It’s something we’ve all done. Often, you only realize it after you close the car door. Or it could be the “thunk” of power locks as your pup steps on the button to stare at you. Worse, you don’t realize you’re locked out of your car until you reach for your keys to go home. What should you do now?
The good news is that, like cars with physical keys, being locked out is becoming obsolete. In most cases, smart proximity key fobs (or, in some cases, a key card, as with Tesla) will not allow you to lock the “key” in the car. Many brands now have apps that allow your phone to act as the fob. They will not, however, prevent you from running out of battery or misplacing the fob on your way back to the locked car.
The best plan for dealing with a lockout is one devised before one occurs. Many solutions are available, as we will see below, but only if you plan ahead of time. You have options, such as signing up for an automaker app account, subscribing to a roadside service, or leaving a spare key or fob with family or friends.
Also, be familiar with your vehicle. For example, many Ford vehicles have an optional door keypad for entry. Hide a spare key in a magnetic or attached lockbox somewhere on the vehicle for older, non-connected vehicles with physical keys (just be creative with the location).
Here are some things you can do if you find yourself on the outside looking in.
The Key on Your Phone
Manufacturers’ phone apps are increasingly including remote locking and starting functions for capable vehicles, though some require a paid subscription. In order to use the phone as a key, you must first set it up or pair it with the car.
Procedures differ depending on the manufacturer. Tesla, for example, requires you to use your Tesla key card to configure or “authenticate” your phone as a key. If you don’t have your phone but have shared your account and credentials with a friend or family member, some phone apps (Tesla is one) will let them unlock the car and even start it so you can drive home from wherever they are.
Is there no app? What you should do next is determined by the gravity of your situation.
If It’s an Emergency
If you have no other immediate options and are in a truly dangerous situation on the side of the road or in a lonely parking lot, or if there is a child or pet in the vehicle, call 911. Police will arrive faster than any other type of assistance. Depending on the severity of the situation and the vehicle, they may be able to open the car with a slim jim (a steel bar, not the meat snack), call a locksmith if necessary, or simply break a window. Is there no phone? You must break the window yourself. It provides quick and inexpensive security. Choose the smallest side window and smash it in a corner with whatever hard thing you can get your hands on.
If You Can Wait
If you have an older vehicle with a key or if an app is not an option, you could call a friend or family member with whom you’ve left a spare key.
If that isn’t an option, you can use your phone or find a phone to call AAA, your car’s roadside assistance, or any third-party roadside assistance you may have. The wait time will vary, but these provide mobile lockout services. In most cases, they will let you wait in a safe or comfortable location until the technician arrives. You can also call a local locksmith directly — in many cities, you can get a 24-hour response, though it will cost you. Many towing companies also provide lockout service.
Some automakers can also assist with a remote lockout service that you can call — something you should check on ahead of time as it may require a subscription. Among them are GM’s long-standing OnStar service, Mercedes-Mbrace Benz’s service, Hyundai Blue Link, and Tesla customer service (you’ll need the vehicle identification number and your owner account details).
DIY (If You Have All the Time in the World)
The internet is rife with tips and videos on how to break into your car (or someone else’s). If you enjoy self-sufficiency and have the time to gather the necessary tools, choose a method and go for it. They are too numerous to list here, but they range from using long shoelaces (mostly for older button locks) to a screwdriver and coat hanger to a technique that uses a specialized inflatable locksmith’s wedge (or, according to some, a blood pressure cuff) to pry the door open and insert a wire or plastic rod to grab the door handle or press the lock button. While these may be entertaining, the potential for frustration as well as amateur damage to the door or weatherstripping is high, so proceed with caution — or perhaps leave it to the professionals!