It usually happens when you’re incredibly late for something – or when you’re trying to avoid the morning traffic. It will never happen on a holiday, or when you’re not in a rush. It waits for you to be at your most vulnerable – then pounces like a starving tiger.
At first, it’s a light feeling that comes over you – ‘they must be in my pockets somewhere’ – then a sharp realisation as you search said pockets. Then a feeling of panic and a rush of blood to the face as you look through your car window to see your keys on the seat, and every door tightly locked.
Smash and grab
For most people, the answer is simple. Smash the small back window, open the door, grab the keys and deal with the consequences later. Some may burst into tears right there and then, down on two knees, hands to the heavens, sobbing and shouting, ‘Why? Why?’
The first step in this seemingly dire situation is to just relax. It’s not all that bad. So the keys are in the car, and you’re late, but it could be worse – like being pecked to death by a flock of angry geese.
Once the heart has settled and logic has been restored, think about your options. There are a number of different routes you can take, depending on what car you own.
Elementary, my dear Watson
There have been cases where, just out of sheer panic, a window has been smashed, and only then you realise that one of the other doors is, in fact, unlocked. First things first: check that there is no way you can get into your car.
If you are locked out indefinitely, the next best thing to do is to phone a lockout service – having a professional come to you and open your car is going to be cheaper than a smashed window.
Many insurance companies now offer roadside assistance. Phone your broker - they’ll probably sort it out for you. It’s what you pay them for after all.
If it’s a real emergency, call the police and explain your situation. They will most likely have access to tools such as ‘Slim-Jims’, which can assist them getting into your car.
Prevention better than cure
Even better than having to pay someone to open your car is being able to avoid that call altogether. Have a spare set of keys made and leave it at a loved-ones house. A call to your brother at 2 a.m. may get his blood boiling, but it’s going to save you a good bit of cash in repairs.
Alternatively, keep a spare key deep in your wallet. Make sure the key can’t fall out. However, the less responsible may find themselves leaving the keys and the wallet in the car, thus defeating the purpose of this exercise.
Alternatively, you can glue the key to the inside of one of your bumpers, thus making sure that you have access to a spare at all times. You can also use a strong magnet to stick the key inconspicuously onto something metal under your car.
The last resort
If you’re stuck in the middle of the desert somewhere, with no access to help in the form of brothers or police, and have not taken preventative measures, then you’ll have no choice but to get destructive.
Choose the smallest window that will be the least expensive to repair. Find a large, heavy object - like a fist sized stone or a solid log - and position yourself in front of the window. Cover the window with a T-shirt or towel to reduce debris spray, turn your head and eyes away, and smash the window as close to the middle of the pane as possible. Unlock your door, retrieve your keys, and get ready for a fat bill.
If you’ve left a window slightly open, you may be able to open the lock without damaging your car.
Find a long piece of material (dental floss, loose thread from your clothing), and tie a slip-knot on one end. Pass the knot through the gap in the window, and hook the lock piece in the noose. Slowly tighten, and pull upwards directly above the lock piece until the door is unlocked. The material must be reasonably strong.
Extracting a broken key
Just as bad as locking your key in the car is breaking off your key in the lock. The best thing to do is to phone a locksmith to come sort it out, but if you can’t, there are a few things you can do.
If there is a piece of the key showing from the lock, use a pair of needle-nose pliers to remove the key bit from the lock.
If the key bit is deep within the lock, the trick is to try and get a grip on the bit's ‘teeth’. This can be done with the right tools. Bend a paperclip into an ‘L’ shape, and try to hook the ‘L’ under one of the teeth.
Another more difficult method involves using superglue. Using a toothpick, accurately apply glue to the end of the broken key head, and insert the key head into the lock. It is extremely important to not get the superglue on the inside of the lock, or it will damage it further.
Hold the head there for five minutes, allowing the two key pieces to bond. When removing the key, keep the head as straight as possible so as not to apply unnecessary pressure to the glue bond.
- (Warren Vonk, Health24, July 2006)