What to Do if You Lock Your Keys In Your Car

what to do if you lock your keys in your car

If you’ve ever locked your keys inside the car, you know it’s not a great feeling. Just as the car door slams shut and locks, realization kicks in, your stomach drops, and you see the key dangling from the ignition or the fob lying on a seat. To make it worse, it’s likely when it’s raining, 20 degrees outside or you are already late for school pickup.

Thanks to fobs and keyless entry apps, locking the keys inside a car should happen far less often than in the past. But it still happens more than you think. AAA Northeast reported that 225,000 members locked themselves out of their cars in 2023.

Today, the retrieval often requires more than a coat hanger and metal rod.

“The newer the car, generally the harder it is to get into,” according to AAA’s Car Doctor John Paul, who is senior traffic safety manager for AAA Northeast.

Here’s what to do if you lock your keys in your car.

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Not Your Mother’s Car Keys

Car keys have evolved over the decades from switches that controlled the car’s electrical circuit to keyless fobs with chips that exchange radio signals with vehicles to open the doors. By 2019, 91% of vehicles had keyless ignitions as standard or optional equipment, according to Edmunds. Some manufacturers also have apps that allow drivers to lock, unlock and start their cars with their phones. Phone apps are extremely handy but must be set up ahead of time and could require a subscription. Such systems are more convenient because people don’t have to remove keys from their pockets or purses.

While it is rare for a car to lock when the fob is inside, it can happen if the fob battery is depleted, the key fob is out of sync with the car or the car battery is dead. If you have a second fob with a hidden key, you are in luck. Often the keyhole is under a door handle.

In the case of ignition keys, if someone is distracted or their hands are full, it is easy to see how the key gets left behind.

“The reality is, it is just a change in habits,” noted Paul. “You add one more thing to your routine, and suddenly, you left your keys on the seat, because you were carrying a pie or an extra bag.”

what to do if you lock your keys in your car

Check Every Door

But before full-blown panic sets in, examine the car, because it’s possible only the driver’s door is locked, advised Paul.

“Try all the doors, even the hatch,” he said. “You may find that with an SUV, the hatch is unlocked. And while it’s awkward to crawl over the seats, it’s better than being outside in the rain.”

Whether the car is occupied determines what happens next. If a child or animal is locked inside the car, call the police. Officers will likely arrive more quickly than roadside service and will get into the car the most expedient way.

Don’t Forget the Keys – or AAA

Of course, before you consider breaking a window, you can call or request AAA Roadside Assistance online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for help getting into your vehicle. 

The best way to avoid forgetting your keys is preparation. Always try to keep the key or fob in the same place and attach it to a brightly colored lanyard or keychain, so you can see it if you put it down. Try to keep a spare key with you.

“Develop a routine where you always have your keys in your hand,” Paul added.

AAA Roadside Assistance can be reached online, by phone or through the AAA Mobile app.

Have you ever locked your keys inside the car? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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