Keys Locked in the Trunk? Here's What to Do

By Paul Michael on 16 March 2015 6 comments

It's not a small problem. It's not a slight inconvenience. It's something you don't want to happen. Ever.

I say this because it recently happened to me, and I thought it would be a really easy problem to solve. Hours later, after calls to a lot of locksmiths and some major cab fares, I realized this is something most people don't even consider being prepared for. And then, one day, you're stuck in a parking lot, scratching your head and wondering how you're going to get out of it.

So, here's what you need to do if you happen to close the trunk with your keys still nestled safely inside it.

1. Call Specialized Auto Locksmiths

The first thing you'll need to do is call a series of locksmiths who deal with this specific situation. A regular locksmith may be able to get into your car, but the trunk is a whole different animal. It is designed to be a safe; impossible for thieves to get into, and therefore, you as you try to break into your own car. Here's what you need to know.

  • Use your smartphone (hopefully you have one) to search for auto locksmiths in the area. You need to call more than one to get estimates on times and prices. Do this first, and quickly. You can always call back and cancel if you figure something else out, but get the ball rolling.
     
  • Most of these locksmiths will advertise a very low price, between $15 and $20 for the service. This is usually the cost for unlocking a car with a child trapped inside it. You will be paying much more than this. Typically, it's a $20 call-out charge and $35 or more for the actual unlocking.
     
  • Ask for a realistic time. They may say 15 minutes, but in my case it took over two hours. If it's rush hour, you'll wait even longer.
     
  • You must tell the dispatcher to notify the technician that your keys are in the trunk. Break into any modern car, and the alarm will go off; often shutting down the electrics responsible for the trunk release. The technician will need a series of tools to break into the trunk, including a snake camera.
     
  • When the technician arrives, remind him or her again of the situation. When mine arrived I assumed he knew what was going on. After breaking into the car and the alarm going bezerk, he asked me where the keys were. When I told him they were in the trunk, he just went quiet and said, "Ooh. That's a big problem."
     
  • Be prepared for the technician to be unable to solve your problem. It's very possible that they won't be able to get inside the trunk. Modern carmakers have gone to great lengths to secure it. The release levers for the back seats are now inside the trunk; the trunk release is protected by the battery. You may very well need to move on to stage two at this point.

2. Get the Spare Keys

Consider that it could take one to two hours for a technician to reach you. They may be unable to help once they arrive. In the time that has taken, and the money spent, you could have gotten the spare keys. Some things you need to consider:

  • Does someone you know have access to the spare keys, and can they come to you with them? For instance, if the spare set is at home with your partner, and they are less than an hour away, it may well be a better plan to call them after you have called locksmiths. If they can do it, ask them to bring them, and cancel the locksmith at this point. If not, can you call a friend who can take you to your home, and back?
     
  • If no one has access to the spare keys, you're on your own.
     
  • Can you get a cab to and from your current location without breaking the bank? In my case, it cost me $60 round trip in an Uber cab, and took 55 minutes (this was after spending almost three hours in the parking lot). You could leave the car there overnight, and perhaps ask a friend to take you back the next day. Or, just take the cab back the next day.

3. No Spare? Order a New Key

This will not be a quick process, and you will need to have the VIN of your vehicle and proof of ownership. If you bought your car from a licensed dealership, they should be able to help you. They may well be able to do it in a matter of days, but this can also take a week or two. In the meantime, you'll need to have the car towed to your location, and this will also cost money. You could try leaving it where it is, but it could get towed anyway, or broken into. (Although probably not the trunk.)

4. Override the Trunk Release

This is not easy for a novice, and every car is different. However, if you have some skill, and a battery source (you can always figure out a way to use the car battery), you can find ways online to access the fuse box and create a short that will pop the trunk. There are several videos online, but they are definitely not something you want to follow if you have little or no automotive experience.

5. The Last Resort: Break Into the Trunk

The locksmith who tried to help me told me of an incident similar to mine several months ago. The driver couldn't get into the trunk, he had no spare, and he was in a desperate hurry to get home. So, he told the locksmith to use his tools to break into the trunk through the back seats. After an hour or so, and a lot of damage, they got into the trunk and the customer said he would simply order a new back seat when he got home. That's an expensive solve, but if it's one you deem necessary, you could consider it.

Make Sure This Never Happens to You

One of the simplest ways to avoid this ever happening to you is to make sure your keys are always in your pocket or another safe place before ever opening the trunk. In my case, I had placed a bag inside and had to do a little reorganization. I had my keys in my hand, and put them down to move things about. Then, I closed the trunk. Bad move.

Of course, accidents happen, so consider a back-up plan. You may want to have a spare key placed inside the car, hidden from view. This will be easily accessible once a locksmith has got you into the car, and you can turn off the alarm and open the trunk again.

Another option is to have a spare key hidden inside a magnetic strongbox somewhere under the car. This has a few downsides. First, a thief could find it, but the chances are they won't even bother searching for it as very few people do this. Second, it could fall off; especially if you go over bumpy terrain.

Just remember, locking your keys in the trunk is nothing like locking your keys in the main body of the car. Be prepared for a lot of time and trouble to be spent fixing your silly mistake.

Have you ever locked your car keys in the trunk? What'd you do?

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Guest's picture
Caitlin

Is there a reason not to just call a regular automotive locksmith to get you into the driver's seat and then pop the trunk from there? Are there cars that don't have the ability to open the truck from inside the vehicle? The only ones I can remember off the top of my head that might not have were all vans, SUVs and wagons, which means you can crawl over the seats and open the "trunk" area from the inside.

Guest's picture
Guest

On most cars now if you unlock the car with a rod like most locksmiths do the alarm will set off and then the trunk botton will not work. I know because I have opened many cars. Some people will even tell you till you open it lol. So I always ask! I had one the other day they sent out 3 different guys then had to tow it in to dealership ! The biggest thing in this car the battery was in the trunk so it would be almost impossible to override the theft mode it was in.

Guest's picture
Robert

Hi, there are quite a few newer model vehicles that keep the trunk protected if the alarm is set off for any reason. More and more models are doing this to make your vehicle more secure.

Guest's picture
IBikeNYC

When I owned cars, I ALWAYS had a spare door-and-trunk key in my wallet.

Guest's picture
Diann Davila

That's what I call a common sense person. This wisdom is worth more than its weight in Gold!123

Guest's picture
Barb

Hi Paul!

You covered this really well, and hit the points most people don’t even think about, even when this happens to them. Most people don’t realize just how difficult and complicated being locked out can be.

I have only a few things to add. From experience.

This has happened to me more times than I will admit. After the second time, my husband welded boxes with secure clips to the frame. Crawling under the car was a very good incentive to put brain in gear before leaving the car. (Without keys.)

If you don’t have a handy husband, an auto repair shop, or any shop with a welder (man and machine) can weld the boxes. I suggest two because of Mr. Murphy’s existence. The more critical the need for the key the more likely a gremlin will have swiped a box off the frame.

Since you’re basically giving someone a key to your car when he welds the boxes, I suggest doing this in another large town and giving them a PO Box or different address. Or, if you have a very good friend with welder, he/she can do this. It’s very simple. The hardest part is getting in a good position to weld the boxes.

This however, is locking the barn after the cow escaped.

After I learned not to lock myself out, I was present three times when keys were locked in the front or the trunk (or stolen) and I learned: Every car is different. Even if they came off the assembly line one behind the other. Every lock smith/emergency technician is different. Sometimes it’s easier to get in the trunk than the front, or visa versa. And the technician who comes out will only know how to do the wrong one. Every price quote is different and it’s not going to be what you pay. (Unless you have an auto club, which I recommend. If you have an auto club things don’t happen to you.) And all time estimates are different and inaccurate.

I suggest you give the year, make, model, and location of the keys, to the person you’re asking for help, so they can, hopefully, send the right person. Sometimes it’s easier to get in the trunk than into the front. If this is the case, and the keys are in the trunk, it’s 5 minutes to rescue. In the front, an hour more or less.

As you said, auto manufacturers are making cars more secure.

If your car is 7 years old (give or take 10) your local dealer (even if they did not sell you the car) may have a key for your car. (That’s why you write the Vehicle Identification Number down and have it in your pocket. Because the windshield will be dirty right over it and you can’t see it. And the dirt is on the inside.)

Even if they don’t have a key readily assessable, often they can get into your car faster and easier than a locksmith/technician. They have many calls where the vehicle dies, the owner locks up, goes home, calls the dealership to tow it in. Unless they want to put it on the bed of a truck, it’s easier and safer to get in the car and unlock the wheels. Therefore, they have a lot of practice getting into their cars. They know all the secrets and tricks. (And one secret is a master key for a number of cars.) If they can’t help you right away, they can probably refer you to a more or less competent locksmith/ technician.

IMPORTANT!! The one critical thing I have learned is: Give someone keys to your cars and your house. Also, put them on your bank account.

Because someone can get your registered address from your license plate number. In some states anyone can go to The Department of Motor Vehicles, pay X$ and get your registered address. (Or, if they have the right friend, they only have to make a phone call.) If they have your key, they can find all sorts of interesting material in your car.

My keys and a credit card were stolen while I was shopping. I discovered this when I went to my car. I called my friend, he notified my bank, (who froze my accounts), sent his wife to rescue me and was waiting (with his best friend, a 100 pound German Shepard) when the thief came in the door. (Most people locked out are standing around waiting for help for hours. Especially women. Thieves know this.)

Almost the same thing happened to a friend, who only lost her car keys. She knew the secret of calling the dealership, so she called them. Told they would deliver her car in two – three hours to her nearby house, she took a taxi home. (She thought she had just dropped her keys.)

The thief went to her car, found enough information to start charging things locally and over the Internet, and to “write” checks over the Internet. (Not everyone uses PayPal.)

She didn’t lose any money but was four months filling out paper work, getting new credit cards, changing account numbers and getting new checks printed.

The thief also had an interesting collections of “things” sent COD to her house.

Note: If you’re new in town and don’t have a close friend, if you have a good relationship with your bank, they may hold keys for you and will certainly protect your accounts.

If you just bought a residence, your real estate office may also be an emergency resource. Or your pastor. Or ?????

But have someone. Suppose you lose your car and house keys, it is late at night, the surrounding stores are closing . . . bad idea for a bad movie.

It may be easy to lose your keys, but as you said, it is not a small problem. It’s something you don’t want to happen. Ever. EVER. Because it will cost you time and money and you may live with it for months.