Ah, winter — snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes, and ice that cakes up inside the locks and other once-moving parts of your door handles.
If this is the case for your vehicle, you likely just want to get into your car, get the heat on and get to where you need to be. But don’t let the hurry lead you to force your way in, as this could damage your car. Instead, read on to learn how to open a frozen car door the right way.
Frozen Shut, Now What?
As with most things, you’ll want to start small and use methods that are less likely to cause damage or require a cleanup. To that end, here are some tips on how to open a frozen car door.
First, try gently moving the key into and out of the lock or pulling the door handle and releasing it a few times. The key word here is gently. Sometimes, all you’re dealing with is a fragile little sliver of ice that just happens to be in the exact wrong place. If you take a more forceful approach right away, you might find yourself standing with a snapped-off door handle in your hand.
If moving the key in the lock doesn’t work, go back into the house, fill a big pot with water and put it on the stove. What you want is a good amount of warm water (not boiling) that you can carry back out to the driveway and pour over your door handle to get rid of the ice. A restaurant or coffee shop may be able to help with this if you’re away from home. Note that the water should not be boiling hot, as that could damage your paint. Pour the warm water slowly and steadily over the door handle, and when the container is empty, try inserting the key or pulling on the handle again.
If you’re still having no luck, your next move is chemical. If you live in a frigid climate, you probably (and certainly should) have a de-icing windshield washer fluid. Put some in a plastic sprayer bottle, adjust the nozzle to “stream,” and very carefully aim it into the stuck parts. Again, go easy — this stuff isn’t meant to sit on your paint or get on your hands. If you aren’t already wearing gloves, put some on before you do this. Give the fluid five minutes or so to do its work, and then try the lock or the door handles again.
If all else fails, grab an extension cord and a hairdryer. Turn it on high and hit the problem area with hot air, and it should melt soon. As you work, try not to overheat any plastic components, and as always, be wary of combining electricity and moisture.
What to Remember for Next Time
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try spraying a little lubricant in the locks and other moving parts of your door handles before the first cold snap to prevent ice from building up. Also, consider using a car cover if you don’t have a garage. In addition to keeping ice out of your car door’s parts, a cover can pay dividends in your car’s appearance and security.
Check out all the car door handles available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on installing door handles, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.