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“Wait!” I yelled, as my girlfriend as she slammed the passenger door of my truck. But she didn’t hear me, and didn’t know I’d forgotten my keys in the ignition. We were locked out. Luckily for us, I had a subscription to AAA, and we were in a safe city park. All I had to do was call for roadside assistance, sit down, and wait. But in the decade since my misadventure, an even easier solution has emerged. Here are several options:

  • Break one of your vehicle’s windows
  • Call your insurance company or other roadside assistance (AAA)
  • Call the local police or fire department
  • Call a nearby dealership that sells the same make
  • Call your dealership to unlock a newer car remotely
  • Call a locksmith

How do you unlock a car with keys locked inside?

Locksmiths, tow truck drivers, and even some police officers have various tools to get into a locked car. One option is a “Slim Jim” hook, which fits between the door and the window and may be able to release the lock. But this risks damaging the car, so some automakers have released new cars they can unlock remotely. If you have no tools or training, this job is best left to a professional. Luckily, you have several options.

A set of Volkswagen keys on the cloth seats of a locked car.
Keys locked in car | Daniel Andrade via Unsplash

So you’ve locked yourself out of your car? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. How to unlock a car with the keys locked inside gets 22k Google searches every month. But your situation may be unique, and choosing the best course of action requires taking several variable into account.

First of all: Is everyone safe? Are you in a safe place? Is it too cold or hot to wait for help? Is an animal or child locked in the car? There are rare situations in which breaking a window is your best option. But hopefully there is a better solution.

Secondly: Are you certain every door is locked (including the hatch on a hatchback), and that all the windows are all the way up? Do you have a second set of keys at home that a friend or family member could bring to you? There may still be a way inside that you forgot about in your panic.

Third: Do you already have roadside assistance through AAA, Good Sam, or even your insurance company? If you do have to call for help, there’s a good chance you won’t have to pay for it.

On user SoThereIsThisGirl recommended you call your local police department and fire department before you begin calling locksmiths. Locksmiths can certainly get into your car, but they will charge for your services. Some emergency services personnel are equipped and trained to unlock your car, and will do it for free. Your local police force may only be willing to help in case of an emergency, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Finally, reach out to your dealership or any closer dealerships that sell the same make and model. They may be able to unlock your car remotely or come to your location with the tools to get in. Depending on the dealership, this may cost as much or more than a locksmith. But if they have the right tools, this may be the option least likely to damage your vehicle.

Can I unlock my car with my phone?

Some automakers offer apps that allow you to connect your phone with your car (such as the myChevrolet App). Some of these can even unlock your car remotely. A great way to be prepared for locking yourself out is to have this app already downloaded and paired with your car.

A silver and black wireless key fob for unlocking a car.
Suzuki key fob | Syed Hussaini via Unsplash

If you have not downloaded the necessary app, you may still be able to call your dealership and have them unlock your car remotely.

Another great way to be prepared is to stash an extra set of keys somewhere on your vehicle. Auto parts stores sell a magnetic hide-a-key box you can attach to a frame or inside a fender. I’ve also seen vehicle owners bolt a spare key in place behind their license plate so they can retrieve it with a screwdriver or pocket knife. But beware that car thieves may also search your vehicle for a spare set of keys.

Having a spare set of keys made can be expensive. Many modern keys include a wireless key fob that needs to be near your car for it to start. But what you might not know is that you can have a cheaper copy of your keys made that won’t start your car, but will unlock it. Such a spare is very handy to have if you accidentally lock yourself out of your car.

What if you lock yourself out of your car in an emergency?

If you lock yourself out of your car and it is an emergency–say you are in an unsafe place or it is too hot or cold to wait for a locksmith–you shouldn’t hesitate to call 911. As embarrassing as the situation is, emergency services exist to keep you safe.

View through the window of a locked Mustang car.
Locked Mustang car | Dane Deaner via Unsplash

What if a child or pet is locked in a hot car and the emergency services’ response time is too long? A firefighter named Andrew Northshield wrote in Popular Mechanics that you may be able to use a rock or other item to break your own window. But he warns that you should choose a window as far away from any occupants as possible. You also may be able to tape over the window so it doesn’t shatter, but comes out in one piece.

Next, learn hacks to use household items to repair your car, or see some tricks to unlock your car without keys in the video below: