The odds are you’ll lock your keys in the car sometime, and those odds are on the increase. The American Automobile Association reports that it gets calls from more than 4,000,000 locked-out motorists every year. That’s up from 500,000 or less just a few years ago. The culprits, according to AAA, are keyless ignition and increasingly sophisticated electronic anti-theft systems.  

With the harried holiday shopping season upon us, you might be even more likely to lock yourself out. Here’s what you can do to stay calm and get help on the way.

Dial 911

Safety comes first; so don’t hesitate to call 911 if you think you’re in danger. In many cases, the police can unlock the car’s door. If they can’t, they will probably call a tow truck, which will be on your tab, of course. But at least you’ll be safe.

Call for roadside assistance

Here’s when those annual auto-club fees really pay off. AAA, Allstate, and other organizations that provide roadside service can quickly get you inside, though it could take a while for them to reach you. If you don’t subscribe to such a service, you might still be in luck. Most new cars come with roadside assistance during the basic warranty period. Your owner’s manual should have the details, but of course that’s locked in the car with the keys. The number to call might be posted on a window decal. If it isn’t, you can get the details by calling a dealership. To be prepared, you should store the number in your phone or write it down on paper and keep it in your wallet or purse. What if you don’t have a new car or you don’t belong to a service such as AAA? Ask about adding roadside assistance to your auto-insurance policy. Also, some major highways are patrolled by trucks offering emergency aid. Keep an eye out for one.

Call a tow truck

If you have no free options, most towing services provide lock-out service. Call 411 for services in your area. Or text the words “tow service” and your location to GOOGL (46645). Normal text rates apply. 

Get a temporary key

A dealer might be able to make you an inexpensive key that will open the doors (but not start your car) so that you can retrieve your permanent keys. You’ll probably need your vehicle identification number (visible through the lower edge of the driver’s-side windshield) and to prove that you own the car. Of course, you’ll also need a ride to the dealership.

Keep an extra key handy

Stash a spare key in your purse, your wallet, or a well-hidden spot on the car. You can buy a small magnetic box that can hold a key and be placed on a car’s underside. Or leave a spare with someone who could rescue you.

Buy a car with benefits

Some cars won’t lock with the power-lock button if the key is in the ignition and a door is open. Also, many vehicles from Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury have a door-mounted keypad that lets you tap in a code to unlock the door. If you drive a vehicle with a telematics system such as GM’s OnStar, Hyundai’s Blue Link, or Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace, you can call a toll-free number to have your car remotely unlocked. Those systems also offer free apps that let smart-phone owners unlock the doors. Check automaker websites for compatible phones and specifics.

Keyless

If you have lost the key, things get more complicated. You’re going to need a locksmith. Expect to pay $200 and up for a replacement key. Keys for some higher-end models can cost several hundred dollars and you can buy them only through a dealer, who will need to program the remote for you. And that means an expensive trip to the dealer on a flatbed. (Check out this cool tip for your keyless remote. It'll come in handy on a hot day.)

Visit our guide to car maintenance and repair.

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