Every driver dreads locking keys in a car, and the reality is, it does happen. What do you do when the keys are safe inside a locked car? Here are some options help avoid that situation and deal with it, should it happen to you
Dial 911. Safety comes first, and if you don’t feel secure where you’restranded, you should call 911 to get help on the way fast. In many cases the police can unlock the car’s door. But if they can’t, they will probably call a tow truck, which will be on your tab, of course. But at least you’ll be safe.
Call for roadside assistance. Here’s when those annual auto-club fees really pay off. AAA, Allstate, and other organizations that provide roadside service will help you, though it could take a while for them to reach you. If you don’t subscribe to such a service, you might still be in luck. Most new cars come with roadside assistance during the basic warranty period. Your owner’s manual should have the details, but of course that’s locked in the car with the keys. The number to call might be posted on a window decal. If it isn’t, you can get the details by calling a dealership. To be prepared, you should store the number in your phone or write it down on paper and keep it in your wallet or purse. What if you don’t have a new car or you don’t belong to a service like AAA? Ask about adding roadside assistance to your auto-insurance policy. Also, some major highways are patrolled by trucks offering emergency aid. Keep an eye out for one.
Call a tow truck. If you have no free options, most towing services provide lock-out service. Call 411 for services in your area. Or text the words “tow service” and your location to GOOGL (46645).
Get a temporary key. A dealer might be able to make you an inexpensive key that will open the doors (but not start your car) so that you can retrieve your permanent keys. You’ll probably need your vehicle identification number (visible through the lower edge of the driver’s-side windshield) and proof that you own the car. Of course, you’ll also need a ride to the dealership.
Keep an extra key handy. Stash a spare key in your purse, your wallet, or a well-hidden spot on the car. You can buy a small magnetic box that can hold a key and be placed on a car’s underside. Or leave a spare with someone who could rescue you.
Buy a car with benefits. Some cars won’t lock with the power-lock button if the key is in the ignition and a door is open. Also, many vehicles from Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury have a door-mounted keypad that lets you tap in a code to unlock the door. If you drive a vehicle with a telematics system such as GM’s OnStar, Hyundai’s Blue Link, or Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace, you can call a toll-free number to have your car remotely unlocked. Those systems also offer free apps that let smart-phone owners unlock doors themselves. Check automaker websites for compatible phones and specifics.
Keyless. If you have lost the key altogether, things get more complicated. You’re going to need a locksmith, and while the ones we spoke with said they did do emergency road service, expect to pay around $200 and up for a replacement key. Keys for some higher-end models can cost several hundred dollars and can only be purchased and programmed through a dealer. And that means an expensive trip to the dealer on a flatbed.
See our guide to car maintenance.