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How to open frozen car doors

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Here we are, winter, and it was only December when it had happened to me -- a frozen shut car door. I was born and raised in Connecticut, so you'd think I'd be prepared; but I didn't think about it because I'm in Richmond now.

The reason your door won't open is that there was water on the seal when you closed it, the temperature dropped overnight and now the rubber seal on you door is frozen to the door jam.

The first thing people usually do -- or suggest -- is to pour hot water on the door. The danger in this is, applying hot water to freezing cold glass will most likely crack or shatter it and you will end up needing a new window.

Another thing you need to be careful of is, some cars have plastic door handles which will break if you pull on them too hard.

As an auto tech and wrecker operator I've seen both results many times.

Here's what to do:

  • The first thing you should try is opening another door, if you can do that it will be easier to push the frozen door open from inside. If they are all frozen...
  • Push in on the door, like you are trying to close it, that may break the ice on the seal so you can open the door.
  • If you have De-icer -- hopefully not in your car -- pour or spray it around the door seal and that should melt the ice.
  • If you don't have anything to De-ice the door and you really have to get somewhere, you could try wrapping a towel around a large screwdriver or pry bar, sliding it between the door and the door post, and prying it open. This should be a last resort because -- while I have seen it done successfully with no damage -- you could scratch, bend or dent the door or the post.

Just the lock frozen

  • If it's just the lock that is frozen and you can't get the key all the way in or to turn, use Lock De-icer; the one with the little nozzle that fits inside the key hole.
  • In an emergency you could try heating your key with a lighter. The danger in this method is potentially weakening and bending or breaking the key. So if you really have no other choice, just heat it slightly.

Prevention

  • About every six months, wipe any dirt or debris off your door, hood and trunk jams and seals.
  • Apply spray silicone to your seals. This will displace any moisture on them.
  • If you know a big freeze is coming, wipe the seals and apply silicone immediately before.
  • Keep your De-icers in your house or garage.
  • During the winter months, tie a knot in a towel and close it in one of your doors -- knot on the inside -- if the doors freeze you can pull on the towel, this way you don't break the door handle pulling on it.
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