Here’s how you can unlock a car door with string (seriously)


I hadn’t done anything stupid or careless. I’d merely closed the trunk of my 1987 BMW 535i to pull some tools out of it. The car, which I’ve been driving frequently since I pulled its head and replaced its broken rocker arm this fall, was sitting in my locked garage, so the keys were in it, as is my custom. But, for reasons unclear, when I gave the trunk lid a good firm close, I was greeted by a noise I certainly did not want to hear: GSHWACK, the unmistakable sound of the central locking system engaging.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/01/28/unlock-your-car-with-string


I’ve locked my keys in my '02 Dakota several times and now, because the guy from AAA and I were becoming folks on first name basis, I carry an extra key in my pocket all of the time.
He told me that the dood locking system on the Durango/Dakota is one of the most difficult to bypass. How true that is, I’m not certain but when the snow is flying and the wind is blowing, you’ll believe just about anything.


As a young man (one of my very first and most liked jobs) I drove a tow truck; of course back then (late 60’s) getting into a locked car was fairly easy with the coat hanger, windows weren’t as tight, door jams/seams weren’t as tight and the locks were all the “Golf T” type locks; but even back then and until this article I never heard of or seen the “String” approach. Later in my adult life I became a Peace Officer (Deputy Sheriff -still have my commission - semi retired). We all carried the “Slim Jim” and were called out numerous times to the local grocery store to unlock a car with the keys in it. Later as the cars got more sophisticated (electronics) we had to have the owners sign a waiver agreeing that if (it happened often) that when attempting to unlock the car via the “Slim Jim” we would damage some interior panel door wiring; we were not responsible; then later we simply quick providing that service. One more quick (true) story about “locked keys in car”. Me and my friends were sitting outside our local “Smoke Shop”; enjoying a nice cigar and some “Old Man” car talk; we had our classics parked in front of us…shop is located in a plaza. Just then a nice elderly lady walked up to our group and ask: “Can anyone of you gentleman help me out; my car won’t unlock”. I asked what the problem was and she said apparently the battery in her “Key Fob” went dead and it is not activating the door locks. I took the key fob, she was correct it didn’t work; I then took the key that as on the end of the fob, inserted it into the door lock and unlocked her door. She was amazed and said she never knew the key was for anything but the ignition. I went back and finished my cigar. Take care.


In some cars the button is flush when locked. One must resort to other methods. Many cars will sound the alarm when opened with alternate methods also.


I used to think those numbered keypads on cars were dumb, but they’re the best solution to needing to get into a car without the key. Ours is basically invisible when not in use–it hides discreetly in the door frame and it lights up when touched. Smart keys are also helpful here as they prevent the doors from locking when the key is inside. For older cars, the best answer is don’t leave your only conveniently available set inside an empty car. :smile: But if all else fails and vanity is valued over time, this seems like a good last resort.


@tmh - Much like you, I very much enjoy the modern keypads on doors for unlocking purposes. Except when I close the door and realize I don’t know the passcode. I thought all the company vehicles were the same, but I guess not…


My experience with getting locked out is a little different…I have a 2005 Dodge Magnum with the battery mounted in the rear, next to the spare tire. The first time I disconnected the battery to work on the car, I closed the rear hatch and got to work. When I went to reconnect the battery, I discovered that Dodge uses an electronic latch to open the hatch. In other words, once you disconnect or remove the battery, you cannot open the hatch to get back to where the battery is located. The first time this happened (yes it has happened more than once… yes my memory isn’t what it once was) I climbed through the inside of the car and managed to lift the rear panel while I was lying on it. It was definitely more difficult that it sounds. I have since learned that I can connect a battery charger to the front terminals under the hood to supply enough voltage to open the hatch. This is much easier than my initial method. Unfortunately, I have had to use it often.


Based on your experience, a hybrid of your two methods would seem to work best.

Secure a long string to one end of the coat hanger/rod and tie a slipknot near that end.

You’d use the rod to loop the string over the lock and then tighten the loop by pulling the loose long end of the string.

It’d sort of be like using a pole saw on a tree or retrieving a mooring buoy with a boat hook.

Full disclosure: in college my friends and I definitely didn’t play a prank on a friend by unlocking her dorm door by unscrewing then removing her peephole and inserting a contraption made out of a coathanger, guitar string, dental floss, a magnet, and a paper clip to pop open the lock.


Well, I guess if we’re telling stories, this is my favorite one. You can’t make this stuff up. Back in the early 90’s I was working on a young lady’s Jeep Cherokee. When the work was completed, she proceeded to lock her purse in the truck. The vehicle was still in the shop. She called her dad to bring her spare set. In about 30 minutes he arrived and pulled up in a newer model Cherokee, directly behind the bay door where her Jeep was parked. Expecting to just be there momentarily he runs in, hands her the keys and heads back to his truck, only to find he also had locked his keys inside, with it running, and now blocking his daughter from being able to back out of the shop.
Dad now calls the wife to bring his spare set to the rescue. Wait, I swear you just can’t make this type of folly up. She agrees to bring the keys, but now, there’s a new problem. Her keys are in her purse, the purse that is inside dad’s locked up Cherokee, still running behind my shop door.
At this point I’m beyond amused. Tired from a long Texas summer day. Ready to lock up and go to the house. I did a quick assessment of the situation, had no previous luck with a slim jim, so I proceeded to pop the rear hatch release button from the lift gate and taking an educated guess, applied power to one of the wires and popped the rear glass open. Daughter then crawled through and opened the door ending the scatterbrained door locking adventure.
Truth is better than fiction! Good lock! Pun intended!


I have used this trick to unlock my van that locked with keys inside during a snowstorm at 2:00am about 30 miles from anywhere. I was really in a tough spot until I remembered that I had followed my brothers suggestion and hidden a spare key behind the bolt on the rear license plate. I had used slotted screws to attach the plate. Using a dime to undo the plate to free the spare key saved my cold hide that night and a few times since. I even had to borrow a screwdriver in a mall parking lot once to get the key, but the first thing I do when I get a new or newer vehicle is to hide a key behind the license plate.


@kgharcus - That is a good spot. I wired a spare to the gas cap of my pickup. I don’t love it as a hiding spot, but feel like those looking over a car rarely look there. This is based on no research or observation though.


Thanks Rob. Very helpful as usual.


Every car I buy, usually used, I get a spare key made for the driver’s door then file out the hole and put it through one of the bolts behind the rear lic. plate. Make sure you have the slot screw head bolt, if not you can pick up a set at an auto parts store. Most people have a quarter in their pocket that they can use as a screw driver to get the bolt out to free up the key. Even if you wife is at Walmart she doesn’t need to phone you.


You guys do know they make small tin/plastic boxes with a magnet attached that can be used to hide a key in the vehicle’s frame.


First true love. First date. To her father’s horror, I roar up to her house in a 1966 Olds 98 that I bought for $350, engine unencumbered by anything resembling an exhaust system, vinyl roof flapping in the wind like the sails of the Black Pearl. After emerging from the movie theater in White Plains, NY into the warm summer night, heart bursting as only a 17 year-old’s will do, I soon realized that the keys to the chariot were locked safely inside, dangling tauntingly from the ignition. A quick dash to a local clothing store that was just locking up for the night produced a wire hanger, and in the span of 20 minutes I managed to look like both an idiot and a hero, with just a touch of badass thrown in for good measure. Linda, if you’re out there somewhere, no one ever looked more beautiful in a paper Burger King crown.


I used to remove the radio antenna that is screw mounted to the body. Use the antenna to unlock the door from the top of the window. Easy peasy……but didn’t work on every model. If locked car didn’t have one…
I would simply borrow one from another vehicle nearby. Sometimes they would be too tight to remove without a wrench so I just had to shop additional vehicles in the parking lot. Of course this was all in the name of saving a damsel in destress.


1985 F150, doors locked, vehicle running, kid inside in car seat, dad freaking out, ran around parking lot asking for some help or a coat hanger (no cell phones then), thought of breaking a window, looked at the sliding rear window thinking it would be cheaper to break one side, found a rusty flat blade screwdriver in the bed, idea!, slid the blade in between the two halves of the slider, pushed the blade up against the latch, hit screwdriver handle with the heal of my hand, voila!, I spread the two halves apart and wiggled my 6’2" frame inside and reached the door handle…phew…


Worked movie theaters as a teenager in the '70s and often used coat hanger method to rescue customers. My favorite memory: Girlfriend managed to lock keys in ignition of my Dad’s Honda CVCC in grocery store parking lot, so I strung out two wire coat hangers twisted together end-to-end and worked them diagonally across the car from the rear vent window (the latch opened a few inches) to snag them and draw them out.


One way to solve the problem is to own a car without locks… My first car, a 1959 MGA did not have locks, heck, it didn’t even have external door handles, had to reach inside door pocket and pull cable. Got to love the British!


My only car with that type of locking button with a knob on the top is a 50 year old Mustang. I doubt that the shoestring trick would work with any slightly more modern car and certainly not with any car built in this century.