood pressure cuff into the top corner of the driver's side door.
  • Blow the cuff up until there is a small gap creating an opening in the vehicle.
  • Don't overexpand the cuff because it could damage the door.
  • Use a wire coat hanger or other long, skinny object that will fit in the gap created.
  • Squeeze the coat hanger into the opening and hit the unlock button.

It will probably take some maneuvering to get the cuff into the door. Be careful about bending the door by overinflating the cuff. A damaged door can cost a whole lot more to repair than hiring a tow service, entirely defeating the purpose of doing it yourself. 

If you're like most people, you won't have a blood pressure cuff lying around. It's even less likely that you'll have access to it at the moment you're locked out of the car. The best and simplest way to get your vehicle unlocked is to call roadside assistance.

04
Call a Tow Truck Service

Towing in action
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Usually, the most convenient way to get your vehicle unlocked is to call a tow truck service. Calling the one that is closest to your location can help speed up the process.

No Out-of-Pocket Cost

In order to get your unlock covered by your car insurance carrier, it's important to report the claim directly to your insurance company or your roadside assistance plan. You need to be able to:

  • Provide the vehicle's location.
  • Leave a good contact phone number.
  • Know your policy number.

After that, your insurance carrier would most likely call one of their preferred tow truck service providers. The tow service would then contact you to verify details and would be dispatched to come to unlock your vehicle. The bill would then go directly to your car insurance carrier and you would pay zero out of pocket. 

Get Reimbursed

Sometimes it might be easier to pay for the lockout service on your own rather than try to call in a claim. Tow claims are pretty much the easiest type of claim to file. Most roadside assistance plans allow you to turn in a receipt and get reimbursed, as long as you had coverage at the time of the service.

05
How to Break a Car Window in an Emergency

Breaking a Car Window
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Breaking a car window is dangerous and expensive to repair. It should only be done in critical situations, such as if a child is trapped in a hot car. Rather than smashing the auto glass yourself, it's usually best to call 911 in rescue scenarios. The windshield will be nearly impossible to break. Side window glass is tempered, which means it's almost as strong as the windshield. If you believe breaking the window is necessary to protect a pet or child, use the following advice. 

Tips for Breaking The Side Window 

  • You need something sharp. A hammer would surely be convenient. If you have one, it's best to use the claw end. A screwdriver with the proper force applied would also work. In a pinch, a golf club, window scraper, or rock would do. 
  • The center of a car glass window is its strongest point. Try breaking the glass closer to the edge, where it's weaker.
  • Always choose the window furthest from a child who might be in the car to protect them from a spray of shattered glass.

If you're still unable to break the glass, call the police for assistance.