Many of the dead-bolt locks tested by Consumer Reports don't provide the level of protection you might expect. A few well-placed kicks or a standard cordless drill was all it took to defeat most locks. Those test results are especially unsettling because forcible entries, such as kick-ins, are the most common type of home break-in. And 67 percent of respondents to our national survey count on dead-bolt locks to help keep their homes secure. Of course, any dead-bolt lock is better than the common key-in-knob variety.
Drill, baby, drill
We spent weeks prying, hammering, picking, pummeling, and drilling locks, and few scored well. A handful proved far more susceptible than most.
But a little skill and a cordless drill opened most of the deadbolts we tested.
Parts are often inadequate
All locks come with a strike plate that attaches to the door frame. But as we've reported in the past, far too many of those are flimsy. The kick-in resistance of most locks improved dramatically when we replaced the strike plates with a Mag High Security Box Strike, $10. You can buy it, or its equivalent, at home centers and online. But we think a lock should be secure without your having to buy another part.
Drills easily open most locks
With all except the two locks classified as high-security, even an ordinary cordless drill could drill out the cylinders in 2 minutes or less. Our tests on the Assa and Medeco, which have hardened cylinders across the product line, ruined the locks but denied access--so you'd have to replace the lock but not your home's contents.
New technologies and old problems
One tested model opens by fingerprint, passcode, or key. But while it claims "maximum protection for yourself and your loved ones," it was among the easiest to defeat. We found keypad-operated door locks convenient. Such models can be rekeyed for temporary access to guests and contractors and then rekeyed again, when access is no longer needed, without having to change the lock or call a locksmith. Yet all of those locks succumbed too easily to our prying/wrenching test.
How to choose
You'll get no protection if you leave your door unlocked while you're out, as almost 20 percent of those surveyed said they do at least occasionally. Also consider:
Learn lock lingo
The deadbolts we tested are single-cylinder and are operated using a thumb turn. The high-security locks have hardened cylinders, unique pin configurations, and other defenses. Industry rankings, Grades 1 to 3, seemed to track with our Ratings, with Grade 1 locks being the hardest to disable. But packages don't always display that information, so check company websites.
Decide how much you can spend
A high-security lock of the Medeco caliber might seem expensive, especially if you have it professionally installed. But if you have a break-in, the deductible on your homeowners insurance is likely to be higher than the cost of the lock. And insurance policies commonly give discounts for homes with dead-bolt locks.
Beef up the door frame and lock
Hollow-core or weak doors may give way before the lock does. Whatever type of lock you buy, be sure your strike is made of heavy-duty metal and installed with the 3-inch screws that we think should come with all locks. Hinges should also be secured with 3-inch screws. Some municipalities consider double-sided locks, which require a key on both sides, a fire hazard.
Call the cops
Your local police might have home-security brochures, classes, or even on-site safety inspections. If not, check the National Crime Prevention Council's advice at www.ncpc.org.
Alarms, especially noisy ones, can provide an extra layer of security. Almost 80 percent of homeowners with alarms rated those systems effective at protecting their homes in a recent, nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But before you get an alarm or switch monitoring companies, check whether your area requires a permit, and be aware of the following contract clauses:
These can leave you liable for up to 80 percent of the costs of the contract's term, even if you move.
A contract we saw warns that promises made by sales staff or in ads are not binding if they're not in the contract.
If you suffer a break-in, even due to the alarm company's negligence or failure of the equipment or service, the company isn't responsible and won't reimburse beyond a specific amount, $300 to $1,000 on the contracts we reviewed. You might also forfeit the right to sue the company for additional money.