As a Roadside Assistance operator, I've had more than my fair share of calls from folks who have locked their keys in their car. We always have a good laugh at work about how ditzy some of our clients are, but truthfully, it's really easy to misplace a set of keys when renting a car.

When these clients--who have rental cars and are already shelling out major bucks--end up on my line, I try to be as patient and understanding as I possibly can. That's hard to do when some lady in Nova Scotia who doesn't speak English and lives 50 miles away from the nearest locksmith calls to request service, spends half an hour on your phone, and then finds the keys in her purse. But for the most part, the call goes smoothly.


So here they are, from me to you, tips on what to do if you have locked the keys in your vehicle:

•First of all, OnStar is amazing. If you shop for a new vehicle, I suggest you see about getting it installed. By pushing the button located inside of your vehicle or on your keyring--or by calling the hotline--you can get service immediately. They can unlock your car by satellite, give instant directions or send service automatically in case of accident. A-maz-ing. And about $200 a year.

•If your vehicle is still under warranty, CALL THE ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE LINE. It might take them 30 minutes to get out there, but they'll open the car for free.

•If your vehicle is no longer under warranty, sign up for a roadside program like AAA. You get 4 free calls, so for something like $50 a year it can come in handy.

•Okay so you're cheap. Or you think maybe you'll never need such services. What do you do now, besides wearing car keys around your neck? Make a spare set. Keep a key in your wallet, at a relative's house--wherever. Calling your brother Ben at 3 AM is a hell of a lot easier than waiting an hour downtown by yourself for Lugnut Luke's Lockout Service.

•You've not taken any precautions, and now you're in a fix. The key's locked in the trunk. Dear god, dear god, what do I do? First, is the rest of the vehicle unlocked? If so, try the trunk release. If there isn't one, play around with the backseat. A lot of cars with benchseats have a way to remove the backseat so that you can get into the trunk. This is easy to do with two people; just relax and try to work the problem. Shove your hands between the cushions on either side and try to feel a release lever or knob. Rock the seat back and forth and you should be able to remove it.

•The key's locked in the car. On the seat. You can see them, mocking you. Lockout service is usually only $15-$30 in such a case; fixing a broken window can cost $100. Don't be an idiot. Calm down and call--you'd be surprised how many people will bust up vehicles just to get inside, when they could have gotten out cheaper and easier by just waiting for a damn locksmith.

•If you're lucky, the window's cracked and you've got an older vehicle. Coat hangers can be slipped in the window and used to raise a manual lock. Most of us, though, are not so lucky...

•Often when people lock themselves out of the car, the keys are in the ignition, the vehicle is running and *gasp*, there's a baby stuck in the car or the vehicle's in a garage or some other dangerous situation. First of all, calm down--you're not doing anyone any good when you're passed out on the floor. If it's a true emergency, call the police. Often they have slim jims and, if they don't, they can expedite service from a local locksmith service.

The biggest mistake we make is flipping out when we have a relatively simple problem, like a lockout. Know your options and, above all, Don't panic.

LaggedyAnne's tips above are really good. There were a couple of instances that were not mentioned that I wanted to bring up.

Don't

  • Lock your keys in the car with your kid inside.
  • Lock your keys in the car with your kid inside and your car not running.
  • Lock your keys in the car with your pet inside.
  • Lock your keys in the car with your baby inside his or her car seat.
But, if somehow you have managed to do any of the above, there is a handy solution if you are near any decent sized town - call 911. Seriously. All of the above situations classify as an emergency whether you want to make a big deal out of it or not. Most firetrucks carry some form of vehicle entry, whether it be a Slim Jim, a Z-Tool, a lock-picking kit, or an axe.

And for those of you wondering, it is a very common occurance for the above to happen. I am a firefighter for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, and we run over 1000 calls for child locked in a vehicle a year. I personally have run quite a few and three memorable ones:

  • Mom needed to run into the local grocery store for a minute. Decided to park in front of the store (in the fire lane) and leave the car running with her four-year old inside. She runs inside, and when she comes back out he has gotten out of his seatbelt and locked all of the doors. We get called out, and just as I manage to get the passenger door unlocked, he runs over and locks it again. We spent about 10 minutes distracting him enough to pop the lock again and open the car.
  • Mom decides she needs to run in and mail a letter, and since her 6-month old is sleeping and she really doesn't want to wake him, she parks, shuts off the car, and runs inside the post office. About two minutes later when she comes back out she realizes she has locked the keys inside the car. She ran back inside and they called 911. We were on scene in less than three minutes, and simply broke the window (Hillsborough County = Tampa, FL, and it was about 93 degrees outside). Infant's temperature was around 101, and we transported him to the hospital (he was fine afterwards, but mom got a ticket for it).
  • Mom decides she needs to run inside the grocery store, leaves the car running, with her 3 and 4-year olds inside it. When she comes back out they have locked the car door. She goes back inside, and calls 911. We respond out there, and as we are pulling up, the 4-year old figures out what that lever near the steering wheel is for, throws the car into drive, and we watch it drive forward into a concrete pilling. Did about $500 damage to the car, and mom got a ticket (the kids were fine).
Though the three cases above were all moms, we have had dads do it too. Usually they just break out the window before we get there to show their masculine pride.

So please, please, please, if you are going to take your kids or pets to the store and you aren't going to take them inside - DON'T TAKE THEM TO THE STORE. But if you do, and you do run into a similar situation, don't be afraid to call us out there. It's our job, and we promise not to laugh until after we get the car unlocked.

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