How to Deal with a Stuck Car Door

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Child touching car door (Photo: @crystalmariesing via Twenty20)
There’s no good time to be locked out of your car. But, odds are, when it happens, you have a kid under your arm and you’re 20 minutes late for an appointment.
If this happens to you, here are a few different methods you can try to open your stuck car door; however, you might have to reschedule that appointment.

Causes of stuck vehicle doors

First, you need to determine why the car door is stuck. Is the door stuck in the lock position? Did your key break in the lock? Is the problem due to the weather? Or maybe it’s just old and simply needs to be replaced.
Once you’ve determined the problem, try one of the applicable methods below.

Lubricate the lock

Start by lubricating the lock. In some cases, this might be all it takes to get your door open. Spray a lubricant, such as WD-40 on your car key and stick it into the lock. You can also spray lubricant directly into the lock by using a straw attachment.
If you don’t have WD-40 on hand, graphite powder may also do the trick. Coat both sides of your key before inserting it into the lock. You can even use a combination of a spray cleaner to clear out any rust or debris, followed by applying the graphite powder.

Directly access the lock

This method requires removing the door panel to access the lock and operate it manually. Find the screws and plastic plugs that hold the door panel in place and remove them. If you can’t locate the screws, check your owner’s manual.
Once the panel is removed, look for the car door lock. The locking mechanism is a collection of plastic fasteners, moving plates, latches, and metal rods located below the door lock. Try moving the locking mechanism by wiggling the metal rods and plates to see if you can get the lock to disengage.
It’s also a good idea to clean the locking mechanism to get rid of any obstructions. That being said, if you’re unable to get the door open using this solution, it might be a broken lock that will require replacement.

Solving weather-related causes

If your door is frozen shut due to freezing temperatures, there are a few tried-and-true methods you should consider.
Start by gently pushing the car door. If you’re lucky, that will be enough to break the ice and fix the problem. You can also chip away at the ice with an ice scraper. Be mindful not to get carried away and start hacking the ice. If you apply too much force, you could potentially scratch the paint.
If the ice is too embedded, try melting it. Fill a container with lukewarm water and pour it around the seal, handle, and lock to thaw the ice, repeating as necessary. Once the door is open, use a dry towel to remove any excess moisture and prevent it from refreezing.