Today: The Saab that Locked Itself

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 07, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 80-year-old father owns an '03 Saab. About two months ago, the electric locking mechanism on the driver's door stopped working. Now the door cannot be opened from the inside or the outside. The Saab dealer has had the car for six weeks, with no hopes of getting that part in the near or distant future. So my father can't open the door, and at his age, he's not going to be hopping over the passenger seat to get to the driver's seat. Saab has told him that no other vehicle uses the same part, and there is no solution. Any ideas? He can't afford to buy a new car.

-- John

RAY: Well, my first idea is that he should go collect his car from the Saab dealership before the bank takes Dad's car as part of a foreclosure settlement and auctions it off.

TOM: It probably would get auctioned as parts to someone else who needs a door lock for an '03 Saab!

RAY: It's tricky business, now that Saab is in bankruptcy. GM, which owned Saab until a couple of years ago, says it will honor warranties on the Saabs it sold. And Saab says it's putting some kind of program in place to help other customers with parts, but who knows if that will work out or not? It's not a good situation.

TOM: So in the meantime, here's what I would do if it were MY father's car. I'd rescue the car from the dealership and have it towed to a body shop.

RAY: Then I'd ask the body shop to "get inside the driver's door" and disable the locking mechanism permanently, so that the door never can be locked again.

TOM: There are three ways they can get in there: They can use a "slim jim" or similar device, like tow-truck drivers use. They can pry off the interior door panel. Or they can take a saw and cut through the door skin on the outside.

RAY: The skin -- the sheet metal that goes over the door's frame -- is replaceable. Once they've disabled the locking mechanism so you can always open the door, they can repair the sheet metal and paint it to be just like new. Or, if you want a conversation starter, you can leave the hole there, and Dad can unlock the car every day that way.

TOM: If you go for "permanently unlocked status" (which is what I'd do), your dad will just have to forget about locking the car. And he'll have to stop leaving anything valuable in it. That's an inconvenience. But not as much of an inconvenience as having no car, right?

RAY: And it's unlikely to be stolen. First of all, the car's going on a decade old. And second, even car thieves know it's almost impossible to get parts for Saabs now!

TOM: Your other option is to look for a used part for the door lock. Call a good junkyard and ask them if they can find one for you. After all, you don't need a new one; you just need one that still works.

RAY: And if they find one, tell them you'll take the rest of the car, too. You never know what parts you're going to need next. Good luck, John.

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