It's cold outside and you can't get your car door open because the handle or the door itself is frozen shut. What do you do?
A quick Google search for "car door handle frozen" will reveal a variety of suggestions, some of which are helpful and some of which are not or are downright dangerous. Here are AA1Car's EXPERT suggestions on how to free up a frozen door handle, car door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate when freezing rain or an ice storm has frozen you out of your vehicle:
First, before cold weather arrives, take the following preventive actions to reduce the risk of your door handles, locks, doors trunk, hatchback or liftgate from freezing shut. Go to your local hardware or auto parts store and buy the following products: Lock de-icer, an aerosol or squeeze bottle of windshield deicer, an aerosol can of WD-40 and/or silicone lubricant spray.
If your vehicle has one or more door locks, a key lock for the trunk, hatchback or liftgate, squirt some lock deicer, WD-40 or silicone spray into the lock keyholes. Insert your key and turn the lock several times to distribute the deicer, WD-40 or silicone lubricant inside the lock tumbler. These products repel water and should prevent moisture from freezing the locks.
Next, use the silicone spray to spray the rubber gaskets all the way around the doors, trunk and hatchback or liftgate. The silicone lubricant will help prevent the gaskets from freezing and sticking to the vehicle body when your car or truck is exposed to moisture. Silicone spray is recommended here over WD-40 for a couple of reasons: it does not have a strong odor like WD-40, and it does not leave an oily residue on the surface that can rub off.
De-icer is great for melting ice on windshields and side glass, as well as melting ice around door handles and doors. We recommend the ready-made de-icer rather than do-it-yourself deicer concoctions made by mixing rubbing alcohol with water. A 70/30 mixture of rubbing alcohol and water will work as a de-icer. We do NOT recommend using straight undiluted alcohol because it may damage some plastic surfaces or soften clear coat paint.
Nobody likes a salt encrusted dirty car, but we do NOT recommend washing your car if the outside temperature is or will be below freezing (32 degrees F, 0 degrees C). Most drive-thru car washes do an excellent job of cleaning the exterior of your vehicle. But most car washes also do a poor job of drying off all the rinse water after the car has been washed, (even the ones where people wipe down your vehicle afterwards). It only takes a little bit of residual moisture around the door gaskets to freeze a door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate shut.
Another preventative measure you might take to reduce the risk of a frozen door handle, door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate is to park you vehicle indoors if you know freezing rain or an ice storm is predicted. If that is not possible, then take the preventive steps we have already suggested to reduce the risk of a freeze-up.
Freezing rain and ice storms will force moisture into every exposed nook and cranny on your vehicle. Any moisture that penetrates door locks or door handle can freeze them solid. The same goes for the gaskets around the doors, trunk, hatchback and liftgate.
CAUTION: Do NOT attempt to force a frozen door handle or door open. Jerk hard and you will probably end up breaking the handle, ripping the gasket around the door, or cracking the glass (if the glass does not have a solid door frame all the way around it).
If you have a vehicle such as a Tesla where the door handles disappear flush into the door, ice may prevent them from popping out. Do NOT try to pry them open as you will likely break the handle.
CAUTION: If you have a minivan or SUV with power sliding side doors or a power liftgate, do NOT attempt to use the remote key fob door buttons to open the doors or liftgate. The electric motor will likely not be able to break the ice free and may blow the fuse for the power door circuit, or you may burn out the motor or damage the power door mechanism. Power door motors and mechanisms are expensive to replace so don't use the power feature until the door has been unfrozen.
Spray windshield de-icer or WD-40 all the way around the edges of the door handle, door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate. Within a couple of minutes, the de-icer or WD-40 should melt the ice and allow you to open your door. If the door is still frozen, apply more de-icer or WD-40 and/or give it a little more time.
Another trick for thawing a frozen door lock, door handle, door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate is to apply heat with a blow comb hair dryer. Start with the MEDIUM setting on a blow comb rated at 900 to 1600 watts. You want just enough heat to melt the ice. Too much heat can damage plastic surfaces, blister paint and may even cause cold glass to shatter! If the MEDIUM setting is not accomplishing much, switch to the HIGH setting but be careful not to concentrate too much heat in one spot for too long. Keep moving the blow comb back and forth to melt the ice.
WARNING: If you want to use a blow comb to apply heat, make sure you use an extension cord for OUTDOOR use (one that has thicker insulation and a third prong on the plug for ground), and that the extension cord is plugged into a GROUND FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTER (GFCI) outlet, never an ordinary electrical outlet. The reason why is because the cord will be laying on snow or ice, and you may be standing on wet ground, both of which are electrically conductive. If there is an electrical short, you could be in for a potentially deadly shock if the cord is not plugged into a GFCI outlet. This type of outlet acts like a circuit breaker and immediately opens the circuit to stop the flow of current if it senses a short.
We do NOT recommend using a HOT AIR GUN to apply heat as these tools produce far more heat than a typical blow comb. A hot air gum may damage plastics, door gaskets or paint.
Direct the hot air from the blow comb at the button on the door handle or trunk, hatchback or liftgate lock, or around the edges of the door handle. It may take several minutes before to realize any results, but eventually the heat from the blow comb should melt the ice.
If the door handle is free but the door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate won't budge because the gasket around the edge is frozen to the car body, direct the heat from the blow comb around the edges of the door, trunk, hatchback or liftgate to melt the ice.
CAUTION: Do NOT apply heat directly to cold glass. The sudden change in temperature could cause the glass to crack or shatter!
Some people say throwing a pan of hot water on a door handle or door can melt the ice. Yes, it might provided it is not too cold outside (20 to 30 degrees F). But in really cold weather (sub-zero), the hot water with either evaporate as steam or quickly freeze creating an even worse mess. Use de-icer or WD-40 instead.
Also, there is risk of burning yourself if you try to carry a pan of hot water outside to pour on your car. The hot water might also damage plastic surfaces or cause the window glass to shatter due to the sudden change in temperature.
NEVER apply heat from a flame such as a portable propane torch. A flame can scorch the paint, melt plastic, discolor chrome door handles and cause glass to crack or shatter.
Some say you can heat a door key with a cigarette lighter and push that into a door lock to melt the ice inside. Maybe, but you probably can't get enough heat into the lock via the key to free a frozen lock. Plus, the heat from the flame might damage the key if it is a smart key or a key that is part of a smart fob. And you might burn your fingers!
Do NOT use other types of solvents or flammable liquids such as Kerosene or Gasoline in an attempt to free up a frozen door handle or door as these may damage the paint or plastic trim.