In recent years, there’s been an uptick in quick-consumption, brightly colored, one-minute videos to help viewers tackle any project on their own. This includes lockpicking your home and car doors, and even safe cracking. While this do-it-yourself content can be helpful overall, it can ultimately, leave you in a situation that’s more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why it’s key to understand when to call in the professionals.
Below, we cover some of the common DIY tricks involved with lockpicking, whether they truly work, and when it’s best to just hire a locksmith instead.
What household items can you use to pick a house lock?
You can place the blame on pop culture or maybe it’s just good old-fashioned American resourcefulness, but there are many claims regarding how a wide variety of household items can turn you into a lockpicking expert. And forget raiding a toolbox, when you can rifle through your wallet or rummage through a dresser drawer. Here are a few of the most common.
Hairpins or Bobby Pins:
There have been countless movie and TV scenes where an intrepid character whips out a hairpin or a bobby pin to gain entry into a locked room. With just a couple of shimmies of the hair accessory in the keyhole, they’ve picked a stubborn doorknob.
Can you really unlock a door using a bobby pin?
Yes, and you’re going to need two: One will serve as the lock pick, and the other will act as a lever for turning the lock. The aim of the bobby pins is to push down on the pin mechanisms inside a lock. And the reason we see lockpickers press their ears against the door is that they need to hear if the lock pins have clicked, which means that they’ve set on the barrel. The door will be unlocked once all the lock’s pins are set on top of the barrel.
When to hire a professional:
Obviously, you will also need an enormous amount of patience, hands for delicate work, an ear for barely-there sounds, and a lot of trial and error. Lockpicking isn’t for everyone—and it doesn’t need to be! One of the core services that professional locksmiths offer is emergency lock-out work, so you don’t have to learn a painstaking new skill just to get yourself through your own locked doors. Look for mobile locksmiths, which means they can go to your location. They often specialize in rapid response times and damage-free solutions.
On the other hand, if you do find that it’s easy for you to unlock your home doors with just two bobby pins, then maybe it’s time for you to get high-security locks. Look into having a residential locksmith install locks that go beyond basic protection; there are pick-proof and drill-proof locks on the market that will deter the average burglar.
A few common features of high-security locks are restrictive keyways that are hard to lockpick; manipulation resistance against lockpicking and decoding attacks; and forced-entry resistance to prevent locks from being broken.
Credit cards are, famously, another handy tool recommended for getting through a locked door.
Can you really unlock a door using a credit card?
Unfortunately for DIYers, a credit card has limited use against a locked door. They only work on knob locks, and those should be spring-style or slanted latch-style. Moreover, the slant has to be facing you so you can slide the card against it and press in.
If your door meets the above conditions, then you can try sliding the card into the gap between the door and the door frame. Naturally, the design of both will affect the method; intricately designed doorways may be obstructing that gap. Once you’ve slid the card against the doorknob, you’ll have to pull the card so it presses against the angle of the slant-latch. You might need a few tries for the card to have enough purchase so you can apply enough pressure to the slant-latch to have it retract back into the door. You can also lean on the door, pulling on the knob and the wedged credit card at the same time, to help keep that pressure on the slant-lanch.
When to hire a professional:
If your door is not using a knob lock with a spring-style or slanted latch style or if you look at your doorknob and see the hinges are on your side of the door, then the credit card method will not work.
Another obstacle is deadbolts: Credit cards cannot work on deadbolt locks at all because their mechanism relies on a rod that has to be retracted.
Can you use a coat hanger to unlock a car door?
It happens to the best of us: getting out of your car, shutting the door behind you, then looking back through the rolled-up window with growing dread to see that you’ve left your keys in the ignition. A common DIY solution that the Internet recommends is using a coat hanger to unlock car doors. (Of course, you’ll have to be parked in an area where a hanger is actually easy to source.)
Wire coat hangers are made of easily bendable material, so you can fashion them into a homemade car-unlocking tool, plus their built-in hook makes them ideal for latching onto small mechanisms. Importantly, they are long and thin, so they can easily slide through tight spaces like the gap in a car door.
For cars with manual locks, you can try getting to the lock pin through the doorframe using a straightened-out hanger. If you’re lucky, your wire hanger is easy to unravel. An awkward approximation of the long-reach tool that expert locksmiths frequently use is straightening the wire hanger completely while leaving the hook intact.
So, yes, you can use a wire coat hanger if you need to break into your own car. But there are so many drawbacks to using a homemade long-reach tool. In addition to hanger availability, it’s much too time-consuming to mold the wire hanger into the shape you want without pliers—and, for certain emergencies like having left something or someone important in the car, time is of the essence.
There’s also the risk that such a clumsy tool can damage car mechanisms or break your window, plus the wire coat hanger method isn’t guaranteed to apply to more modern vehicle models. Some cars might even lock down completely.
When to hire a professional:
Professional car locksmiths tend to offer emergency lock-out services that run 24/7, so they’re always ready to head to your location and get you out of a bad situation. Because of locksmiths’ experience and familiarity with vehicle mechanisms, clients can get back into their cars with the least hassle and with no worries about damaging their ride. Some locksmiths even offer to coordinate with your car manufacturer for an added layer of property security.
And because most locksmiths have a wide range of services, you can ask for add-on work while they’re popping the car locks. They could offer you key-cutting services such as key replacements or car key duplicates. They can program replacement transponders, too, and replace your entire key fob on the spot, so you can make the most of their visit.
Can you break into a safe with a screwdriver?
Safes are, curiously enough, simultaneously robust strongholds and precious objects. They contain your most important possessions, like personal documents, sentimental mementos, and valuable assets like jewelry or heirlooms. So they have to be robust. But sometimes you lose access to your own safe and some DIYers claim that it’s possible to strongarm yourself back inside with a screwdriver.
A screwdriver might possibly work, but only if you’re willing to irreparably damage the safe with brute force. Using a screwdriver is often the second step to DIY safe cracking because you’ll first have to drill the lock. Safes are designed to be difficult to break into, after all. Once you’ve broken the locking mechanism, you can insert a flathead screwdriver into the keyhole to try to turn the lock.
This method has obvious drawbacks, not the least of which is that you have to completely destroy your safe to get to your valuables. It can be panic-inducing to be locked out of your safe, but instead of taking a DIY sledgehammer to the container of your most prized possessions, you can opt to hire a professional locksmith who has experience with safe cracking. They often include repairing the dial and replacing the keypad as part of their safe cracking services, so you don’t have to worry about damage to your safe.
When to hire a professional:
Some professional locksmiths have a specialized service for gun safes, whose cracking can definitely be much more dangerous to DIY. Often, these locksmiths have experience opening gun safes while keeping the contents intact. You can also look for a locksmith who carries out regular maintenance work on gun safes, so you can make sure that the moving parts, dials, and keypads are in top operating condition.
About the Author
Abra Key Dabra Locksmith Services is certified as a member in good standing with the Associated Locksmiths of America and received the Top Gun Vanderburgh County award of mobile locksmiths in 2023.
Oshri Biton is a professional locksmith and the owner of Abra Key Dabra Locksmith Services in Evansville, IN. Abra Key Dabra offers clients a full-service residential, commercial, and automotive locksmithing portfolio, including mobile locksmithing, emergency lock-out work, and professional safe cracking. In 2023, Oshri and his company received the Top Gun Vanderburgh County award for mobile locksmiths from the County Advisory Board and Local Search Force. He was recognized for providing high-quality, reliable, and affordable products and services, and cited for adding financial well-being and stability to Vanderburgh County through his entrepreneurship. Abra Key Dabra Locksmith Services is certified as a member in good standing with the Associated Locksmiths of America.