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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One of the methods that popped up in the late 80s was the use of under-window tools. The first ones to market were generally referred to as a “Beretta Tool” or as a “Caddy Tool.” The reason for this was that the Chevrolet Beretta, introduced in 1987, and Cadillac’s of the same vintage used a lock system that was so heavily guarded that there was just no practical way to attack it from inside the door. In fact, the Beretta used a system that had the door lock and most of the mechanism mounted in the widened sash around the rear of the window.
There were lots of problems with under-window tools, not the least of which was that at first glance they seemed so easy to use that anyone could use one. As many discovered by watching a window shatter before their eyes, they aren’t as simple to use as they appear. But, if you are careful and understand what you are doing, they can be very powerful tools. Following are a few things to keep in mind any time you are tempted to use an under-window tool.
- Once you put it into the door, you are committed. It is almost impossible to remove an under-window tool until you have opened the door.
- If you use a wedge or wedges to insert the tool into the door, remove them before you attempt to bring the tool up inside the vehicle. Removing the wedges makes the job much easier, and not removing them is a recipe for a broken window.
- Under-window tools and after-market tinting film are a bad combination. The tool will most likely scratch the film as you bring it up inside the car, or as you operate the tool.
- Inside power door lock controls on most modern vehicles are disabled once the door is locked, so your target should always be the manual lock control. (Nissan vehicles are an exception to this rule, for now.)
The question I hear the most about under-window tools is: “Why can’t you make it longer?” The answer is not simple, and requires a little thought. There is a dynamic relationship between the length of the business end of an under-window tool and the bottommost bend in the tool, which I call the “throat.” If the distance between the tip of the tool and the throat is too small, the throat will bottom-out against the lower edge of the glass before the tip can come out of the weather stripping on the inside of the door. If the distance is too great, the throat will often stop against a brace inside the door before the upper bend of the tool can go below the base of the window. Of course, these relationships also depend on the construction of the individual car door. That is why there are so many different designs for under-window tools on the market. A tool that is ideal for one vehicle may not even come up on the inside of a different vehicle.
You need to carry several under-window tools of varying lengths in order to handle the challenges presented by different vehicles. Carrying extra under-window tools also gives you options if you get a tool stuck in the door. You can try to unlock the car with a different under-window tool on the other side of the vehicle. This happened to me the very first time I tried to use an under-window tool. The car was a Cadillac in the airport parking lot. I unlocked the door easily, only to discover that the outside door handle had been disconnected by a Slim-Jim jockey before I got there. I used a second under-window tool on the other side of the car. After retrieving the other tool, I made arrangements for the owner to bring the car to the shop in the morning for us to repair the damage the Slim-Jim jockey had inflicted.
The federal government enacted stringent new side-impact collision standards beginning in the 1996 model year. These new standards forced the manufacturers to devise a whole new way of building vehicle doors. One aspect of the new standards required that the doors must remain closed in a side-impact or roll-over collision. Horizontal linkage rods, like those that were in use at the time, would often get bent badly enough in a collision to cause the door latch to release, and the door to fly open.
The most common solution was to replace the linkage rods with bicycle-style cables. Cables would be able to flex easily during a collision without causing the latch to release. Another solution was to minimize the size of linkage rods, and to position them in heavily protected areas. This is the reason why you see so many vertical lock buttons today, when they had almost disappeared a few years back. By placing the vertical lock linkage at the rear of the door, it is protected by the edge of the door frame and the window track mechanism.
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