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How to Rekey a Car Door Lock in 5 Simple Steps

Fact checked by Teddy B.Miller

how to rekey a car door lock

Imagine this scenario: you lost your car key, or worse, someone stole it. They can go to your usual parking spot and drive your car away. 

You can always hire a locksmith to rekey car lock or even change locks on car to secure your vehicle. But the thing is, setting an appointment usually takes longer.

Want to secure your car ASAP? Read here to know how to rekey a car door lock the safest way.

Step-by-step to Rekey a Car Door Lock

Almost all generic motor car doors share the same lock components, which can be unlocked by any generic key if rekeyed. So don’t sweat thinking this is a tough job because all you need is a familiarity with the classic car door lock barrels’ component and rekeying process.

Here are the tools you will need, the basics you need to know, and the detailed steps for rekeying car locks.

What to prepare

  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Nose plier
  • Working backup key
  • Brand or model-specific automotive rekeying kit

Or,

  • New key
  • Brand or model-specific pinning kit
  • Filing tool (if you don’t have a pinning kit)

Step 1: Learn the component of the lock

auto-rekey

Although generic motor cars often have similar lock components, it is always better to come into action prepared.

Prior to the actual rekeying, you must first look for the specific manual of your car model and study the lock component. You can check this online or in the provided manual for your car.

Do this before rekeying your car so you won’t be overwhelmed once the unknown components welcome you.

Step 2: Remove the door lock from the car

Of course, you’ll need to work the door open first in order to rekey a cylinder lock. This might be time-consuming and sounds complex, but it’s pretty simple.

  • Open the door you’re working with using your backup key
  • Shut the window, and then remove the window crank by prying out the cover beneath the handle.
  • Remove the head screw that holds the handle and then pull it off
  • Disassemble the cluster panel from the door by removing the screw heads.
  • Gently peel the plastic seal (if there’s any).
  • If there’s more division, you can access the cylinder lock through the holes using your screwdriver or nose pliers.
  • Detach the lock cylinder by removing the clip that holds it from the door.

Note: Remember to note how you disassemble the door because you need to reassemble it the same way as before. Better yet, video-record it for reference.

Step 3: Disassemble the lock cylinder

rekeying-car-locks

Separating the components of the lock cylinder requires meticulous work. Like in the car door, it’s important to note how you had taken those parts off and where exactly those sit.

Since some of the components are microscopic, make sure to work in a clean environment so you can get a piece easily when it bounces away from you.

Follow this guide to disassemble your lock cylinder:

  • At the back of the cylinder, pry out the C-clip and remove the lock’s arm using a slotted screwdriver.
  • Using your screwdriver, put enough pressure and remove the lock’s cap (if there’s one).
  • Remove the hooked spring at the back of the lock with your screwdriver.
  • To get the tumbler out of the cylinder, insert your key to pull it out.
  • Once pulled out, remove the key from the keyhole to get the pins to peek out of the tumbler.
  • Using your nose plier, remove the pins and the springs inside the tumbler.
  • Put the pins and springs in the safe space.

Step 4: Insert the new pins

You will begin the rekeying process by arranging the new pins to match existing key.

Since keys have random cuts, you’ll do a trial and error method to see which pin fits on each slot.

  • Start at the furthest back slot and do it one pin at a time.
  • Put the spring first in its slot, followed by the pin you’re trying. The pin must react to the spring to confirm it’s working.
  • Insert your new key. If the top of the pin aligns with the surface, it’s the correct pin.
  • If it sticks out, try a smaller pin for the slot. Try again until nothing sticks out.

The pins must be flushed inside the tumbler when you insert the key. If not, the stuck pins will stop the tumbler from rotating.

Alternative method: Rearrange and file the original pins

It’s okay if you don’t have a pinning kit, you can still rekey GM door lock cylinder by using this alternative method.

This method works best if you only work with the original pins and have a filing tool sitting in your garage. However, unlike the previous process, you must remember that this modifies the pins.

  • Step 1: Get one pin and start the trial and error for its position.
  • Step 2: Insert the key. The pin is in a good slot if it flushes entirely inside.
  • Step 3: Do this until most of the pins align with the tumbler’s surface.
  • Step 4: For the pins peeking from the slot, put them in the best possible place where their height is close to the surface.
  • Step 5: File the peeking pins using your filing tool until their heights meet the tumbler.

Step 5: Reassemble the lock cylinder and the car door

If you think all the pins are in the correct position, test it out in the cylinder with a key inserted. If it rotates freely, then you have successfully rekeyed the lock.

Once you’re done rekeying, you can put the components back together. All parts must return to their original position for the lock to work.

  • Step 1: Start by putting the tumbler inside the cylinder and seal it with the lock’s cap.
  • Step 2: Put the hooked spring back on. Ensure the hook corresponds to the cylinder’s cut.
  • Step 3: Set the lock’s arm at the back and secure it with the C-pin.

Using the cylinder lock clip, attach the door lock in its place and start reassembling the car door.

DIY Rekey

Like any DIY project that initially requires professional assistance, rekeying your car’s door lock also comes with rewards and risks. It will be up to you to decide whether the reward outweighs the risk or vice-versa.

  • Reward

Well, money doesn’t grow on trees.

One thing people consider is to lessen the cost of the repair, and with that, they often resort to DIY rekey locks—which is the cheapest way.

Also, setting an appointment with a reputable car rekey service usually takes longer because of the demand and requires evaluation. If you need immediate fixing, having your auto rekey by yourself might be the best course of action.

  • Risk

The potential risk of rekeying your car lock is obtaining damages that require even more service than mere rekeying.

So if you’re not confident enough but have money to spare, it might be best to seek professional help by getting a car rekeyed.

FAQs

What does it mean to rekey a car lock?

Rekeying a car lock is performed to open your car door without the original key. Through this, someone will modify the lock’s pin to correspond with your new key.

This also works if you will rekey a car ignition that is unprogrammed. However, a rekey car ignition locksmith is the go-to when the ignition lock is programmed to the previous key.

What is the average cost to rekey a car?

Change car locks and ignition price typically goes around $50 to $300 depending on important factors. Of course, it will cost less than that if you do it yourself.

Is it cheaper to rekey or replace car locks?

Both in the locksmith or DIY method, rekeying a lock is always cheaper as key pins are not expensive if retailed. Changing car lock is costly as it needs more parts than the simple pinning kit.

But if your lock is already malfunctioning, you should change the locks on the car.

Can I rekey a car door myself?

Yes! You can rekey it yourself if you think you’re meticulous enough and have the proper tools.

Conclusion

Repinning or recording the lock’s pins is a great measure to devalue the previous key and avoid unwanted access from the people who have it. Fortunately, you can rekey a cylinder yourself by following this guide on how to rekey a car door lock.

Aside from the money and time you saved from looking for a locksmith, you also acquired a skill that will come in handy in the future. Constantly assess the situation and weigh whether the reward outweighs the risk of doing it yourself.

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