Car Care

How to Start a Car Without a Key? [Useful Tips]

America spends over $2.7 Billion a year on replacing missing car keys. Maybe you were at the park when it happened, maybe you were in the grocery store, and your child pitched a tantrum at the checkout line, so you rushed out of the store and forgot to check your purse.

Regardless, when you lose your keys or discover a broken fob, a good day quickly goes down the drain. But just because your keys are missing doesn’t mean life stops. So if you need to start your car without a key, don’t panic; you can try a few methods!

In general, you can attempt to start a vehicle through the screwdriver method by hot wiring the car or by bypassing the ignition switch through the vehicle’s wiring. However, keep in mind that all three ways can damage your vehicle when done incorrectly.

If you’re uncertain of how to get the car started, you may want to call in a mechanic or roadside assistance to help.

Situations Where You Need To Start A Car Without A Key

Bypassing your vehicle’s key isn’t something to take lightly. Make sure you use these start methods only after confirming the key is well and truly out of use. Some everyday situations where you’ll need to try to start the car without the key include:

Lost Key

If you have lost your key and can’t wait for a copy, you can use the below methods to try and start your vehicle.

Broken Ignition Switch

If your key won’t turn in the ignition or the car won’t start even with the key, you may have a broken ignition switch that needs bypassing to start the vehicle.

Broken Key

If your key has broken off into the ignition or has experienced damage to the teeth, the car may not start without bypassing the ignition.

Dead Smart Key

Keyless cars and vehicles with Smart Keys may experience difficulties starting the car if the key battery dies. 

Keep in mind that when you utilize any of the following methods to circumvent your car’s keyed ignition, you need to head to a certified car dealership or automobile locksmith immediately after starting the vehicle.

Repetitive use of these methods can damage your vehicle’s steering column or wiring, resulting in repairs far more costly than replacing a broken or missing key.

Equipment You Need To Start A Car Without A Key

Bypassing a car’s ignition switch and circumventing the car key requires the use of materials that should be in every car’s emergency kit. If you don’t have these items in your vehicle, you’ll have to call roadside assistance and add these items to your vehicle as soon as possible:

  • Jumper Cables
  • Electrical Tape
  • Mechanic Gloves
  • Protective Glasses
  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Small Cordless Drill or Screwdriver 

How To Start A Car With The Screwdriver (Or Drill) Method?

If you don’t have a flathead screwdriver in your car’s emergency kit, add one. The screwdriver method of starting a vehicle is the easiest and least damaging to your vehicle. It requires minimal contact with your vehicle’s wiring and puts the driver at less risk than other methods.

All you need is the flathead screwdriver and a bit of elbow grease. Here’s how to use a screwdriver to start your car:

  1. Find the screws that hold your steering column’s trim in place. Remove them, and be sure to keep them someplace safe and close by, like the center console of your car.
  2. Remove the plastic trim to reveal the car’s ignition switch.
  3. Place the screwdriver into the keyhole, called the ignition tumbler. Gently turn the screwdriver to engage the ignition. If the car starts, drive straight to a locksmith or car dealership to get a replacement key. 

If you have a newer vehicle or a stubborn lock mechanism, you can try to use a small bit drill and screwdriver to start your car. 

  1. Position the drill head about ⅔ of the way into the ignition keyhole. If you don’t go far enough into the hole, the lock pins won’t disengage.
  2. Slowly start the drill, pushing the bit into the same depth as your key normally goes. You should feel the lock pins disengage as you go.
  3. Take your flathead screwdriver and slide it into the engaged lock mechanism. Then, turn the screwdriver to start your car.

If neither of the screwdriver methods works for your vehicle, or if you have a car newer than the 1990s, you can try to start your vehicle with the hot wiring method. 

How To Start A Car With The Hot Wire Method? 

If you are a fan of spy films, you likely know the rudimentary of hot wiring. But, there is more to splicing a few wires together to get a car started.

Hot wiring requires working with a vehicle’s live wires and can put the driver at risk of getting shocked, so make sure you follow these steps carefully to start your car.

  1. Locate the screws holding the steering column in place. Usually, the screws are on either side of the steering wheel, near the base of the column. Remove the screws.
  2. Remove the access panels of the column. They usually just slide right out.
  3. Locate the three bundles of wires stored in the steering column. You only need the battery bundle. Usually, the battery bundle contains red wiring, but you should verify with your owner’s manual to prevent any accidents involving the starter or ignition wiring.
  4. Using a wire stripper, scissors, or pocket knife, remove insulation from the battery wire and ignition wire. Twist these ends together to turn on the ignition and lights of the vehicle.
  5. To start the motor, carefully strip the end of the starter wire. Touch this end to the bundled battery and starter wires. Do not twist the starter wire into the bundle. The starter wire is live and can shock you, and while it won’t kill you, it will hurt. So immediately after starting the engine, cover it with electrical tape. 
  6. Immediately drive the started vehicle to a mechanic who can put the steering column back together and make a new key for you.

Note that most modern vehicles have a steering wheel lock component that prevents a car from steering without a key. If you can start your vehicle, but the steering wheel lock engages, you’ll have to call for emergency roadside assistance, as the car won’t safely drive without steering. 

If hot-wiring the vehicle does not work, you can give the red coil method a try.

How To Start A Car With The Red Coil Method? 

For car owners savvy underneath the car hood, the red coil method can prove a fast way to kickstart your vehicle in an emergency. Of course, you’ll want a pair of mechanic gloves for protection while trying this method.

You’ll also need a pair of jumper cables for this method.

  1. Pop open the car’s hood to locate the red wire. Depending on the vehicle, you may find it on the left, right, or near the back of the engine. 
  2. Grab the red wire and connect the jumper cable to it. Next, run the jumper cable to the car battery’s positive terminal. Your vehicle’s dash will start to receive power. 
  3. After your dash begins to receive power, you need to access the solenoid of the steering column. Locate the gap between the steering column and the steering wheel. Place a screwdriver in the gap and push down until the locking mechanism gives way.
  4. You should see a small red wire attached to the key mechanism of the steering wheel. Carefully press the metal end of a screwdriver to the wire but keep your hand on the insulated handle to avoid shocking yourself. This should kickstart the vehicle’s starter and allow you to drive the car to the nearest mechanic for help with a new key.

Bear in mind that cr manufacturers design vehicles to withstand most methods circumventing the key system these days. So there is a chance that your newer vehicle won’t respond to hotwiring, or perhaps your vehicle uses a keyless start.

If that’s the case, you’ll have to try a few other methods to start your keyless car. 

How To Start A Keyless Car Without A Fob?

You can still attempt to hotwire a car or use the red coil method by following the previously explained steps for each process. And, if you aren’t comfortable playing with wires and were hoping to use just a screwdriver, don’t give up! The chances are that there is still a hidden ignition switch in the steering column. 

To locate the hidden switch, examine the steering column. An ignition typically resides on the column if you see a circular cap or recessed cover in the area. See if you can pry it up with the screwdriver. If the cap removes and you see a slot for a key or fob, follow the steps to the screwdriver method.

Now, if for some reason you have a dead key fob and can’t get the car to start, don’t jump to hotwiring yet. There is a way to start the vehicle with a dead-key fob.

How To Start A Keyless Car With A Dead Key Fob?

Keyless starts are all the rage these days, but what happens when the fob dies suddenly? If that occurs, your first step is accessing the car interior without a working key.

Don’t stress. Instead, go to your vehicle manufacturer’s website and see if they offer a remote unlocking service. If you haven’t signed up for the service before getting locked out of your vehicle, it may take some time on the phone with a representative to get immediate assistance.

Once you’re in the vehicle, engage the emergency brake before attempting to start the car. Next, take the key fob and press it to the start button of your car.

Most manufacturers build in an emergency backup program that allows fobs to start vehicles when right next to the start button. Use the key fob to push the start button. If your car starts, drive to the closest car dealership or locksmith to get a new battery for your key fob.

If you’ve tried all of the starting methods listed or just don’t feel comfortable working with your vehicle’s wiring, you can get help from roadside assistance or by working with a reputable locksmith.

Can A Locksmith Help With Lost Or Broken Car Keys?

Contrary to popular belief, mechanics and car dealerships aren’t the only places capable of getting you a new car key. Locksmiths who specialize in car keys do exist, and they often cost less than a dealership to work with.

Many locksmiths offer emergency service calls, too, and can come to you if you are stranded without a car key. 

It’s important to remember that your locksmith has rules to follow before making a copy of any car keys. They’ll ask for proof of ownership and the VIN of your vehicle before doing any work.

If your car’s registration and ownership information are in the car, the locksmith may unlock the vehicle for you to allow you access to those documents.

The Risks of Starting Your Vehicle Without A Key

It’s important not to attempt starting your vehicle with a DIY method whenever possible – if you can wait an hour for roadside assistance or a tow truck, you should. Several risks come with trying to start your vehicle without a key. 

Damage to the Car

If you don’t know the mechanics and materials of your car, you run the risk of severely damaging the dash or wiring when you try to DIY start your vehicle. A damaged steering column, wires, or battery can run several thousands of dollars to repair in extreme instances, in addition to the cost of replacing your key.

Insurance and Legal Problems

Don’t forget that if you try to start your car with a screwdriver on the side of the road, a police officer may get concerned. While it isn’t illegal to hotwire your own vehicle, you may run into legal problems trying to hotwire it if you are borrowing a car or leasing a car.

Additionally, your car insurance won’t cover any damage you cause to the vehicle while attempting to start the car.

Damage to Yourself

Whenever you work with a vehicle, you run the risk of injuring yourself. There’s a chance to shock yourself while hotwiring the car, and working inside the dash or engine can cause injury to your hands, skin, or eyes.

It’s essential to use safety gloves and eyewear to prevent injuries while trying to start your car.

A Final Reminder About Starting Your Car Without A Key

Before you try to take a leaf out of a spy novel and hotwire your own car, make sure it’s the only option at hand. If you can’t wait to work with a mechanic or roadside assistance, approach starting your vehicle without a key cautiously.

Take your time, and remember that not all cars respond to these ignitions bypassing methods. Ultimately, remember to take your vehicle straight to a locksmith or mechanic immediately after getting it to start, so you can get yourself a key and avoid having to start the car like a super spy in the future.

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