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Car Lockout – A Look at Car Door Opening and Vehicle Entry Tools Over the Years

Even though it might be hard to believe, once there was a time when it was impossible to lock your keys in your car because the doors didn’t lock.

Car Lockout Tools in the Beginning

A new lockout device emerged as vehicles became motor-driven and glass enclosed; the brick. Rock is indeed equally effective as a brick, but in an urban environment, rocks become harder to come by and bricks more common. A coat hanger was discovered to be useful as a lockout tool in the 1930s and 1940s. To get around the weatherstrip, the wire coat hanger had to be unfolded. It was used to grip and lift the lock/unlock button or inside door handle with the hook end of the tool. Coat hangers have the disadvantage of a wimpy wire that pulls straight when pressure is applied. They also damaged the weatherstrip.

The Slim Jim

This is where Slim Jim comes in. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, this tool first appeared on the car lockout scene. The origin of the Slim Jim is still largely unknown. Many theories have been floated about how it came about. When the Slim Jim was first invented, it was used for pressing down or pulling up on the “lazy pawl” attached to the back of the door lock cylinder. A key-in-cylinder drives a pawl in the tailpiece. It is common practice to use fixed pawls in locking systems, but in the past, they were mostly called “lazy pawls.”

As an out-of-the-box device, Slim Jim was used to manipulating lazy pawls in its flat form. In the door cavity, the Slim Jim was inserted to align with the lock cylinder. After contact was made, the lazy pawl was pushed down. The pawl could also be lifted by hooking it with the notch on the tip of the Slim Jim.

The Fixed Pawl

And then there was the fixed pawl. Slim Jim’s usage changed as vehicles adopted to fixed pawls. To accommodate the fixed pawl, the Slim Jim needed to be bent approximately 25 degrees to 45 degrees. With the Slim Jim bent, the vertical rod could be accessed. This enabled the Slim Jim to be inserted vertically alongside the vertical button head.

In the door cavity, the bend in the Slim Jim extended it away from the sheet metal and toward the passenger compartment, making it possible to trap and fish the vertical rod using its tip. When the vertical linkage and button head were lifted gently, the vehicle was unlocked.

The horizontal lock and unlock systems were introduced a few years later. Previously, Slim Jims were operated vertically. A Slim Jim was soon discovered as a useful tool for opening horizontally linked vehicles by inserting the tool in roughly the middle of the door and angling it rearward about 45 degrees. The tool’s notched tip allowed people to grasp a horizontal lock and unlock the rod and pull it forward by lifting under the rod or coming down on it. The horizontal linkage system has become very common over the years.

The Multi-Car Opening Tool is Created

Vehicles started shielding their linkage system in the 1980s as they became more advanced to reduce the chance of manipulation and to keep noise outside of the passenger compartment. Aside from that, manufacturers were upgrading the physical-mechanical components of the linkage systems with cable locking systems. Essentially, these systems are cable-locking systems, like those found on bicycle brakes. The parts cannot be moved mechanically. The multi-car opening tool was created because Slim Jims could not open these types of vehicles.

The method of using a multi-car opening tool is quite straightforward. In this process, the tools are inserted between the weatherstrip and outside of the window glass, lowered, rotated under the glass (inside the door cavity), and raised on the inside of the window glass so that the working end is now inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Different opening procedures may be required depending on the vehicle once the tool is inside. There are three methods for unlocking the door: pressing the power lock button, depressing the manual lock/unlock button, or manipulating the inside pull handle. More vehicles with shielded rods and others with more difficult-to-manipulate linkages were released, resulting in the need for multi-car opening tools.

Innovations in Vehicle Locking Systems

Automotive manufacturers again provided innovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the long reach tool was born. Newer models of vehicles require long reach tools, which are inserted into a gap between the door or window and vehicle on the vertical edge of the door or window. The tip of the tool is inside the passenger compartment, while the handle is on the outside of the vehicle. In this way, the electric lock/unlock button can be operated, the pull handle, lock lever, or vertical button can be manipulated, or keys can be retrieved back through the gap created between the door or window and the vehicle at the vertical edge of the door or window.

Car Lockouts will Always Occur

There will be car-opening tools for as long as cars exist. Car opening tools will evolve as long as cars change. There will always be lockouts as long as there are vehicles, people, and keys. Car lockout services will be available to provide time solutions.

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