Locked Out? Frugal Alternatives to a Pricey Locksmith

Photo (cc) by B I R D

I once lost my keys and didn’t realize it until I was standing at my front door, digging through my purse in the middle of the night.

When I didn’t hear the jingle jingle, I panicked. My dog was locked on one side of the door and I was locked on the other. I had been gone for hours. She was probably anxious, maybe tearing up my stuff, and definitely needed to go out.

As visions of chewed laptop power cords and flying couch stuffing danced in my head, I frantically searched for a locksmith on my phone. I called the first one I found, he showed up in a beaten-up Toyota Camry, and $110 later I was inside my apartment.

I did a few things wrong that night and spent way too much money. Here’s how you can avoid it.

1. Keep a spare

The best locksmith is one you never need to call. Start by making a spare set of your keys and giving them to a nearby neighbor, friend or relative you trust with access to your house or car.

For house keys, retailers like Walmart now have a DIY key-making machine. You pay a nominal fee (less than $5 in my area) and the key pops out in about five minutes. You can also have keys made at home improvement stores, dry cleaners, and even at concession stands in the airport.

Most car keys have a computer chip inside matched to your car, so you can’t make copies in a key machine. You could have a dealership make your keys, but home improvement stores like The Home Depot will also make them. I paid $86 (a $64 savings over my local car dealership).

2. Get referrals

Next, identify a reliable, affordable locksmith before you need one. Ask friends and family for referrals. Create a list of locksmiths to check out.

You can also look online for a locksmith. You’ll still need to take a closer look yourself, but it can get you started:

3. Do your research

The Federal Trade Commission warns that not all locksmiths claiming to be local actually are. In fact, some larger companies may have 30 or more listings in your local phone book all claiming to be based in your town. When you call the number, you’re sent to a call center, which in turn sends out an untrained person to do the job. And since they’re not local, you’ll pay more mileage for the trip. Here’s how to avoid that:

  • Research the address. If an address is listed, look it up on Google Maps to make sure it matches a local locksmith shop, not an empty lot or unidentified building.
  • Research the phone number. If no address is listed, use a site like White Pages to do a reverse phone number search for the address. Then plug the address into Google Maps.
  • Check for reviews. Review sites like Yelp can help you decide if a locksmith is legitimate and good.

Note: Some locksmiths work out of their home and may not want to publicize an address. If you can’t find an address, ask the locksmith why. I’d be wary of anyone who couldn’t explain why they didn’t list an address, but I wouldn’t mind working with a “mobile” company based out of a home or car.

4. Compare prices

In 2011, the average service call for a locksmith was $66. Commonly quoted prices were $45, $66 and $85. For automobiles, locksmiths charged $62 on average, according to a survey by Locksmith Ledger. (They also broke down the averages for specific types of services.)

To find the best prices in your area, ask locksmiths for a quote on typical jobs like unlocking your house or getting your keys out of your car trunk. Ask for weekend and holiday rates.

5. Handle an emergency

What’s the best course if you haven’t done the research and you’re locked out of your car in the middle of the night? Call your roadside assistance company. They’ve worked with locksmiths in the past and can probably recommend a reputable company in your area.

Don’t have roadside assistance? Your credit card company may offer it free. You could also add a cheap roadside assistance policy to your auto insurance or your wireless plan.

Have you called a locksmith before? Sound off on our Facebook page and tell us about it.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
12 Things Everyone Should Stop Buying This Year
12 Things Everyone Should Stop Buying This Year

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

26 Work-From-Home Jobs That Pay $100,000
26 Work-From-Home Jobs That Pay $100,000

These lucrative gigs let you work in your slippers.

What Brand Makes the Best Rechargeable AA Batteries?
What Brand Makes the Best Rechargeable AA Batteries?

The best battery depends on what you need it for and how big your budget is. Here’s how to find the cheapest brand that will do the job you need.

14 Uses for WD-40 That Save Money, Time or Headaches
14 Uses for WD-40 That Save Money, Time or Headaches

WD-40 is handy in a lot more situations than you likely realize.

7 Reasons You Should Consider a Career Change at 50
7 Reasons You Should Consider a Career Change at 50

Wondering how to change careers at 50, or if it’s possible at all? The good news is that many older workers have the energy and experience to pull it off.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Whether you resell it for a big profit or add it to your own wardrobe, this type of clothing is a hidden steal.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?
Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?

Researchers say too many doctors are overlooking this potential source of hypertension.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider
Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider

A new study has bad news for the millions of Americans who spend money on multivitamins.

21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss
21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss

Start off the new year by implementing these small-but-smart savings strategies. They’ll soon add up.

Longer Trips to These Stores May Raise COVID-19 Risk
Longer Trips to These Stores May Raise COVID-19 Risk

An airborne-disease expert recommends leaving this type of store within a half-hour.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021
Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021

More than 700 prescription medications have seen price hikes so far this year. Here’s a look at the worst.

11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked
11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked

Does your retirement budget account for all of these costs?

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.