If you live in a cold climate and you don't have a garage or cover to protect your car, you may have to deal with frozen door locks. Ice and snow can result in your key not fitting into the lock and you being locked out of your vehicle when you need to leave for work or drive home. You may also end up with a frozen lock if you wash your vehicle in cold temperatures. It only takes a small amount of water to freeze up a lock and prevent it from working.

What not to do

A common response is to pour hot water over the lock. While you may find that it unfreezes the lock in some cases, it can also damage the lock and the seals that surround the lock. The water can also freeze again inside the lock, especially in extreme cold.

Don’t try to force the door open with other objects like screwdrivers or pry bars. You could end up breaking a door handle or other components and be left with an even bigger problem.

Steps to opening a frozen car lock

One of the easiest ways to get inside your vehicle is to try another door. Much of the time, only one lock will be frozen and you can access the inside of the vehicle through the passenger or back doors.

If all of your doors are frozen, you can spray some de-icer on the lock. This generally works to loosen the ice within a few seconds. If you are at home and don’t have a de-icer, you can use a hair dryer to warm up the lock. That heats the lock more gradually than pouring hot water on it, so you won't risk damaging the lock. Once the ice melts, the lock will turn.

Another option if you have a cigarette lighter is to heat up your key and put it in the lock. Don’t let the key get too hot or it could melt the components in the lock. Also be careful not to burn your fingers!

To prevent your locks from becoming frozen, you should cover the vehicle before it rains or snows. Also, although it's important to keep your car clean in winter, avoid washing your car when the temperature is cold enough to freeze the water before it dries.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Unfreeze Door Locks and was authored by Joyce Morse.

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