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Your Car And Your Home: How to Unlock a Door

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Yellow locked door set into a brick building.

It is a sad fact that locks are a necessary part of daily life. Keeping your home, your business, and your vehicle secure against people who would intrude and steal your possessions and livelihood is a high priority nowadays. But what happens when the person that gets shut out is you? What if you accidentally lock your keys in the car? What happens if no one is home, and you return to find a locked door with no key to get inside?

As early as the late 90s, if you got yourself stuck outside of your vehicle or your home, you could call the police to come assist you in opening your door. Unfortunately, in most states and cities, this is no longer allowed, as police vehicles do not come equipped with the right tools and have more serious business to attend to. Locksmiths are experts that can be called during business hours and sometimes during the night depending on their local hours, but be aware that the price of such services depends on the year of your vehicle or the type of lock on your home or business; older vehicles have simple locks, but newer cars with electronic key fobs or homes with a smart lock can be much more expensive to bypass. Even though it may be expensive, it’s worth it to get a spare key.

If you find yourself without a spare key, here are a couple of ways you can open your car or your building’s door if you find yourself without other methods. Keep in mind that these methods can also be used by those with less ethical ideas. Learning how to unlock any kind of door without a key can offer you an idea of how to prevent anyone else from taking advantage of your security.

Does A Wire Coat Hanger Actually Work For Unlocking A Car Door?

Actually, yes! This is demonstrated in in the video above.

The first subject we want to cover is how to get into your vehicle in case you find yourself unable to open the door. Without practice or experience, the idea of having to break into your own vehicle can be panic-inducing and very irritating if you have places to be. Depending on the age and type of your vehicle, there are a couple of ways you can unlock your door from the outside. These include the following:

  • A shoelace. Yes, a shoelace! This requires a vehicle that has a hooked interior lock or one that can be easily pulled upwards. Start by tying a loose knot in the middle of the shoelace that can be tightened once it tightens around the lock. Taking both ends of the shoelace, thread the middle through the corner of the door into the inside of the car and maneuver the knot around the lock. Tighten the knot, and pull upwards. And voila, your vehicle is unlocked. With practice, you can get good enough to open your car door in less than twenty seconds. You can also do this with a pit of string. Check out the video below to see a demonstration.
  • An air wedge and a long rod. Both of these are a great investment if you are worried that locking your keys in your vehicle may happen often. An air wedge looks like an inflatable cuff they use at the doctor’s office. Wedging it in the corner of the door, you can gently pump air into the wedge with the attached bulb, sparing your vehicle the threat of scratched or chipped paint. After the wedge leaves a space between your door and the door frame, use a wooden or metal rod to pass through the space and press the unlock button inside. If your unlock button is on the side of the door it may be a little more tricky and may require a hooked rod to get the job done. A slightly more agressive method that you can use is to use the screwdriver instead of an air wedge. The video below shows you how to access your car in this way. Make sure to be careful so that you don't cause damage to your car.

  • A plastic strip. Instead of a long wooden or metal rod, a plastic strip alone may work if your locking mechanism is on an up-facing surface on your door. Careful not to scratch the paint of your vehicle, you can wedge the plastic strip into the side of the door and press down the unlock button with relative ease.

  • A slim jim. This handy device works by opening the control bar on the inside of the vehicle’s door. Designed with a pair of hooks on both ends, a slim jim enters the vehicle’s door between the weather proofing rubber and the glass. The control bar usually lies right on the line of the lock itself. Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the control bar can either be pushed downwards to unlock the door, or pulled upwards with the hooks on the end of the slim jim. It may take a bit of practice, but you will no doubt find this method incredibly reliable.

  • A coat hanger. You may have seen this procedure yourself, since it is a fairly popular method these days. You can use a coat hanger in one of two ways: pulling the lock upwards or sideways from inside the vehicle, or as a slim jim replacement to open the control bar inside the door itself. Whether this works or not will depend on the type of vehicle you own; consult your owner’s manual to get an idea of the best method.

  • Your key fob. If you find your fob isn’t opening working, be aware that it could be that your fob is not working properly. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing the battery. If this does not fix the issue, you may have a lock actuator failure. In this case, if you hear your locking mechanism making funny noises or locking/unlocking without you, you may need assistance from a professional mechanic. These kinds of fixes are commonplace now, fortunately, and can be done fairly quickly.

Be aware that any of these methods can be used on any vehicle. This does not necessarily mean it happens all the time, however. Thieves usually target and steal from cars that are already unlocked. A vehicle with a locked door is a lot less vulnerable, especially if parked in reputable places and locations with clear lighting or security. If this is the case, you usually won’t have any trouble.

A set of lock-picking tools line up on a wood table.

How to Open a Locked Door Without a Key

Now, what if you find you have been locked out of your house? Solving this problem depends greatly on what kind of bolt is holding your door shut tight. Here are a few solutions according to lock type.

How to Open a Door With Lockpicks

For a door handle lock or door knob, the best way to open these is with a pair of lockpicks. This may seem intimidating at first, but the procedure is relatively easy with most locks. Lockpicks are a pair of metal tools, one called a tension wrench and one called the pick. The interior of a modern lock is a hollow chamber with tiny cylinders called levers above that hold the lock in place; if you have ever seen the contour of a key with its many ridges, those ridges fit with the cylinders of the lock to open it. With the lever in place to turn the lock (you can use the tool that came with your set of lockpicks or a screwdriver), take the pick and carefully slide it against the levers. As you do this, you will hear clicking to let you know that you are sliding them in the right place.The cylinders are designed with springs, so when a key is taken out, they return to their default position. The idea is to make all of the cylinders rise to their fullest, and this will take some tension from the wrench to stop the levers from dropping. Once you start sliding the pick, turn the wrench clockwise or counter-clockwise just as you would a key. Once the levers are set in place, it is as easy as turning the tension wrench and you’re in. If you'd like to see a demonstration of how to pick your house locks, check out the video below.

This entire procedure can also be performed with a knife and a bobby pin, although the accuracy and ease with which the tumblers fall can be a bit trickier. We generally do not recommend a butter knife, although it can be done with older locks. Always be careful not to cause injury to your hands.

How to Open a Deadbolt Lock Without a Key

For a deadbolt lock, the procedure is relatively the same. After all, they are designed to stop forced entry, not quite for delicate locking. This can work against you, however, as deadbolts can make picking with lockpicks a bit difficult. The best way to open a deadbolt lock is with a bump key. Put simply, a bump key is a key with a very shallow profile, very sharp ridges, and very deep valleys, designed to force the levers inside the locks into position for the split-second you need to open the door.

No one will simply make a bump key for you, of course, so you will have to make your own with a blank key. You can purchase these from almost any grocery or hardware store. Then, with a delicate file, shape the key into a thin bar that can be inserted into the lock without much problem. Then, much like a lockpick, slide the ridges of the key against the levers and apply some tension rotation. You now know how to unlock a deadbolt without a key. With some practice, you will be able to enter should you ever lose your own keys!

Keyless Smart Lock With Phone that has the app open to lock and unlock the lock.

How to Unlock a Door With Smart Locks

The last type of lock we want to cover are electronic locks or smart locks. These handy devices are great replacements for typical door handles, as they come with keypad codes or keyless entry fobs for effortless use. Some even come with a connection to a smartphone, allowing you to unlock your door from almost anywhere. Typically, these types of locks run on battery power, most often 9-volt batteries. What happens if your electronic door lock runs out of power? Almost all these locks will beep or warn you in some way when they are about to run out of juice. But it can be easy to forget, right up until the point when you can no longer open the door.

The solution depends on the make of the lock. Some have a side terminal on the side of the lock through which you can insert the prongs of a 9-volt battery which will allow for unlocking until a new battery can be placed properly. Others include a small panel through which a spare key can be inserted, making any mistake in replacing batteries simple to fix. Some will even have an emergency override, which will disable the keypad and allow for instant entry. Whether this last option is available will be included in the user manual, which should always be consulted for detailed information.

It is important to note that some smart locks even have voice recognition software that enables specific programmed users to open the lock, even if you forget or do not have access to your key. They are usually not much more expensive than other smart locks, and give the same level of protection and greater accessibility.

White unlocked bedroom door. Bed, plant, window, and wood flooring seen through the open door.

How to Open a Locked Bedroom Door

Now that we have covered the interior of the house, how about bathroom and bedroom doors? Here’s how to unlock a bedroom door.

A locked bedroom door can be a time-consuming obstacle, especially if you are already kicking yourself if you locked yourself out! These locks tend to be a bit more simple than exterior deadbolt locks or smart locks, but most door knobs will still have enough strength to make opening the door frustrating. With most locking interior doors, a push of a button or the twist of the knob, the door will be sealed from the inside; these are pretty common in homes built around the late 80s and early 90s.

How to Unlock a Door With a Card

Here is the first way to open a locked bedroom door knob. Take a sturdy credit card in hand, or better yet another card that you may not need to use again such as an expired card or a hotel card. Press against the door to provide pressure, and insert the card between the door where the lock and the frame meet. It may take a few tries, but thanks to the ramp shape of the extruding bolt, the card will slide right through it and grant you access. Practice makes perfect! The video below walks you through this process as well.

How to Unlock a Door With a Bobby Pin

Then, the twist handle locks. Unfortunately for anyone behind the door, this is one of the most hackable types of locks in the world. On the outside of the doorknob will usually be a hole through which a toothpick, a paper clip, or a bobby pin can be inserted. If pressed directly into the middle of the dooknob, you will feel a small plate that gives a bit of resistance like metal on a spring. Press the bobby pin on that plate, twist the handle, and you are in, just like that. Some doorknobs get a little craftier with the procedure, such as placing the hole on the side closer to the neck of the doorknob.With a bit of pressure from a small rod though, these are just as simple to open.

Nickles, dimes, and pennies spilling out of a coin jar.

How Much Does A Lock Out Service Cost?

When all of these options cannot solve the issue, or if you are afraid of damaging your property, the foolproof solution is to ask for backup from a licensed locksmith. Although you may want to consult with your local service, locksmiths are generally available at all times day or night in case of emergencies. They have the tools and the knowledge to open nearly any lock on vehicles, doors, and even combination locks and safes.

The costs, however, can vary. Thanks to statistics shared by HomeAdvisor, we know the average cost for a locksmith call in the United States is $153 dollars (usually $50 dollars to $100 dollars per hour). This does not include the trip costs, which can run up the cost another $50 to $100 depending on the distance. The total cost can increase to $150 to $250 for after-hour services. Locksmiths can also replace lost or stolen keys. Simple house keys can be copied for relatively cheap, but electronic fobs from specific vehicle or lock brands can cost much more. Simple house keys cost $10 to $20 bucks, whereas transponder fobs that lock and unlock vehicle doors automatically can cost you anywhere between $75 dollars to $400 dollars.

While this may seem quite expensive, some locks simply need the assistance of a professional to open, especially smart locks and deteriorated deadbolts. Not only are they wonderful for replacing locks with more advanced and modern ones, they can save you in the middle of the night when no one else could. Keeping the address or contact information of your local locksmith in your phone is a great idea. Another cheaper option that works when you’re lock out of your car is to sign up for a company like AAA. As long as you sign up a day or so before you require their services then you can call them and they’ll unlock your car for you.

The silhouette of a burglar standing in the forest at sunrise.

No Matter What, Always Keep Your Doors Locked

Lastly, although we discussed the many ways you can bypass your locks to get into your vehicle or home, you should never be fearful of locking your doors when you are away. The trouble that can come from your doors being left unlocked is nothing compared to the trouble of calling a locksmith.

According to Kane County, Illinois, a mindblowing 92% of all automobile burglaries happened to vehicles with unlocked doors. According to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, 56% of Americans have no worries about their vehicles being stolen, and that a third of those interviewed in a survey conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau admit that they have left their cars running and unattended.

When it comes to home burglaries, it is refreshing to report that this crime is at its lowest point in the last six years. Despite this, the majority of home invasions happened because of unlocked doors. After all, why call attention to yourself breaking through a door or window when you can simply walk in and take what you want? From an article written by Greg Ellifritz for Active Response Training, 50% to 100% of homes and garages of his local area from 2014 to 2018 that were burglarized happened because of unlocked doors.

As you've seen, it can be very easy to get through a locked door. Since this is the case, having a home security system that you can arm even while you’re away from your home is a great additional layer of defense. If you’re in the market for a security system check out Cove. And whether you’re at home or on the road, even if you feel safe, always lock your doors. You will be happy you did, even if you find you’ve locked yourself out. Remember that there is a solution for any lock!

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