So You Locked Your Keys in Your Car


It’s not the most pleasant feeling – to lock your keys in your car (or any other vehicle). So what should you do if you lock your keys in your car, the car of another, or even a business vehicle? Well, it depends on the situation, location, time of day, and who owns the car in which the keys were locked. If you do not own the vehicle (or hold title to the vehicle in your name), you should definitely avoid causing any damage to the vehicle. If you own the vehicle, you’ll have more liberty to attempt to unlock it – but within reason.

In this article, we’ll go over the basic legal steps to follow if you lock your keys in your car or the vehicle of another. We’ll also explore when to get local authorities involved, such as the police or fire department.

Next, we’ll take a look at some of the first things you should do if you’re locked out of a vehicle.

Steps to Follow If You Lock Your Keys in Your Car

If you locked your keys in your car (or the vehicle of another), you should first evaluate these four (4) factors:
  1. Situation (e.g. raining outside, sunny, etc.),
  2. Location (at your house, in a parking lot, or an unsafe location like a crime-ridden area),
  3. Time of the day (e.g. day or night), and
  4. Whether you own the vehicle or someone else owns it.
These four factors will help to assist you in what to do next. For example, if you’ve locked your keys in your car at night in a bad neighborhood far from where you live, you’ll likely want to call local authorities such as the police. If you’ve locked your keys in your car at your house and you don’t want to call local authorities, you have some options in what to do next.

After determining your overall situation with the four factors described above, you should consider these following steps:

Step 1:

Do you or someone else have a spare key? If so, find it or call the person who has it. If you don’t have a phone, try to find someone that does to use his or her phone.

Step 2:

Does the vehicle belong to you, i.e. you hold legal title, or does it belong to someone else?

If the vehicle belongs to someone else, call the owner of the vehicle and inform him or her about the situation. Ask that person what he or she would like to do. You should likely next call local authorities such as the police to attempt to unlock the vehicle. The police may have you sign a consent/waiver form in the event they damage the vehicle in an attempt to unlock it. The police may also want consent from the owner of the vehicle – which may require you to place the vehicle owner on the phone with the police.

If you own the vehicle, you may call local authorities such as the police, or your car service provider like OnStar or AAA (which can cost some money). Or you may attempt to unlock the vehicle yourself.

Step 3:

Attempt to unlock the vehicle yourself.

There are many methods to do this. The old-fashioned method (and one in which the police will likely use) involves taking a wooden slim or wedge-shaped device to pry open the window. Next, take a clothes hanger, unfold it until it is straight and bend the end into a small hook. Take the clothes hanger and slide it through the opening in the window created by the wedge until the hook meets the lock. Then, attempt to slide the end of the clothes hanger under the lock and pull up to open the door. This will likely take a few attempts and you’ll want to make sure the hook is sturdy so it doesn’t bend when you attempt to unlock the lock.

Another method involves poking a small hole through a tennis ball (you could use a clothes hanger, pocket knife, or something else) and placing the hole of the tennis ball directly against the key slit on the car door. With one hand holding the tennis ball firming against the car door take your other hand and push at the back of the tennis ball. This will push the air from the tennis ball into the lock and hopefully open the lock through air pressure.

If you cannot get either of these methods to work, call your local authorities like the police.

Next, we’ll conclude this article with a few legal points to keep in mind.


If you call local authorities to unlock your vehicle, they will likely want you to sign a release or waiver in the event they damage the vehicle. You don’t have to sign the release, but if you want them to unlock your vehicle it’s about the only way to do so.

By signing the release you will likely not be able to sue them for any damage caused to the vehicle in attempting to unlock it, unless they act with gross misconduct (which is generally very difficult to prove). However, most local authorities like the police have equipment to unlock vehicles and are generally good at it. If you call the police, allow them to do their job and hopefully you’ll get your car unlocked without any damage at all.

© 2009-2010 ThinkingLegal, LLC. All rights reserved.