A Brief History of Vehicle Entry Procedures

With all of these new systems in place that make it difficult to unlock modern cars, what’s next? The current trend is toward lock-picking.


It’s funny how it happens. You don’t really see it coming, and then one day you wake up and realize that you’re no longer a young man. A few minutes ago, I plugged some numbers into a calculator and discovered that I have been in the locksmith business for 40 of my 62 – two-thirds of my...


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Because most people used the Slim-Jim to attack the lazy cam, most of the efforts made by the auto manufacturers to stop this tool boiled down trying to hide the lazy cam behind shields and braces inside the door. The real end of the Slim-Jim era came in 1977 when Ford discontinued the lazy cam on all of their vehicles. Within a few years, with the help of insurance company pressure, other manufacturers followed suit.

To make matters worse, the new rigid cams that Ford adopted were made of plastic and simply snapped onto the back end of the lock plug. This meant that when a Slim-Jim jockey attacked one of these locks, the cam usually popped off the lock and fell into the inside of the door along with the linkage. Then, the car could not be unlocked even with the key, and the door panel had to be removed in order to repair the lock. After many damage claims, a lot of police and fire departments ordered their officers to stop attempting to unlock cars. Of course, we still have the “cowboys” who watch too many movies and TV shows and think that a Slim-Jim will unlock any vehicle if they just poke it around inside the door hard enough. These guys cause damage left and right and are hardly ever still around by the time a professional gets there.

But even before lazy cams were eliminated, the guards and shields had locksmiths working on other ways to unlock vehicles. One of the most common methods was to attack the vent-windows that were common at the time. I once had a set of six different vent window tools in different shapes and sizes that was sold as a “Volkswagen Kit.” I did successfully unlock quite a few VWs with them but I also used them on many other vehicles as well.

Speaking of VWs, the first time I ever used a “long-reach” tool was on an old Volkswagen Beetle, and I used it to release the vent window. This happened one evening while I was shooting pool with some of my friends and one of them locked her keys inside her VW. Since they all knew that I was a locksmith, they expected me to do something about the situation, even though I wasn’t working and didn’t have my locksmith van or tools. After looking the problem over, I used a pool cue to reach in from one of the rear pop-out windows and release the vent window latch.

Perhaps the best vent window tool of them all didn’t even start out as a vent window tool. Back in the early 1980s, Chevrolet introduced a small pick-up truck called the S-10. This thing had no vent window, well protected linkage rods, and was just plain hard to unlock with the existing tools. Someone introduced an odd curved tool to unlock the S-10, but it would only work on the trucks without power door locks. It turned out that the tool was perfect for unlocking many vent windows, which was a usage the manufacturer never seemed to grasp. You could use it to push the release button on the latch and flip the latch open at the same time with one hand. This freed your other hand up to push in on the vent window, which took all of the pressure off the latch, making the job quick and easy.

Even though the original manufacturer never marketed the tool for vent windows, word got around thanks to my first video, called “Opening the 88s.” Later, I introduced a modified version of the tool called the TT-1006 tool that has a long and a short ends so that it can be used on a wider variety of vent windows. Unfortunately, vent windows have almost become a thing of the past today, so like the Slim-Jim, the TT-1006 is still useful, but just not as useful as it once was.

Later Systems

As the newer systems evolved, new tools came out to deal with the new problems. When lazy cams were eliminated, there still had to be some lost motion in the system, but that lost motion was moved from the lock, where it was vulnerable, to the latch where it was harder to attack. To deal with this, locksmiths started using wedges to open a gap into the door large enough to see down into the door, so that they could attack the latch. Flexible lights were also introduced to put enough light inside the door so that you could actually see what you needed to attack.

At the time, I used a light almost all the time, but now that my eyes have aged to the point where I wear bifocal contact lenses, I have a hard time using a light. I now appreciate the problems that many people had with the lights and now try to come up with unlocking methods that don’t require a light, whenever possible.

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