Don’t forget about your car’s key locks

Few drivers – or designers, for that matter – ever consider the consequences of leaving lock cylinders motionless

While most advances in auto convenience technology really do benefit consumers, there are a few that leave something to be desired – and often, some expensive repair bills down the road, long after warranties have expired.

Keyless entry is a great example. While it’s nice to not fumble through pockets or bags when our hands are full, and it’s very convenient to lock the doors after you’ve gone inside, few drivers – or automotive designers, for that matter – ever consider the consequences of leaving a moving mechanical part, like a lock cylinder, motionless for most of the vehicle’s life.

But with the reliability of remote entry fobs, why should drivers even care if those little, out-dated dinosaur cylinders rust in peace? First, if the battery on your easy-entry ride ever fails – and chances are very high, after three or four average Canadian winters – you’ll find a working lock cylinder very handy. Secondly, most provinces require these units to be fully operational when a mandated vehicle inspection is required for ownership transfers.

The problem with servicing lock cylinders is that many automakers don’t supply replacement cylinders that can be coded to match existing keys. In less common cases, consumers are forced to buy complete vehicle lock sets, which include new keys and ignition locks at fairly high prices, just to repair one single issue. So, other than forking out large amounts of money or carrying around an extra key.

For starters, keep it lubed. It’s much easier to stay out of trouble rather than get out of it. A short squirt of any lock de-icer, or spray lubricant like WD40, will help keep things moving. This only needs to be done once every few months and the job should be finished off by inserting the key, to move the tumblers and mechanisms.

Then, try to de-salt it. When you look inside a seized lock cylinder, you’ll often find a salty-looking crystalline deposit encrusting the tumblers and the inner surfaces of the cylinder. Soaking it in a product such as CLR will immediately start a chemical reaction, breaking down these deposits. And just like in the bathroom, the crystals are gone when the foaming stops.

At that point, some generous applications of WD40 and patient work with the key will usually bring things back to life. This is all well and good, if you’re capable of disassembling any trim panels in order to access and remove the lock. If not, you can always ask your favourite service provider to do it for you, and either they do the soaking or leave it for you.

One final tip for those new to keyless entry fobs – most have replaceable batteries, usually the type you’d find in a watch. Depending on use, they may require new batteries every year or so. Some of these fobs use battery power only for remote entry, but others require it for key recognition in order to start the engine, when equipped with push-button start. If you get a low fob-battery warning on your dash, don’t panic – you can usually still start the engine by using the fob to physically push the button. This puts it in close enough proximity to be recognized.