If you lock yourself out of your home or car, or even just lose your keys, you'll most likely need the services of a dependable locksmith. Prices for opening a lock vary depending on the time of day you make your call and how far the locksmith needs to travel. Pricing also fluctuates from locksmith to locksmith. Do your research on average prices in your area before you pick up the phone to call a professional - it could save you money.
According to Consumer Reports and AAA, about 4 million drivers are locked out of their vehicles every year.
According to Locksmith Ledger International, a trade publication for locksmiths, the average price for a service call is $68 with an hourly rate of $60. The results are from 2013, the last year the magazine polled its readership about pricing structure.
Meanwhile, a call to open a car or truck door costs $60, Locksmith Ledger International says. Service calls only rose by $2 for both houses and cars, but hourly rates ballooned by as much as $15 when the ledger previously surveyed locksmiths in 2011.
Unfortunately, the averages compiled by the trade magazine, as well as other publications, are strictly voluntary, so prices may vary quite a bit.
A HomeAdvisor.com poll of more than 5,500 homeowners reports that the average amount residents paid in 2015 to unlock a house door was $151. People paid as little as $50 or as much as $350 for a service call.
Do Your Homework
Since the cost for a job or call can differ widely, organizations such as Consumer Reports advise people locked out of their car or house to make a checklist of questions before hiring a locksmith.
Make sure the company you go with has a physical location and that their vehicles are clearly marked with the business name. Also, ensure the locksmith you get is local to your area. If not, you could end up paying for one that has to travel a farther distance to you and incur additional costs.
A good rule of thumb is to do your homework ahead of time and program a reputable locksmith's name and number into your phone. Doing so can help you avoid going with the first locksmith you see and possibly paying a lot more during an emergency.
Do a search for local locksmith companies and pair it with the complaints or reviews you find so you can weed out any that might be disreputable. While online, also do a check on your state's locksmith licensing board website. The North Carolina and California locksmith licensing boards are just two organizations that offer a searchable list of all of all the licensed locksmiths operating in their states.
States that require locksmiths to get a license are: Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Local consumer protection websites, as well as your state's attorney general site, should inform the public if there are previous complaints on file.
Be wary of locksmiths with toll-free phone numbers.
What to Ask
Ask your locksmith if he or she is a member of The Associated Locksmiths of America and to show you their locksmith license. You'll want to check the individual's license against that of his or her business.
It's best to avoid companies that have a generic name, so when first contacting a locksmith, always ask for the business's legal name. Services that decline to give you this standard information could be scammers, so it's likely best to hang up and find another one.
Look for a locksmith company that only goes by one name. If they are listed with several different names or aliases, then they might not be legitimate locksmiths.
Be wary of locksmiths with toll-free phone numbers, according to the AARP, because the calls are connected through a call center, meaning the locksmith might not have a physical address.
"The overwhelming majority of locksmiths with an 800 phone number are not legitimate," Jim Hancock of the Associated Locksmiths of America told the AARP.
While on the phone with the company, make sure to get an estimate of the cost and ask if there are any additional fees. Have your locksmith break down the list of potential charges, from how much he or she will bill for the work to any other fees that might be added. Make sure you know how much the job itself will run and how much he or she will charge for mileage or if there's a surcharge for services done after normal work hours.
Get a printed itemized invoice from the locksmith once the work is completed. It will save you from guessing how much the parts versus the labor cost.
Also ask if the company takes credit cards as payment. Not all locksmiths do, and you'll want to avoid those that don't if at all possible. Do not pay in cash, since the money cannot be traced. While charging the expense to your credit or debit card might sound odd given the risk of identity theft, you can always dispute the claim if a problem with the locksmith arises. Review your credit card statement after making the charge to ensure there are no irregularities with your accounts.
One last question to ask before hiring a locksmith: Are they insured? If they aren't insured, then any damage they do to a lock or key can end up being your responsibility, the FTC reports. Defective work can also come out of your pocket if the locksmith in uninsured.
If you're overcharged, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
What to Do if You Feel Overcharged
Besides disputing a credit card charge, there are other options available to you if you feel a locksmith overcharged you for their work. Call the locksmith company as soon as possible to inform them that they charged too much or gave you a flat rate over the phone only to tack more fees onto the bill that you weren't aware of.
If the locksmith business declines to resolve the issue for you, then you might consider filing complaints with a business bureau, the locksmith licensing association in your state or with the FTC.
How to Avoid a Scam
A fair price quoted over the phone or in an advertisement might not protect you from a scam. However, there are some extra precautions you can take to steer clear of potential fraud. Once your locksmith arrives, take down his or her's license plate and locksmith license number if he or she has one. According to Robert Siciliano, a personal and home security specialist writing for The Huffington Post and Fox Boston, collecting license numbers is one way to combat scammers.
Additionally, a legitimate locksmith will ask you for your identification to ensure that you're the homeowner or that the vehicle is registered to you before starting the work. A locksmith shouldn't charge you for just making an appearance, HomeAdvisor.com writes. If he or she does, be wary.
If the price the company quotes you seems low - between $15 and $20 - it's probably too good to be true and will come with extra charges once the locksmith begins tabulating the bill. Use your common sense and intuition when dealing with the business. If you get an uneasy feeling, then end the transaction.
Do not allow a locksmith to continue with the job if the price the company quoted you over the phone is different from the one the locksmith gives you onsite. Also, do not pay the locksmith until you are satisfied with the work.
According to WFMY News, a CBS affiliate in Greensboro, North Carolina, reputable locksmiths charge for the time they spend doing a job, not for how hard the door lock is. If a locksmith says he or she will bill you depending on how much trouble they have opening a lock, it could be a scam.
Another tactic disreputable locksmiths use is insisting that a lock needs to be drilled out and replaced with an entirely new one along with a new key. The FTC warns that the majority of professional locksmiths are trained enough and invest in the right kind of tools to open doors without resorting to removing a lock.
Make a few copies of your keys to keep in your briefcase.
Other Sources of Help
Sometimes hiring a locksmith is unavoidable and can be a necessity in emergency situations, but consumers can take a few steps to save money and get around hiring a locksmith.
The easiest way to get help is by giving copies of your house or car keys to trusted family members, friends or neighbors and call them once you find yourself locked out. If you live in an apartment building, your landlord should have a spare key as well.
Make a few copies of your keys and keep them in your briefcase or a different pocket of your purse as an emergency key if you find yourself locked out.
Key hiders are also an inexpensive and useful tool if you find yourself locked out of your car or house regularly. From fake rocks and outdoor thermometers to combination locks that guard keys, having one outside your house could spare you from having to call a locksmith.
Roadside assistance companies such as AAA and insurance agencies like Allstate have reputable locksmiths and mechanics on call for their members and currently offer home lockout help for premier subscribers. While AAA is a paid service, some new cars come with packages to help stranded drivers, according to the FTC. Certain vehicles have keyless or remote entry like OnStar and Blue Link that can electronically unlock your vehicle after you place a call.