How to Open a Frozen Car Door

Jessica Shea Choksey | Nov 23, 2020

When winter weather gets extreme and temperatures drop, car doors tend to freeze shut because of ice forming on the door, in the doorframe, or within the locking mechanism. In all of these cases, the goal is to open the door without causing damage to the door's surface, the weather stripping around the door, or the components within the lock.

How to open a frozen car door 

This article includes several methods that may help to unfreeze a car door safely. Some are quick and easy, while others may require some patience.

Hot Key Method

Before attempting to open any frozen door, the first step is to unlock the door. If ice has formed around the locking mechanism and prevents it from disengaging, and if your car is older and has an actual key, the key will need to be heated to melt the ice away. Heat the metal part of the key with a match or lighter. Then slowly work the key into the lock, letting it melt the ice as it makes its way through the keyhole. The key may need to be heated several times before fully thawing out the lock. At that point, if the door remains frozen shut, you’ll need to remove the ice on the exterior of the door using one of the methods below.

Remote Start Method

If you own a newer car with a key fob and remote engine start functionality, you are in luck. Remote engine start is one of the simplest and most straightforward solutions to opening vehicle doors that are frozen shut. Use the key fob to turn the ignition on and allow the heat from the vehicle's interior to thaw the door. This approach may take several minutes, but it is as easy as the push of a button.

Door Push Method

Lean into the door near the seam of the opening and push several times using your bodyweight. Since ice is brittle, this little bit of repeated pressure may be enough to break the ice in the doorframe and free the door. This technique is simple and often effective but be careful not to dent the vehicle when you’re pushing on it.

Warm Water Method

This approach requires pouring a bucket of warm water over the areas around the doorframe. Doing so should melt most of the ice almost immediately. Then push on the door with your body weight a few times to break apart any remaining ice. The door should open easily at this point.

Refrain from using very hot water as this can either shatter the window or damage the paint from the rapid expansion that occurs from mixing hot and cold temperatures. Also, note that this method will not work in sub-zero temperatures because the warm water will likely freeze as it is poured onto the car, creating even more ice around the door.

Hot Air Method

As an alternative to the Warm Water Method, a hairdryer can melt the ice around the door frame and thaw the lock itself. The dryer should be held about six inches away and swept back and forth for a couple of minutes. Once the ice melts, gently pull the door open. For this method, the car will need to be in a place where a hairdryer can reach it using an extension cord. Be sure to take extra caution while using an electrical device in a wet and snowy environment.

Ice Scraper Method

Through the winter months, it is always good to have an ice scraper in the car. It is also good to have a spare ice scraper outside of the car in case you get frozen out. You can use this handy tool to break up any ice formed outside the car door. But an ice scraper will not help if the ice is between the doorframe and the door. Also, be careful that the ice scraper does not scratch the glass, paint, or trim pieces around the door.

De-icer Method

A commercial de-icing fluid dissolves ice and prevents moisture that causes further ice build-up. Any auto shop or hardware store will carry this spray-on product. If you do not have de-icer on hand, consider using rubbing alcohol, wiper fluid, or diluted white vinegar in its place.

Ice Prevention Methods

The best method of all is to prevent ice build-up and a frozen car door in the first place. When wintery weather is in the forecast, covering the vehicle may the most effective way to protect it from falling precipitation that will freeze the doors shut. Also, shutting a plastic trash bag in the door will prevent ice from forming in the space between the door and the doorframe. Lastly, spraying de-icer around the door, on the handles, and into the lock will reduce moisture, preventing it from turning into ice. Taking all three of these steps will help keep the doors of a vehicle from freezing shut.

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