What’s New in Vehicle Entry?

Oct. 7, 2011

Vehicle Entry isn’t what it used to be. I’ve been making a living from selling vehicle entry tools and information for more than 20 years now, and I’m beginning to wish I had picked a field that was easier to keep up with. When I started, it was all slim-jims and bent-wire tools. Today, it’s long-reach tools and high-security picks as well as bent-wire tools. But the real problem is knowing what tool to use on which car and under what circumstances. Let’s take a quick look at the basics of vehicle entry, before we go into the new products.

When you approach a vehicle lockout, you’ll have to choose between four basic techniques to do the job. And all of those methods have advantages and disadvantages. All four techniques can theoretically be used on any car, but in reality there is usually one best method for any given vehicle. In fact, some methods that work fine on one vehicle can damage another, or cause even worse problems.

Use a Long-Reach Tool

I hate to hear people tell me that they “use the Jiffy-Jak for everything.” I introduced the whole concept of the long-reach tools back in 1999, but there are a lot of cars out there that I would never consider attacking with the Jiffy-Jak or any other long-reach tool.

As a general rule, I avoid using long-reach tools on any vehicle that has “sashless windows.” That’s any vehicle where there is no frame around the window, and your tool has to contact the glass directly. In this day and age of laminated glass windows, that is just more risk than I’m willing to take. In addition, it’s often unnecessary as well as being dangerous.

A perfect example of this is the new Camaro. It has sashless windows and a vertical lock control button that is almost impossible to grip with a long-reach tool. Pulling the inside handle does not override the door lock and even if it did, it’s located too low on the door to reach with an under-window tool. The Tech-Train 1035 tool can unlock the Camaro in a matter of seconds by lifting the vertical linkage rod from inside the door, yet I hear about locksmiths breaking windows on the Camaro with long reach tools all the time.

In order to save weight, many manufacturers are now using plastic or aluminum trim around the doors. Even if the trim around the door is steel, it’s probably thinner than on older cars, so you need to take steps to prevent damage. Leaving a dent on a customer’s car will make sure that they remember your name, but it’s probably not in the way you’d like. That’s why I avoid using the so-called one-hand tools and always use a base-plate to spread out the pressure. The base-plate reduces the pressure in pounds per square inch by a minimum factor of 25. That one simple step greatly reduces the likelihood of damage.

Use an Under-Window Tool

Under-window tools have their limitations and inherent problems as well. I suspect we’ve all had an under-window tool get stuck in a door at one time or another. In addition, under-window tools are famous for scratching aftermarket window tint as well as door panels. Some cars even seem to be designed to grab and hold under-window tools. Kia vehicles, such as the Amanti, Sportage, and Entourage are particularly bad about trapping under-window tools. The real trick to using an under-window tool is to know which vehicles will eat your tool, which is where a good car-opening manual comes in.

Manipulate the Linkage

I grew up unlocking cars by manipulating the linkage inside the door, but today that simply isn’t an option on many vehicles. Side-impact safety standards have pretty much eliminated horizontal linkage rods, and as a general rule, any late-model vehicle that does not have a vertical lock button will have bicycle-style cables inside the door.

The silver lining to that black cloud is that a lot of vehicles have gone back to vertical linkages because they work better in side-impact crash tests. A large number of GM and Chrysler vehicles such as the Camaro as well as the Charger and the Challenger now have vertical linkage rods that are very easy to attack.

Pick or Impression

Even back in the 1970s, I would occasionally make a key by impression, or pick a door lock to unlock a car; but it certainly wasn’t my first option. When Ford came out with the 10-cut system in 1984, that changed because 10-cut Ford door locks were so incredibly easy to pick. I soon discovered that picking the lock was a great way to impress the customer and to justify a higher charge for the job. In addition, picking the lock eliminates the possibility of disconnecting a linkage rod, scratching window tint, or breaking a window. For that reason, I’ve always been a big fan of picking locks whenever possible.

The down side of lock picking is what I like to call the “Hero / Zero” problem. If you pick the lock quickly, you’re a hero. If you take a long time to pick the lock, or don’t get it picked at all, you’re a zero. People today have seen way too many TV shows where locks get picked in seconds, and they expect it to be the same in reality. We all know that isn’t the case, but that doesn’t matter, so if I have trouble picking a particular lock, I’ll move on to “Plan B” after a couple of minutes.

Another problem with lock picking is high-security locks. In the old days, I wouldn’t have even considered picking a high-security BMW or Mercedes lock, but today I do it routinely. The new crop of high-security lock picks is frankly amazing, and they are getting better all the time. Most luxury car owners will gladly pay you extra to unlock their vehicle if you tell them that you will be picking the lock to eliminate the possibility of damage.

Now that we’ve gone over the techniques, let’s take a look at some of the new tools that are available today to make vehicle entry easier and more profitable.

Long Reach Tools

I introduced the original Jiffy-Jak at the ALOA show in 1999. Within a year, almost every other manufacturer came out with some kind of long-reach tool, and some are better than others. You can spend as little or as much as you like on a long-reach tool today. My father once told me, “Son, you may not always get what you pay for, but you always pay for what you get.” Through the years, I’ve seen the wisdom of that statement many times, and I try to always use quality tools, even though they may cost more.

In the world of long-reach tools, most of the new developments involve lighting the interior of the vehicle so you can see where the end of the tool is. The lighting schemes range from pie-plate sized LED arrays to tiny LEDs that will fit on the end of the tool. The two that interest me the most are the TT1200 Jiffy-Jak light and the Hands-Free flashlight adapter. Both of these tools can be used with a variety of vehicle entry tools made by various manufacturers.

The Jiffy-Jak light (photo 1) is a small self-contained LED flashlight with a threaded socket in the end that can be screwed directly onto the end of the Jiffy-Jak rod or any other tool that has the proper thread. It has a tough translucent plastic coating over the LED that allows you to use the light itself as an opening tool. Even if your tool is not threaded on the tip, if you have access to a tap and die set, you can usually adapt the end of the tool to accept this handy little light. I recently spoke with a locksmith who had used his Jiffy-Jak light to find and pull the inside trunk release handles on several different vehicles. He inserted the tool into the trunk, either between the rear seats or through a gap in the fold-down rear armrest and used the light to guide the tool into place inside the trunk.

The Hands-Free Flashlight Adapter (photo 2) has a suction cup that is large enough to support the heaviest Mag style flashlights. The mirror in the adapter can be adjusted to put the light exactly where you want it inside the vehicle. The tool is designed to firmly grip any Mag style flashlight and includes a sleeve so that you can use smaller Mini-Mag style flashlights as well. I particularly like the versatility of this tool and have used it for a lot of hands-free operations as well as for vehicle entry.

Under-Window Tools

The most important thing to remember about any under-window tool is to remove your wedges before you pull the tool up on the inside of the vehicle. This simple step can save you a lot of grief. It greatly reduces the stress on the glass, and makes it a lot easier to move the tool inside the vehicle.

Another problem with under-window tools is multi-layer weatherstripping. If you’re not careful, the lower layers of the weatherstripping can roll under your wedges or your tool. This will make the fit of the window tighter and make it harder to insert and use your tool. In some cases, it can even tear the weatherstripping. The solution is to use a shim to hold the weatherstripping out of the way as you insert the wedges and your tool. You can make your own shim out of a plastic jug, use an old hotel key card, or something similar, but I like the WE12W or the WE12B Latch Shims (photo 3). These shims are durable, convenient, and easy to find in your tool kit. The WE12W is slightly thinner than the WE12B, but both tools do the job nicely.

The Tech-Train 1038 tool (photo 4) is a new under-window tool introduced recently. It was specifically designed around the Nissan Cube, but it can be used on many other vehicles including the Nissan Titan, Armada, Pathfinder and NV Vans, as well as the Infiniti QX56. Essentially, this is an extra long under-window tool with a straight end that is designed for pushing inside lock control buttons that are mounted on the armrest.

Nissan and Infiniti are among the few vehicles that still have functional power door lock controls after the door has been locked with the remote. On most late-model vehicles, the inside power door lock controls are disabled once the lock system has been activated with the remote. The TT1038 tool will allow you to easily operate the power door lock button and unlock the vehicle.

Traditional Inside the Door Tools

Because of higher fuel efficiency standards, most manufacturers are now on a mission to reduce weight in every place they can. This quest for lighter weight cars has even led GM to use smaller diameter linkage rods on as many new vehicles as possible. The Tech-Train 1039 tool (photo 5) is a new general purpose tool that is designed to grip these smaller rods. The TT1039 can be used to unlock the Chevrolet Volt and Cruze, as well as the new Buick Varano. In addition, it can be used on a wide variety of other vehicles.

Getting a firm grip on the rod inside the door has always been a problem. I’ve tried putting a variety of different things on the tip of the tool to improve my grip like duct tape, heat-shrink tubing, and plastic dips, but none of them worked very well or lasted very long. Now, you can buy a 10-pack of slip-on plastic tips for $5 that do the job very well. They’re called Sure-Grip Lockout Tool Tips (photo 6) and they are available from Lockmasters, Inc. At 50 cents each, I really don’t care if it only lasts for a couple of dozen car openings; the savings in time spent on the job more than pays for the tips.

Lock Picking Tools

This is the area of vehicle entry that has seen the most changes in recent years. As computerized precision machining processes improve, the costs have dropped significantly. It is now possible to create complex precision high-security lock picks at an affordable price. Most of these lock picks are for high security locks, but recently picks have been introduced for a variety of traditional automotive locks such as the Ford 8-cut system and the Chrysler 8-cut system. And as if that wasn’t enough, these new picks can also be used to decode the locks after they have been picked.

One of the earliest high security lock pick sets was the High-Security Flip-Pick from Lockmasters, inc. (photo 7) This tool uses a simple procedure to attack a variety of locks such as the BMW 2 & 4 track systems, Mercedes 2-track, VW / Audi / Porsche, (made before 2004) as well as some Saabs and some Volvos. The tool takes advantage of a weakness in these lock systems that allows you to pick the lock into the locked position. Once the lock has been turned to the lock position, the plug spinner is then used to “flip” the lock back to the unlocked position.

The reason that the Flip-Pick does not work on VW / Audi / Porsche locks made from 2004 and up is that VW changed the way the tumblers are positioned inside the lock in an effort to improve pick resistance. Fortunately for us, there is now another pick that will pick not just the newer VWs, but also the older ones as well. I have had nearly a 100 percent success rate with the VWEZ pick shown in photo 8. I like this little pick so much that I have actually given them to locksmith friends as gifts!

A variation on the VWEZ pick is the BMWEZ pick. (photo 9) While I have not had nearly as much luck with this pick on BMWs as I have had with the VWEZ, it is nearly 100 percent effective on Mini-Coopers, which use a variation of the BMW 2-track lock. I’ve got about a 60 percent success rate on actual BMW 2-track locks with this tool.

A few years ago, I started hearing about a new line of picks coming from overseas called Lishi Picks. I tried some of the early versions of these picks with mixed results. In the case of the 2-track BMW locks, I found that I could usually pick the lock easier with the Flip-Pick, but that sometimes, I could pick a lock with the Lishi pick that I couldn’t pick with the Flip-Pick.

Recently, Lishi has introduced a line of “2-in-1” picks that not only pick the locks much more consistently than the earlier picks, but also decodes the lock after it has been picked. I have not yet had the opportunity to try all of these picks in the field, but so far, on the ones that I have tried, I have had great success.

The 2-in-1 pick sets fall into three general categories: 2-track picks, 4-track picks and picks for traditional non-sidebar automotive locks. One example of each type is listed below.

The HU100 2-in-1 pick (photo 10) is used on the new GM vehicles that use high-security locks such as the Camaro, Lacrosse, Terrain, Equinox, Cruze and Volt. Once the tool is inserted into the lock, the two levers allow you to pick each tumbler individually until the lock turns. After the lock has been picked, the same levers will allow you to decode the lock without removing it from the door. Similar Lishi picks are available for the new Ford system, VW, BMW 2-Track, and many others.

The HON66 2-in-1 Pick set (photo 11) will allow you to pick and decode the door locks on all late-models Honda and Acura vehicles. This tool is not as easy to use as the 2-track pick sets because of the construction of the locks. The Honda 4-track system has split tumblers in most positions to make picking more difficult. With any split-tumbler system you will essentially have to pick the lock three times.

The first time you pick it, it will turn slightly until the split tumblers from one side of the lock engage in the chambers from the opposite side. This will cause the lock to hang up in a slightly turned position. At that point, you will have to pick the tumblers that are hung a second time. Fortunately, only a few of the tumblers will be hung and it is relatively easy to pick the lock the rest of the way, which will allow the lock to turn completely. Once the lock has been turned, the vehicle will be unlocked and you can use the tool to decode the lock if you wish. Then, you will have to turn the lock back, but then it will once again hang up with some of the tumblers engaged in the wrong chambers. Picking it back to the rest position involves once again picking the few tumblers that are hung, and then you can remove the pick.

Similar Lishi picks are available for other 4-track systems that use split-tumblers such as the Lexus long and the Lexus short systems. All of the locks with split-tumblers will require the three step picking process.

The new Lishi Ford 8-cut pick set (photo 12) is simply a joy to use. This pick set makes picking 8-cut Ford locks a walk in the park. By using the same picking system that Lishi uses on the high-security locks, this pick for a traditional lock is so easy to use, it’s scary. Once the lock has been picked, you can also decode the cuts and make a key just as easily. One nice thing about this system is that it also works on the oddball locks that are used on the Focus and the Escape, which are difficult to decode with many other types of decoders.

The biggest problem with the Lishi picks is that they don’t come with instructions. To deal with that, Lishi has recently published a user’s guide (photo 13) that not only explains to pick some of the most sophisticated locks in the world, but also how to decode them with the Lishi tools.

I often hear complaints about the low prices that the fly-by-night car openers charge, and how it’s hurting the market. But we all know that those guys are damaging cars and breaking windows every day with their heavy-handed techniques. I consider myself a true locksmith and I’m proud of that title. It means that my customers can count on me for a job well done and a job done without damage. By using the new tools that are available to locksmiths, with a little practice and patience you can develop a reputation for excellence. And wouldn’t you rather be known for excellence rather than cheap prices?