Most of us know the frustration of rushing out to the car on a winter’s morning, already running late because you couldn’t face getting out of bed into the dark and cold, only to find your car door has frozen shut, and you can’t get in to your cozy, warm haven. Heated seats taunt you through ice-covered windows, as your cold fingers yank helplessly on the frosty handle, which matches your now glacial mood.
Well, don’t despair, oh chilly one – here are our top tips for how to open a car door that’s frozen shut, so the next time you awake to this winter non-wonderland, you’ll know exactly what to do to get back on the road as soon as possible.
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Why Has My Car Door Frozen Shut?
First of all, it can be helpful to know the reasons behind your current predicament. Aside from the obvious – that the temperature has dropped below freezing, or there’s been a frost overnight – there are other factors that make your car door more vulnerable to freezing shut. One of these is the quality of the seals around your car door. If there are areas that are cracked or worn away, these are more likely to allow water in, which can then freeze. A corroded locking mechanism in your car door can also make it more likely for the lock to freeze shut. Leaving your car outside and exposed, as opposed to in a garage or under a cover, will also make it much more vulnerable to freezing in cold weather.
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How do I Open a Car Door That’s Frozen Shut?
If you can unlock your car, but the door itself is frozen shut around the seal, or the handle is frozen to the point you can’t lift it, there are several options available to you.
- Option 1:
If your car door is frozen shut and you’re not in a desperate hurry to get it open (you’re happy to go back inside for a hot coffee and not too devastated about missing that morning meeting), the first option you could try, and the one which requires the least effort on your part, is starting the car remotely. This obviously depends on you having a car with remote starting abilities. You can then allow the heat from inside the car to gently thaw the ice around the door. This will likely take 10 – 20 minutes, depending on how thick the ice is, and is not the quickest option – but it is by far the easiest.
- Option 2:
Failing this, if you don’t have a remote starting car, or if you can’t wait 20 minutes to start driving, the next thing you can try is applying pressure to the door. If the door is frozen shut around the seal, or the handle is frozen, try leaning against or applying pressure to the door. If the layer of ice is only thin, this might cause the ice that is sealing the door closed to break enough for you to be able to open it.
- Option 3:
If applying pressure to the car door doesn’t work, you might need to manually chip away the ice that’s sealing it shut. First, find a smooth plastic object to do this with. An ice scraper is ideal, but a spatula or similar utensil will also work. Avoid metal or abrasive objects which may scratch the paintwork of your car. Then, use this plastic item to chip at the ice that is sealing your door closed, until enough of it is gone that you can open the door.
- Option 4:
Sometimes, if for example the ice is very thick, you might not be able to chip it away with an ice scraper enough to open the door – or, if may be taking too long, and you really need to get to work! In this instance, you can try using lukewarm water. Fill a bucket with tap water, or water from the kettle, mixing in cold water to ensure it’s not too hot. Pour this carefully along the seal of the door and around the handle in order to melt the ice. You may need to repeat a few times if the ice is particularly solid. Once it has melted enough, open the door and dry the seal with a cloth or tea towel to stop the water from re-freezing. It is very important only to use cool or lukewarm water to do this, never hot or boiling, as this can cause the glass in your window to crack.
- Option 5:
If you’re nervous about pouring warm water on your car so near to the glass, a safer solution would be to use a specialist deicer, available from most gas stations or hardware stores. Make sure to select one that is suitable for use on rubber. You should apply this in very much the same way as warm water – hold the deicer at the recommended distance from the car, and spray it all around the door seal (and handle, if this is also frozen shut). The deicer not only contains a specialist substance designed to melt ice, but also a lubricant to discourage it from re-forming.
If you don’t have any deicer to hand (and you obviously can’t get in your car to go buy some!) you could try using rubbing alcohol as a homemade alternative with a similar effect. However, this should not be a regular solution, as alcohol can damage the rubber of your door’s seal in the long term.
How do I Unfreeze a Car Lock?
If the reason you cannot open your car door is because the lock has frozen and you can’t get the key in, you could try the following techniques on your ‘ice-locked’ car.
- Option 1:
Heat the key. You can do this using boiling water, or a naked flame, for example from a cigarette lighter. Make sure to wear thick gloves to protect your hands from burns whilst doing this. You should only try this if there are no electrical components in your key which could be damaged – so usually if you have an older car.
- Option 2:
Spray deicer onto the key, into the lock, or both. The best way to spray it into the lock is through a straw, as this will ensure it gets as far in as possible. Again, if you don’t have any deicer, rubbing alcohol can also be used as a one-off alternative.
- Option 3:
If your car is parked close to a source of mains power, you also could try pointing a hairdryer at the lock, to melt the ice. To speed up the process, use a roll of paper or cardboard to better direct the hot air.
How Can I Avoid My Car Door Freezing Shut in Future?
Even now you’re a pro at opening car doors that have frozen shut, it’d still be easier if you didn’t have to use your new powers too often. There are several actions you can take to minimize the likelihood of your car doors freezing shut, even in sub-zero temperatures.
- Step 1:
Firstly, make sure that the rubber seal around your car door is in good condition, with no damaged or worn-away areas, as this could allow water to enter and freeze. If it’s not in tip-top condition, get it replaced.
- Step 2:
Once you’re sure your seals are good, help them to stay that way with a good quality protective spray. You can buy specialized rubber conditioner from auto or hardware stores that will lubricate the rubber, keeping it in good condition and reducing the chances of ice forming in freezing weather.
- Step 3:
Even the best, most well-protected door seals are still vulnerable to freezing in really cold weather. To avoid this, place a barrier between the door and the door frame before you close it. You could use a plastic sheet or trash can liner – something that will still allow the door to close and lock for security, but will prevent ice from joining the two surfaces together.
- Step 4:
Cover your car. If you don’t have access to a garage or covered parking space, use a large tarpaulin or specific car blanket to tuck your car in on frosty nights. Make sure it covers the doors and door handles, and don’t forget the bedtime story.
- Step 5:
To help avoid your car lock freezing shut, apply Vaseline to your car key, insert it into the lock and turn it several times. This will lubricate the lock inside, and help prevent internal ice from forming.
- Step 6:
Finally, you should check the locking mechanism inside your car doors for signs of corrosion. If this is present, spray the mechanism with deicer to lubricate it and make it less vulnerable to freezing.
Ultimately, if you’re parking your car outside in sub-zero temperatures, there’s no way to guarantee your car doors won’t freeze shut. However, if you follow the steps outlined above, it is much less likely that you will encounter this problem – and the ice shouldn’t be as thick and hard to tackle if you do.
We advise checking the weather forecast when parking your car, and if you know it’s going to be below freezing, take the recommended precautions of covering your car and placing a barrier in the door. Also, make sure to allow yourself extra time before you need to drive anywhere to check your car, and if necessary, take the above actions to remove ice from your door seal, handle or lock, and open your car. Your heated seats await!
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