How do you pick a car door lock?

Updated: 4/28/2022
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12y ago

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Understand how your lock works. The pin-and-tumbler lock consists of a cylinder that can rotate within its housing (see illustrations below). When locked, the cylinder is kept in place by several pairs of pins. The top pin of each pair protrudes into both the cylinder and the housing, thus preventing the cylinder from turning. When the correct key is inserted, it pushes the pairs of pins up so that the top pins no longer enter the cylinder. When this happens, the cylinder can be turned and the lock will open.

Note the five pairs of pins. The blue pins enter both the cylinder and the (green) housing around it, thus preventing the cylinder from turning. The springs provide resistance to keep the pins in place.

When the key is inserted, the grooves and ridges on the key push the pins up to the correct heights so that all the blue pins are completely out of the cylinder, thus allowing the cylinder to turn and the lock to open.

Get a pick and tension wrench. Each pick is specialized for a different problem. A tension wrench, or torque wrench, is the device which you apply pressure with to turn the lock cylinder. Professional-grade picks and tension wrenches can be purchased in sets (see picture), but many lock picking hobbyists make good quality sets of their own. See the Things You'll Need section below for information on how to make your own picks and tension wrenches.

Place the tension wrench into the lower portion of the keyhole.

Determine which way the cylinder must be turned to unlock the lock. If you commonly use the lock, you probably already know which way you turn the key to open the lock. If you don't know, use the tension wrench to apply torque to the cylinder, first clockwise and then counterclockwise. The cylinder will only turn a fraction of an inch before it stops. Try to feel the firmness of the stop. If you turn the cylinder the wrong way, the stop should feel very firm and stiff. If you turn it the right way, there should be a bit more give. Some locks, especially among padlocks, will open regardless of which way the cylinder is turned.

Apply light torque to the tension wrench in the correct direction, and hold. The required torque will vary from lock to lock and from pin to pin, so this may require some trial and error. Start gently, though.

Continue applying torque and repeat the last two steps for each of the remaining pins. It is imperative that you maintain torque on the cylinder to prevent the set pins from dropping back down. You may need to make slight increases or decreases in torque for each pin.

Use the tension wrench to turn the cylinder and unlock the lock. Once all the pins are set, you should be able to turn the cylinder. Hopefully you have already ascertained the correct direction to turn it. If you have chosen the wrong direction, you will need to start over and reset all the pins.

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Q: How do you pick a car door lock?
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