Angie's LIST Guide to
Locksmiths

If you're locked out of your home or car, a locksmith can be your lifeline - but make sure you hire a reputable one.
 

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What do locksmiths do?

Like the name implies, a locksmith is a professional contractor who specializes in entry systems such as locks, door knobs and other security features. Once strictly tradesmen of all things related to locks, keys and safes, a modern locksmith may offer much more expansive technoligically advanced products such as closed-circuit TV monitoring systems, residential fire and burlgarly alarm systems, remote keyless entry fobs for cars and digital access systems.

For most homeowners, there are only a few life events that call for the services of a locksmith: 1. When you're moving into a new home (or someone in the home is moving out) and 2. When you've accidentally locked yourself out of your home or car.

In most cases it's relatively easy to shop around for a locksmith for the former event but the latter event is almost always an unexpected one. Before you're ever locked out of your home or vehicle, Angie's List recommends that you find a reputable locksmith before you need one. It's much easier to be taken advantage of when you're in need of quick help and at the mercy of the first locksmith you call.

Check reports on Angie's List, rather than relying on the phone book, an Internet search or directory assistance. Then, call the company to get an estimate on their services before you agree to have work done. Ask details about their pricing and available hours. Do they have emergency hours? Do they charge for mileage or have service-call minimums?

Once you find a service provider you're comfortable with, store that company's information in your purse, wallet, or cell phone — some place you're likely to have access to if locked out.

How to avoid a lockout

It's a good idea to keep a spare key someplace safe in case you lock yourself out. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Daniels)
It's a good idea to keep a spare key someplace safe in case you lock yourself out, but be creative in your hiding spot. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Ronnie D.)

We asked locksmiths for their best advice to consumers for how to avoid a lockout situation, which can easily cost from $50 to $100, depending on the time, location and particular situation. Check out these tips to save yourself from the frustration of a home lockout: 

  • Hide a key somewhere around the outside of the house. Exercise extreme caution when with this option however, as if a intruder finds it, they'll have little trouble making entry. Some locksmiths recommend placing the key in a plastic container and burying it under a rock or other object in the yard where it will be unlikely to be found

  • Give an extra house or car key to someone nearby whom you trust. Giving a key to a reliable friends, family member or neighbor can be a lifesaver in a pinch.

  • Make a spare key and hide it in your wallet or purse. Hopefully, you won't be unfortunate enough to be without both your keys and your purse or wallet.
  • If you find yourself frequently locked out of your home, consider installing a digital keypad door knob system. Using a push-button interface, you can simply enter your personal code to unlock the door. But be careful with those numbers, your home's security is only as trustworthy as the peopel who know your acccess code.

Tips to maintain locks

Exterior door locks can and do eventually wear out or become infiltrated with dirt and grime – which can cause the locks becoming frozen or stiff, or keys that become stuck. Check out these four steps you can take to avoid a sticking lock and give your exterior door lock a longer life.

1. Find a product

You can find lock-lubricating products such as graphite powders or Teflon-containing sprays at retail hardware stores both large and small. If you’re not sure of what product you should purchase, call a highly rated local locksmith and ask for their advice.

Some locksmiths advise against using all-purpose lubricants like WD40 because they can eventually evaporate into a residue that attracts more dirt and grime.

Keep locks from sticking with simple, routine maintenance. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Vester)
Keep locks from sticking with simple, routine maintenance. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Anthony V.)

2. Spray it in

Whether it’s a dry powder or liquid-based product, always follow the label instructions and warnings. Most products will direct you to place a nozzle or tube into the keyhole and spray the product, getting as much into the interior lock mechanism as possible.

You’ll probably want to have a cleaning rag or paper towel handy to clean up any overspray or runoff that may occur on either side of the door knob.

3. Give it a whirl

If the lock is in a door handle, turn the handle back and forth several times and flip the interior lock several times, locking and unlocking the door (make sure the door is open and you don’t lock yourself out). Do the same with a dead bolt-only lock. This will make sure the lubricant reaches all the moving parts within the lock.

4. Clean it up

Clean up any overspray or runoff from spraying the lock lubricant, including wiping down the exterior of the door knob or dead bolt itself. To keep your lock or door handle maintained, clean it as necessary or at least once a year.

Tips for hiring a locksmith

It's important to do your research when hiring as locksmith, as only a handful of states require them to be licensed.
It's important to do your research when hiring as locksmith, as only a handful of states require them to be licensed.

While most locksmiths are likely reputable contractors, a number of scams have cropped up over the years from locksmiths who offer emergency lockout services. Often flooding phone books with local listings, these sham locksmiths often don't carry the licensing or credentials required.

The emergency locksmith scam is characterized by a locksmith insisting that drilling out a home's lock rather than spending the time to open the lock without damaging it. Fraudulent locksmiths often also inflate the final bill and insist the customer pay in cash.

Follow these seven tips to help avoid a locksmith scam:

  • Be wary of locksmith companies that answer calls with generic phrases like “locksmith services,” rather than a specific name. If a locksmith cannot or will not provide the business’ legal name, find another locksmith.
  • When the locksmith arrives, ask for identification, including a locksmith license where applicable. Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas all require locksmiths to be licensed.
  • Get an estimate before any work begins, including emergency service.
  • Ask about extra charges for things like emergency hours, mileage or service call minimums before you agree to have the work performed.
  • If the locksmith’s on-site price doesn’t match the phone estimate, don’t allow the work to be performed.
  • Most legitimate locksmiths will arrive in a clearly marked vehicle.
  • If you’re locked out, be cautious of companies that recommend or insist on drilling or replacing the lock up front. Most experienced locksmiths have the skills and tools to unlock almost any door.

Comments

In my area (Central New York), we definitely don't recommend using Graphite in lock. When Graphite is mixed with moisture, it will "gunk up" and cause more problems than it would solve.

If you want a good product that will clean and lubricate your locks, use Super Lube or TriFlow instead of Graphite or WD40. With Super Lube and TriFlow you are getting a synthetic lubricant which leaves a teflon coating on the pins & springs inside of the lock.

As an added layer of security (even though this is against all security advice anyway), a slightly miscut key, one that requires jiggling a bit to get it to work, would be the best one to keep hidden outside somewhere. This way, even if it is found, whoever attempts to use it on your door may think it's not the right key.

Have your local locksmith decode your key and write down the cut numbers and the key number. keep this on a card in your wallet or even in a small place on your garage wall. If you are locked out this information will get you a new key for a smaller cost than regular lockout service this will also work for most car keys.

Tri- flow works good to lubricate locks, a key code from your locksmith will save you big time, a hidden, or friend/neighbor with a spare key helps out.

People do not realize the cost of car keys with transponders and remotes. Also, when purchasing a key or remote on the internet that the key and/or remote must match their vehicle (FCC, ID) and some of those purchased on the internet are truly used, (only the case is new) and sometimes the electronics can not be programmed. Additionally, Locksmiths can provide auto keys, remotes, and programming for most cars, rather than going to the dealer. Shop around.

Old heavy metal outer door (wrought iron? curved metal in metal doorframe) was pried open in break-in, inner door window broken. Need repairs, re-key or replacement. How can I verify your licensing? What is you business's name? How do you determine charges? Home is in 90032. Thank you.

keeping a spare key in your wallet is not a good idea. someone can steal your wallet with your ids and address, and can get into your house easily using that spare key.

It is also advisable to not keep a spare key in your car or your purse. Someone can go through your car or your purse. I have changed my locks at least 3 times myself and hired a locksmith twice in less than 2 years. Just saying!

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