At least once during the winter season, you’ll face the problem of how to open a frozen car door.
An annoying and unexpected problem that sounds harmless but can be a pain and take some time to solve.
This article should give you some tips on how to solve the problem as soon as possible and with the least trouble.
It will give advice both for a frozen car door and a frozen door lock.
When the problem appears, before you start using any of these tips, make sure that the door is unlocked.
1. PULL AND PUSH THE DOOR AS GENTLY AS POSSIBLE
This is the least complicated solution but try it only if you feel the door budging a little bit.
If the car door is frozen shut and you feel that it isn’t moving at all, don’t continue as you may well break or damage the door handle and mechanism. You may also tear the rubber seals.
Apply this tip like this:
- Hold with one hand the opened door handle and use it as a lever. Don’t pull too hard so you don’t break it off.
- Use the other hand to press the door just under the handle.
- First mildly push the door inside as much as the rubber seals allow (a couple of millimeters).
- Then pull the door as much as you can using the door handle but don’t use too much force.
- Repeat the procedure- push slowly inwards and then pull outwards. Do this until you hear a sort of cracking sound. This is the thin layer of ice breaking and letting the door go.
- If everything is OK, the door will pop open.
With this tip, the most important thing is to have patience and not use excessive force. The point is to wobble the door until it releases.
2. HEAT UP THE IGNITION KEY
This tip is used when the car door lock is frozen.
Another popular method among drivers but one that should be used with caution, mainly because of the key itself.
You see, this tip comes from times when keys were all metal. Nowadays they have plastic housings on them with batteries and electronic chips inside. Some don’t have a metal part at all.
So, avoid using this tip unless you have a metal replacement key without any plastic or electronic parts.
It’s very simple:
- Use a lighter and heat up the key. Heat only for a couple of seconds and keep it near the lock
- Immediately insert the key into the lock
- Try to turn the key. If it doesn’t budge, heat again
- Repeat as many times as necessary. Usually, if the door lock isn’t severely frozen it should start to move after repeating five times or less
This tip probably won’t work if the door lock is totally frozen up like if water gets inside the lock mechanism or the outside temperature is extremely low. The key can only relay so much temperature at once.
If the problem persists and the key won’t turn stop and use some other, more efficient method mentioned below. Otherwise, you may end up with a broken key.
3. USE DOOR LOCK DE-ICER
De-icers are a very efficient and quick way of solving the problem. They usually come in form of a spray or a little plastic bottle with liquid inside.
The spray usually has a straw while the bottle has an injector nozzle at the top.
Using it is easy:
- If you’re using the spray, mount the straw and insert it into the door lock. Make two or three short bursts so the de-icer can reach inside as much as possible.
- With the bottle and nozzle: insert the nozzle and press hard in order to get as much de-icer inside the lock as possible.
With most de-icers, the effect, in most cases, is instantaneous and if everything is OK, the door lock should turn in a matter of seconds.
4. SPRAY WD-40 IN TO THE DOOR LOCK
You can also use, in a lack of de-icer, some WD-40 spray. It may be not as good but is certainly worth the try.
Use it just like a de-icer spray. Insert the straw into the lock as much as possible and try not to flood the lock, just use a couple of short bursts.
WD-40 is also good for the prevention of ice build-up and lubricating the whole mechanism at the same time.
Remember, this all good, but WD-40 can’t replace a real de-icer which has an immediate and much better effect.
5. POUR WARM WATER (NOT BOILING HOT)
How to open a frozen car door better than with warm water. A simple method but does require some caution.
Mainly regarding the water temperature. Don’t use boiling hot water, about 50 degrees celsius should be more than enough. Otherwise, you may damage the paint job (especially fresh paint). If you were to pour some on the windows, they may crack or break due to the sudden temperature shock.
Here’s how you od it:
- For frozen door locks
Pour the water onto the lock with stops for inserting the key. Repeat until the key starts turning.
- For frozen car doors
Try pouring around the door so the hot water gets to the rubber seals as much as possible. Stop for a few seconds and try to budge the door open.
Know that this can be a pretty messy job in terms of getting yourself wet so make sure to be prepared.
Also, if the temperature is freezing outside, know that the water will swiftly cold down so work as fast as possible, or else it may freeze again.
6. WARM UP THE LOCK AND DOOR SEALS WITH A HAIRDRYER
For this, you’re going to need a hairdryer and an extension cord.
This method is good for both the door and lock as it causes less potential damage than pouring hot water.
It’s also slower to be honest, especially if you’re doing this outside in a freezing temperature.
- In case of a frozen door, point the hairdryer into the slits between the door and car body. Go slowly around the door. While doing that, try budging the door open by holding the handle.
- With the door lock it’s a bit more simple: just point the hairdryer at the lock and wait. Try using the car key, a toothpick, or something that can move the little metal lid on the lock so heat can get inside. When you notice the ice melting, try inserting the key and turning.
Once again, you’ll have to have patience with this method as it will take time. Best attach the air outlet guide to the hairdryer so the heated air can be more concentrated.
Since this may take some time and you’ll probably use the hairdryer at its maximum output, make a few pauses so you don’t burn it out.
7. PICK AND SCRAPE THE ICE WITH AN ICE SCRAPER
This is sort of a first-aid measure and perhaps the least effective.
All you need is an ice-scraper.
You’re supposed to pick and chip the ice around the door lock and door gaps until you get the chance to open the door.
It’s worth the try if you have no other solution available and may work to some extent.
The bad part is that you can damage the paint and lacquer if your not careful while scraping. Besides this scraping is usually not enough to open the door in cases of severe freezing.
8. USE A SYRINGE (WITHOUT THE NEEDLE) TO INJECT DE-ICER
In case you have some sort of de-icing substance (like alcohol for instance) but you don’t have a good way to distribute it, using a syringe may save the day.
It’s very practical as the nozzle can be easily inserted into the door lock mechanism. You don’t need the needle part, just use the plastic syringe.
Pour whatever you’ll use for de-icing into a cup, draw some with the syringe and inject it into the lock.
Wait for a couple of seconds, insert the key and try to turn it. You may need to repeat the whole procedure a couple of times if the lock is seriously frozen.
9. TRY TO ENTER THROUGH THE TRUNK AND PUSH THE DOOR FROM THE INSIDE
Sometimes all of the doors will be frozen shut. In this case, getting inside the car through the trunk may be an option.
This is good for being the least complicated although it demands some gymnastics and skill to get to the driver’s seat (crawling, stretching, getting the back seats down, etc).
Once you get there, you can start the car and wait for the cabin heating to melt the ice. If you don’t have the time, try pushing the door from the inside. It usually releases much easier than from the outside.
If you have company, someone can pull from the outside while you push from the inside.
A downside of this tip is that it’s almost impossible to use on sedans.
It’s much more convenient with station wagons or minivans because of easier access to the passenger cabin and driver’s seat.
10. USE REMOTE ENGINE START
Remote starting is one of the modern car marvels. If you have the option on your car, you may not even have to know how to open a frozen car door.
When you see that the door is frozen shut, just start the car and wait. The cabin heating should do all the rest.
In this part, I would mention (as a recommendation) that you shouldn’t keep the car idling for a long time.
This option is great for when there’s only ice. But if the car was outside and there’s a layer of snow for instance it may take some time for the cabin heating to do the job.
I urge you to get out and clean it while the cars running. If you have the will, you can also scrape some of the ice off the windshield and windows too.
This will shorten the defrosting and save you some fuel at the same time.
One of the worst feelings is helplessness when trying to open a frozen car door.
You try, it won’t budge and then you get annoyed and nervous. After that, you may damage something like the door handle or paint job.
The fact is, if you don’t know how to open a frozen car door, you’ll have to wait beside the car for either the temperature to climb or for someone to help you.
Big price to pay for a small and simple job.
Be patient when doing this. Some of these tips take time especially if the outside temperature is very low if there’s a serious ice build-up or perhaps water has penetrated the door lock and then froze.
In the end, have a can or bottle of de-icer at hand during the winter season. The moment winter starts and the temperature goes down, buy it and keep it in the house or car.
It may well mean the difference between solving the problem in a matter of minutes or standing in the freezing cold for hours.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com