After a snowy night, you woke up early, prepared to clear any any obstacles so you can make it to work on time. You shoveled the walkway, swept the snow off your car, even de-iced your windshield from the outside. But, surprise: It’s so cold, you can’t seem to get your car door to open! To ensure you plan for this the next time, we asked experts for their quick, easy hacks and tricks to open a frozen car door with as little effort as possible. Keep scrolling to learn how.
Why do car doors freeze shut?
Jason Farrell, certified master technician at Mechanic’s Diary, says that when temperatures plunge, even small amounts of ambient moisture condense on metal and glass surfaces like car doors and windows. “With prolonged exposure, this accumulated liquid condenses into a thin layer of transparent ice that can become rock solid if it gets cold enough,” he explains. Physics tells us that water expands the more it freezes, which means that ice bulks up within door frames, seals and lock mechanisms and prevents them from working. Luckily, you don’t have to just wait out the weather every time this happens. There’s a lot you can do both to problem solve and as preventative measures.
How to open a frozen car door
“When a car door becomes frozen, the moisture from things like snow or condensation can also work its way into the nooks and crannies of the door frame and lock mechanism,” Farrell says. So not only does it make it hard to pull the door open, if you use a key to enter your car, “this moisture then freezes solid, making it nearly impossible to turn or operate the lock.” What you don’t want to do is try and force it open without treating the ice, which Farrell claims can crack the window or even damage door seals, strikes, hinges and the lock mechanism. Because of this, you want to make sure you try and open them the right way.
1. How to open a frozen car door: Warm it up with a hairdryer or heat gun
“One very effective technique I’ve used many times over the years is to apply direct, concentrated heat to the door lock area using a hairdryer,” explains Farrell. A heat gun will get the job done just as well, but regardless of which one you choose, resist the urge to use the highest setting.
2. Try warm water
Notice this says warm water, not hot water— the thermal shock going from freezing to scalding can actually cause serious damage to your car like cracking your glass, Farrell advises. “The warm water will be plenty effective when poured over the door seams and locks.”
3. How to open a frozen car door: Push on the door
When there’s a light glazing of ice on the door, try placing your hands flat against it while applying rhythmic, gentle pushes. The goal is to create a flexing motion that breaks the ice without straining the door hinges or latch. And if you’re not getting the results you want? Try pushing at different spots, as some areas may be more frozen than others.
4. Make a homemade de-icer
No de-icer on hand? Just make your own: three parts water and one part rubbing alcohol, sprayed all over the frozen parts of your car. Farrell says this works because “rubbing alcohol has a very low freezing point of -88.5ºF, so even when temperatures plummet well below freezing outside, this solution remains liquid.” In fact, the alcohol disrupts the molecular bonding of frozen water by lowering the freezing point, essentially tricking the ice into melting. No rubbing alcohol? You can also lower the freezing point with the acetic acid present in two parts vinegar and one part water. These work on windshields too!
Bonus: These homemade formulas are often better for the environment and less corrosive compared to commercial options.
How do you open frozen car windows?
You may have already noticed this while waiting for your car to heat up or cool down, but windows aren’t perfectly insulated. “As any experienced technician knows, when moisture condenses on the interior of a window and the temperatures outside drop below freezing, that moisture will turn to ice if it cannot escape or evaporate quickly enough,” Farrell explains. “This becomes an even bigger issue in colder climates where days or longer of sub-zero weather serve to repeatedly condense and then refreeze any residual dampness trapped within door panels.”
With windows, it’s probably more helpful to know what not to do before moving on to what you can do. Pouring hot water onto frozen car windows can cause them to easily crack or even shatter due to the thermal shock, and hitting windows with any object or part of your body can fracture them as well. Finally, avoid continuously pressing the controls to try and roll the windows down, as this can burn out the motor or strip the gears.
1. If you have time: Use the defroster
“Simply turning on the car’s defroster vent will work, but can take 10-15 minutes,” Farrell says. If the ice is especially thick, that might not be long enough and you’ll need to set aside even more time.
2. Homemade or store-bought de-icer
Just like with doors, de-icers can work magic on frozen windows. According to Farrell, they can also work much faster than defrosting because they actually “break the bond between the ice and the window.” You can buy it ready-made, but you can also make it if you don’t want to spend the money or prefer something more environmentally friendly by mixing three parts water and one part rubbing alcohol or two parts vinegar and one part water. Either way you’ll want to focus on the lower edge and around the perimeter where the glass meets the seal.
How do you prevent frozen car doors and windows?
Imagine walking out to your car on a chilly winter day and not having to immediately go into problem solving mode. Instead, you can get ahead of things with a few simple tricks.
1. Blast the air conditioning
This may surprise you, but the mechanics make sense. According to Farrell, the A/C works not just by cooling air but also by pulling moisture out through the condenser coil like a dehumidifier. “By doing this, you remove a lot more water vapor from the cabin atmosphere before it has a chance to condense overnight,” he explains. “Less condensation means less opportunity for ice formation on vulnerable window surfaces.”
2. Use a silicone lubricant
As a protective, water-resistant spray, silicone lubricant (Buy on Amazon, $6.69) is ideal for the rubber seals on your windows and doors. After applying, it’ll help keep the condensation from accumulating and then freezing as it gets colder outside.
3. Take cover
It’s obvious, but the impact is substantial. If you aren’t able to park your car in a garage when the temps are low, then consider snagging a car cover, which will basically act like a coat for your car and keep it from being exposed to the elements and freezing.
For more outdoor tips, click through the links below!
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