Always Lock Your Car . . . Oops

It s always a bad day when a person locks his keys in his car. And it is always a good day when a long-dormant skill can be dusted off, updated and put to use to open the car to get them out. And in case you have not figured it out, that person with the bipolar day was me.

I am not, understand, in the habit of locking my keys in my car. Most people have managed to get out of that habit by buying a car with a keyless ignition. I will get there in another decade or so, but that time has not yet arrived for your correspondent (who has not yet used up his current car). And locking keys in the car has happened to me a few times before. I will never forget the first.

When I was in high school, some friends and I decided to drive the 100-ish miles to Indianapolis to watch the time trials one of the weekends before the annual Indianapolis 500 race. Race tickets were notoriously hard to get back then but the time trials were cheap and easy to access. It was 1977 and I was less than six months into ownership of my first car – a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible.

Because my car was the biggest of those available in my circle, I was chosen to be the driver for the trip. It was a beautiful Saturday in May and I was on my first road trip that did not involve parents. We found the track and followed the signs that directed us to parking. Everything was going great until I stuck my hand into my right front pocket at some point mid-morning and I got that sinking feeling when I realized that my key ring was not in its assigned pocket.

Illustration of the ignition switch location in a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500

Crisis No. 1 was averted when we found the keys – hanging ever so handily from the key that was nestled snugly in the ignition switch that was prominently displayed on the dash. Which led us to Crisis No. 2: we were over a hundred miles from home and were locked out of the car. By that time I had learned the skill of fishing a coat hanger through the side window and grabbing the hook around the chrome lock post to open the door. There are many things easily available at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but coat hangers are not among them. We quickly figured that a slice through the fabric roof would get us access easily enough, but new convertible tops don’t grow on trees and I hoped to avoid the need to buy one so quickly.

In one of those great “Ah-Ha!” moments, I opened the hood and grabbed the oil dipstick from the engine. I wiped the oil from it and had one of my friends push upwards on the convertible top, which allowed enough of a crack to thread the looped end of the dipstick in to do the coat hanger’s job. My success taught me that a guy who thinks for a bit can get himself out of a lot of problems.

I did the same thing a couple of years later. I mean the SAME thing because it was once again in Indianapolis. Apparently it would have been too convenient to lock my keys inside somewhere local. Only this time, I was there for work and was driving a company car. At least I was somewhere that had access to a coat hanger and I was soon back on the road home, with my boss none the wiser.

The Author’s deeply, deeply missed (and heavily guarded) Ford Club Wagon

Some time in the early 2000s I did it again, parked out front of the downtown library where I went to retrieve a book that one of my kids had reserved for a school project. That day I was wearing a suit and was staring at a locked Ford van that was nowhere near as easy to get into as the old cars of the 1960’s and 70’s. I had no tools and no patience, so I called a locksmith who charged me an exorbitant fee to open my car. I don’t remember how much it was – I tend to block really unpleasant things like that from memory.

A person might think that after some 45 years of car ownership, a guy would be past the time when he might do something as stupid as locking his keys in his car. I recently discovered that I am not that guy. Instead, I was fully capable of going there once again. In my defense, it is a lot easier to do when the power lock is not working on your driver’s door, rendering the ubiquitous clicker useless. A push on the little plastic lock post on the drivers door locks the car snugly, and I unlock it in that quaint, old fashioned way of putting my key into the lock in the door handle. But that old-school method can result in old-school problems.

I thought about calling Marianne, who was about a 20 minute drive away. She, however, does not like driving on slick streets, and our street was not in good shape after a heavy snow early in the week. I tried to remember where I was in my on-again-off-again relationship with AAA, but then my resolve hardened. I have a stubborn streak when it comes to self sufficiency.

Did you know that it is possible to stretch a long piece of string with a slipknot past the weather stripping, so as to drop the loop onto the little plastic lock post, then pull it snug and pop the lock open? Neither did I. You can look it up online. It had been a long time since I had tied a slipknot, but I got plenty of practice as it took maybe fifteen twenty tries for the loop to hit its target before getting too tight with the thin string I had available. But at the end of about twenty minutes there was success.

So, depending on how you look at things, I have either learned not one single thing since 1977 when it comes to minding my keys, or I have remained impressively current on ways to solve the problem when the keys end up on the wrong side of a locked car door. Some might think that I have a bright future in car thievery, but I will confess that with modern vehicles I would have no idea what to do inside the car without the key. But if someone wants to film an action movie called “Unlocked In Thirty Seconds Minutes”, I am available.

23 thoughts on “Always Lock Your Car . . . Oops

  1. Ha Ha, once again J.P., we are living parallel lives! Locked myself out of my mothers ’65 Ford wagon on a high school date. But luckily someone was around with a “slim jim” to pop open my car door (when you live in a big city, someone is always around with something). Unlike you, it only took one of these incidents to learn my lesson. From thence on, I’ve always carried two keys, one in each pocket! Let me, say, I once locked myself out of my car, while it was running, in downtown Chicago in mid-day, but, of course, had my second key! I have a primary key ring in one pocket, and a second key ring in the other with just a car key and a house key. Belt and suspenders!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have never done the two keys thing. After the incident with the convertible I bought one of those magnetic key holders and found a place under the car to hide a spare. I wonder if you can still buy those things.

      I have always been fastidious about keeping all of my keys on a too-large ring in one particular pocket. I only get messed up on those rare occasions when I get distracted/delayed at getting out of the car (thus not taking the key out of the ignition), and then realize I’m in a hurry.

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  2. This has happened to me exactly once, when I had a 1986 Plymouth Gran Fury. It was in the grocery store parking lot with my father-in-law. Somehow we obtained a coat hanger and the door unlocked on the first try.

    When I first got a car without the little bulbs on top of the door lock mechanism, it did cause some mild concern. I also had one or two cars where I had a spare key strategically hidden on the exterior in a metal box that contained a magnet.

    My sister did the “lock them in while it’s running” routine with her 1992 Ford Tempo. However, in a twist of luck, she did this upon taking delivery of the car at the Ford dealer, so it was almost a non-event.

    Newer cars in which the doors won’t lock if the keys are still sensed to be inside are kind of annoying but kind of nice all at the same time. Even the 2018 Impala I drive at work will honk the horn if you close the unlocked door with the keys inside.

    You chose a very good, yet unusual, picture for the 1967 Ford dashboard. First thing I noticed was the clutch pedal followed by the column shifter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, I saw that clutch pedal and column shift combination too. I always liked dashboard ignition switches, but the one in that car was an uncomfortable stretch, and not really conveniently placed at all.

      I can at least say that I have never locked the keys inside while the car has been running.

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  3. When I was a kid, I discovered that by using your fist to bang repeatedly against the vent window of my mother’s ’62 Comet, it would eventually cause the vent window catch to dangle backwards into the “open” position. Then you could swing the vent window open, reach in, and grab the interior door handle and open the locked door! I did this many times–never broke anything. I don’t know if it would work on ’67 Fords. So now you know. Don’t tell anyone!

    P.S.: On the Comet, it was impossible to lock the keys in the car because the doors would only lock from the outside using the key.

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    • I learned that vent window trick on Mom’s 64 Olds Cutlass. It would not work on the 67 Ford because that car used a small crank to operate the vent window.

      The Chrysler-built cars of that era required that it be locked with a key also. I used to joke that the only way to lock my keys in would be to crawl into the back seat, go out through a rear door, then slam the locked rear door closed. Modern cars with remote control locks and the Fords with the little keypads on the doors have almost eliminated the issue for me. Almost. πŸ™‚

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  4. I don’t think I’ve ever locked the keys in the car in almost 40 years of driving. That being said I’ve rescued several people who did, and I’ll probably do it myself next week.

    My Aunt’s family used to spend Christmas at our house every year so that we could have the traditional gathering with my Grandparents. One year a cousin invited her boyfriend, they came in his Dodge Diplomat.
    When it was time to leave they found he had locked the keys in the trunk. My brother and I had found the boyfriend to be annoying so to not delay their departure we removed the rear seatback, deflated the spare, yanked it out through the aperture, crawled into the trunk and retrieved the keys.

    I think that was the final year my Aunt’s family came, with my cousin’s significant others the number of visitors was up to 8 or 9. Mother told my Aunt it was time for her to make her own family tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have managed to avoid locking keys in the trunk. I recall seeing that happen to someone when I was a kid and was amazed to learn that you could get in after removing the back seat.

      And I am quite sure of it, now that you have bragged on your record. I give it 30 days until some odd series of events leaves you with keys locked in the car and a scowl on your face. Maybe it would be a good idea right now to wire a cheap hardware store replacement under the back bumper. πŸ™‚

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  5. My first two cars had driver’s side doors that would only lock from the outside using the key. But my third car didn’t have that feature, and I was sure that I’d be like you and lock my keys in it at the most inopportune time. So I became paranoid about that, and made a point of clutching my keys before I locked the car… every single time.

    Eventually that paranoia became habit, and still is today. Thanks to that, I’ve had a three-decade streak of not locking my keys in the car. Oh, I know that streak’s bound to end sooner or later (I too haven’t yet caved to the inevitable and gotten keyless-ignition cars)… but for now my streak’s unbroken.

    I’ll try to remember to add a new comment to this blog page when the inevitable finally happens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It will probably happen to you and DougD in the same week. πŸ™‚

      The immediate problem with my Honda is that the power lock is not working on the driver’s door. But I can push the little lock post down and all the rest of the doors lock, and when I slam the door shut the job is done. I can accomplish the same thing by using the key to lock the drivers door after exiting, so maybe I just need to pretend I am back in one of my old 60s Chryslers or Plymouths and use that method.

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  6. I once helped a lady break into her Camaro, when she locked the keys inside when it was running. She was afraid the catalytic converter was going to explode while the car was idling.

    Thieves used the open the door using the slim jim trick on my Dart, and stole my rear mounted speakers. I got smoothie door locks after that. And new speakers, flush mount this time.

    I like Ford’s system of a keypad on the door to unlock the doors, but I don’t know if they still offer that. My Chrysler is a fob, and the car will not lock its doors with the fob inside.

    I had a rental car once when keyless fobs first came out. I shut off everything when I got to my hotel, went up to my room, only to get a call about half an hour later from the front desk that my car was still running outside. I had neglected to turn off the ignition, yet I had fob in hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Ford still offers the little keypad. Which is really a brilliant idea – I’m amazed that nobody else has used it, and it must be popular enough with Ford owners that they have never discontinued it (or at least never stopped making it available at extra charge). The odd thing was that they would not offer it on the trucks or vans – My 1994 Ford van was loaded with almost ever option that could be had on the car, and it stickered at a price not far under a modestly equipped Lincoln. That keypad would have paid for itself that one day.

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    • I have been a believer in keeping every key I own on the same ring, which is always in my pocket. That became a problem when car keys became the size of Twinkees, so I now have two rings – one with keys to both cars and the other with keys to everything else.

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  7. I’ve heard of that coat hanger trick but am having a hard time visualizing it, as it seems too tight a space? You must have been a boy scout to be able to do slipknots, whatever they are? I’ve never locked my keys in the car, as I am OCD about keys, and am constantly checking that I have them, (see below for reason) but then I have two sets of car keys, one in my purse, so unless I lock my purse in the car I’m good to go. Now though….I’ve probably jinxed it. I once lost the keys to the pharmacy, not a good idea, as the locks had to be changed right away, and once when I was locking up, on Halloween night of all things, the key broke right off in the door, and that was not fun either. I think a drug rep. accidentally picked them up thinking they were his, because I had them to open up, and yet we couldn’t find them when it came time to close.

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    • Breaking a key off in the door is never fun. The coat hanger thing used to work when the lock posts in the door had a little mushroom-shaped stem that gave the hanger something to grab onto. Even then it took a little effort, but was do-able. On the slip knot, I had to make several for practice before I went outside because I had forgotten how to do them.

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  8. Ha ha – I was just reading in the Neighborhood Facebook Forum where someone locked their keys in the car and it was running – she put out a plea if anyone had a β€œSlim Jim” to help her out – she had quite a few offers to fix her problem. I have locked the keys in the car once, a Summer I drove to work as I was toting things into the office and had too much going on and locked the keys in the car. My boss drove me home to get the other set and ever since then, I carry an extra house key, car key and garage key in a pouch or pocket as no one is at home to meet me at the door and hand them to me and I am not sure I could do what you did and you live too far away to help me  So, query … if you could help me, would that be the long arm of the law?

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    • I have always felt particularly bad for the poor souls unlucky enough to lock keys in with the car running.

      The only time I had to call someone was quite awhile ago. I believe that the security officers at the library I had been visiting gave me the name and number for a locksmith. That sort of thing evidently happens fairly regularly there. The locksmith came and had the “burglary tools” to get in. I cannot remember whether I did not belong to AAA at the time and did not try them, or whether I did and they said they couldn’t help with that.

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      • Yes, with the car running is really bad. Back when I bought gas at a full serve station, I handed the attendant my key for the Pacer’s locking gas cap. As he handed it to me, it slipped down the window well. My next door neighbor took off the plastic panel inside the door, had me watch in case it happened again. We did retrieve the key and I already had a spare key, but my neighbor said we needed to get it anyway.

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  9. You struck a chord as the comments prove. My worst time was locking keys in my rental car while it was still running. I did not realize it until I returned from my meeting. Fortunately I worked for a very large company and the guard at the gate called the company locksmith and he fashioned a key in front of me with his knowledge and his visual of what he could see of the key. After very little trial and error, he opened the door for free. I lost any feeling of security in bothering to lock a car door..

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    • You remind me of two different times that I quit locking my cars. The first was with that convertible, right after the Indianapolis lockout near-disaster. I reasoned that anyone who wanted inside would just slash the top, so I started locking the glovebox and leaving the car open. I am not sure what locking the glovebox did, but it gave me some peace of mind that I was doing something security-minded. The second time was when I worked in a place that was suffering some car break-ins. I went back to my old convertible method, and never had my windows smashed.

      An employer with a robust security department would have been nice.

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  10. Read this one start to finish, J.P, and the whole way through I couldn’t get the dipstick solution out of my mind. Genius. It’s as if the car’s manual should’ve included a fun fact: “Did you know the dipstick can also be used to unlock the car?”. Your comments about “thinking a bit…” and “self-sufficiency” speak of a man who is wiser than he himself may know. My father, of course, but also you.

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