Your RV is your home on the road. If it’s a motorhome, it can be your home AND your car at the same time. So, what happens if you get locked out of it? How can you regain access?
If you’re locked out of your RV, you’ll have to break in. RV’s don’t have any special trick buttons that will magically open a locked door. If possible – call a locksmith. The campground owner may be able to help you locate one in the area. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you may be forced to break in by breaking a window – which will be costly to fix.
As with many such scenarios, prevention is better than the cure so most of this post is going to be how to prevent this situation, as well as providing more detail on how to handle it should it occur – depending on your specific method of RV lock.
What a typical RV door lock is like
Most RV’s have a standard locking mechanism to their doors.
From the outside, there’s a simple lock for which you have a key. Enter the key and turn it to the right to lock the door, or turn it to the left to unlock. The handle itself is going to be a sturdy large plastic or metallic one, much like those on a large vehicle like a van.
From the inside, RV’s are designed to look like a regular home. Which is why you’ll find a regular door handle on the inside. In many cases, there will be no keyhole. Instead, you’re going to have one or two levers which switch the lock between the open or closed positions. This is actually a safety mechanism – it means no one can be locked inside an RV from the inside. Should there be a fire or some other form of emergency, you’ll always be able to unlock the door from the inside – even if you don’t have the key.
Some RV’s have a double lock. One lock – usually the one at the top – is the handle lock which simply controls the ability to use the handle. The second one controls the deadbolt. Keep in mind that the handle lock can be opened with a generic master key. That’s how RV sellers gain easy access to the RV’s on their lot. So if you want to keep your RV securely locked – lock the deadbolt as well.
What could get you locked out of the RV
Basically, there are two scenarios where an RV owner could find herself or himself locked outside –
- Lost key – You lock your RV and go to the store or to hike in a national park. And hour – or two or five – you stand by that door, fumbling desperately for the keys. Gone. Your pocket is empty. Your locked out of the RV without a key.
- Jammed lock – Both the lock itself and the door can become jammed. This is especially true for very new RV’s or very old ones.
These situations are different – even though the end result is the same. In the following paragraphs we’ll talk about what to do in each case – and then about how to prevent them from happening.
Locked out of the RV? Here’s what to do
If you lost your key
Start by looking for the keys. Go through your pockets AND any bags you may have been carrying around. If it’s the key to a 5th wheel or travel trailer and you’ve been using your tow vehicle – go there and search for the key within that vehicle too.
If you’re in a campground or similar facility, go ask in the office. There’s a good chance that someone may have found your keys and returned them to that place.
If the door seems jammed
Yes, it can absolutely happen. Especially to new RV owners. Sometimes it’s a matter of some intricate feature that you need to know how to operate. This video shows just such a thing with the Casita travel trailer. If the door of your new RV just won’t open even though it’s not locked, watch this –
Otherwise, if in a campground see if you can get help from your neighbors. RV owners are usually nice people who would be happy to show a newbie how to handle their RV.
By the way, with some RV handles, it’s actually possible to lock yourself out by mistake. I recently read a forum post where a lady left the rig for a minute to help her husband with something outside. The door slammed shut – and was locked!
How can a door lock itself? Well, in some RV’s the internal lock that I mentioned before is located in a way that’s only too easy to reach with your hand inadvertently when holding the handle from inside. What’s more, I’ve heard of stories where a pet managed to get the door locked while the owner was outside! All it takes is a dog standing on its hind legs and placing a paw around the lock area, while trying to look outside…
If you have your key with you, that’s not a problem – you can use them to unlock the door again. But if you left your keys inside – you’re in trouble.
In either case
If you can’t find your keys or the lock appears to be jammed – you need to do something about it. You can do one of the following –
- Call in a professional locksmith
- Borrow tools and replace the lock yourself, or
- Force your way in by breaking either the door or one of the windows
Naturally, the second option is the cheapest. However, you need to know what you’re doing – or maybe the neighbor you borrow the tools from could help you out. You also need to have a replacement lock on hand.
If you’re stuck out in the middle of nowhere – with no help in sight – you may have no choice but to break one of the windows and crawl in – and then drive the rig to the nearest repair shop. Be careful when you do that. Wrap your hand with a shirt and use a rock to break the window. You don’t want to have to make the drive to the ER instead of the repair shop!
Keep in mind that your roadside assistance – if you have one – may be able to help. Call them first to see if they can send their own locksmith. Alternatively, get their approval to call one on your own to make sure they’ll reimburse you later.
How to prevent getting locked out of your RV
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure, said Benjamin Franklin. And he was a smart man. Let’s take a look at what you can do to prevent yourself from ever getting locked outside your RV. And there are many things you can do!
RV’s with two doors
First, it’s worth mentioning that many floorplans actually offer two doors to your RV. For example, the popular Chaparral 5th Wheel series by Coachmen has several of them. Their 371MBRB floorplan has two doors on the same side of the RV – one leading to the main living area and the other one going directly to the master bedroom. The 370FL on the other hand has entries from both sides of the RV.
You an also find two doors in many large travel trailers. Motorhomes rarely have two doors, however some do. Kinda. For example, the Canyon Star class A motorhome by Newmar has a second door with a wheelchair lift. If the main door is stuck, you could in theory use that one to get inside if you manage to get that one unlocked.
The point is – if you have two doors, you’re cutting in half the chances of getting locked out due to malfunction.
Door and lock maintenance
As I mentioned in the post about RV maintenance tips – lubrication goes a long way towards maintaining your RV and that includes the door hinges and the locks. Use WD40 or a similar product to regularly oil the locks – especially if you’re staying in a humid area or one that’s very cold.
Switching to a code lock
Many RV’ers choose to upgrade their RV by adding a keyless code lock. This allows you to unlock the RV simply by pressing the pre-configured code. These locks usually come with a wireless keyfob remote that allows you to lock and unlock the door from a distance.
For the purpose of this post, the great benefit of having a keyless code lock is that you can always just key in the code – even if you lose the remote. Of course, the key (no pun intended – well, just a little maybe 😉 ) would be to actually remember your code. But most people usually already have some 4 digit code memorized so it shouldn’t be too much trouble.
By the way, with these type of locks you get another added benefit. If you’re away and there’s an emergency – say that you left the oven running and the smoke alarm went off – you can just let a neighbor know what your code is over the phone. They’ll be able to enter the RV and quickly handle the situation while you’re away.
Keeping the key securely attached to your body
If you’re sticking to regular key, one thing you could do is try really hard not to lose it! That’s always an issue for us when we rent a vehicle. If you lose the keys of a rental, you have to get locksmith and pay a heavy fine for the replacement (unless you have good roadside assistance which we never bothered with). What’s more, with the new car models, the only way to get a replacement key would be to get to a dealership.
On our last trip, we drove all the way to Alaska and back, so for long stretches of the road there was just no cell reception, let alone a nearby locksmith and the nearest dealership for our Nissan was in Whitehorse – easily a 2-3 days driving distance from many points along the route. In short, we wanted to really make sure we never lose our key.
So, what we do in these cases is invest in a good keychain that can be secured to a garment we’re wearing. Something like this –
You secure one end to your pants and the other to the key, and then just place the key in your pocket. In the unlikely event that your key decides to leave your pocket – it’s still securely attached to you.
Making sure a family member has a spare key
If you’re traveling with your family or spouse, creating spare keys for others can be one of the wisest investments you’ll make. Just make sure at least one other family member actually carries that key along with her or him.
Hiding a spare key
Hiding a spare key can be a great idea but you have to be smart about it.
Clearly, just shoving a key in some “hidden” shelf under your RV isn’t wise. For one thing, it can easily get lost as you’re driving around. For another, a miscreant walking by can get to it. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where it might pay off to search for a key.
So, how can you hide a key?
The trick is to use a code box –
Place your key inside the lockbox and then lock it with a combination code only you know. Then hide the lockbox out of view and that’s your backup key.
Some people use the lockbox on their handle but that has its disadvantages. For one thing, seeing the lockbox is like putting a big sign that says “my key is in here”. Could be too tempting for a thief to try and steal the lockbox itself and then try to hack it open by force. Of course, you can use the sturdy lock of the lockbox to lock it into something but again – it can be difficult to find something on your RV to attack it to that will be strong enough.
Your best bet is to draw less attention to the lockbox and place it out of sight. Use it only to store a copy of your key for emergency use – not as a place to keep your key on a regular basis.
Don’t forget your ignition key!
We keep talking about the key to the RV – and how to avoid getting locked out – but if you have a separate key for the ignition, you definitely want to practice the same prevention measures to avoid losing that as well! Including keeping a copy somewhere. You could keep that copy inside the RV – as long as you have a backup key to let you inside the rig.
But where to hide the lockbox?
Again, out of sight is what you need. It should also be a place where the lockbox won’t fall out of when you hit a bump on the road.
The best place would be one of the storage compartment on the outside of your RV. Now, in most RV’s these compartments are themselves locked, so it won’t make sense to place your lockbox in them. However, usually one or two compartments don’t have locks. These would be the compartments holding the propane tanks and batteries.
The reason these compartments don’t have locks is safety. In case of an emergency – like a small fire – it helps to be able to pull open the latch and quickly remove the propane or batteries – without having to deal with a lock.
Those compartments would this be a great place where you can hide your lockbox. Avoid attaching it to a pipe though – the pressure can damage the pipe over time – and the last thing you want is a propane leak under your rig. If you can find another spot where you can anchor the lockbox that’s great.
You can also get small magnetic lockboxes that can be conveniently attached to the underbelly of your rig. Depending on the material, you may be able to attach one inside the compartments – or you could crawl under the RV and find a secure place to attach it.
Now you have your emergency key – in case you lose yours and become locked out of the RV. All you have to do is remember the code for the lockbox! Just don’t write it down next to it, of course. Use something else if you need a reminder.
How about you?
Did you ever get locked out of your RV? Care to share the story and let us know what happened and how you solved it? Did you lose your keys or was the lock jammed? How did you finally manage to get in? I’d love to hear your story, or just get more tips on how to handle being locked out of an RV – and how to prevent it.
Want to read more? These 49 tips for RV maintenance can help you stay out of trouble.