Automatic Door Locks Simply Shouldn't Exist

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
automatic door locks simply shouldn t exist

I would like to raise a complaint here with an automotive feature that we’ve all had to live with now for some time: automatic door locks.

Usually, when it comes to cars, the word “automatic” is a good thing. Not the transmission, of course. But automatic climate control, for example, is dramatically better than those manual levers that you’re always twisting and turning and arguing with your passenger about. (“NO HONEY, WE NEED MORE RED!”)

And I think most of us would agree that automatic windows are way better than crank windows. Same with automatic mirrors, and automatic locks, and automatic lights, and an automatic tailgate, and a wide variety of automatic stuff that has replaced our need to really do anything except drive, change the stereo, and speak to our passengers. And if we could get an automatic passenger interaction system, I would probably be pretty excited about that.

But what I absolutely can’t stand is automatic door locks.

Allow me to explain how automatic door locks work. You’re cruising along in your automobile, and you reach a certain speed, and then your doors lock, usually without you noticing it. This is all fine and acceptable, until you go to pick up someone, and they try the handle, and you realize that they’re locked out. Then you have to press the damn button and let them in, when you never really wanted them locked out in the first place.

Here’s an even worse application of automatic locks: my uncle once had a fairly modern vehicle that touted, as a “feature,” an automatic locking system that would lock the doors after the car was turned on for approximately two minutes, regardless of speed. So one time he parked at the dry cleaner, and left the car running in the service drive outside, and went in to drop off his dry cleaning.

Well, after a few minutes, he’s talking to the dry cleaner, he’s standing in line, he’s giving instructions, whatever, and he comes out to his automobile to discover that the doors are locked and the engine is running. The man had locked himself out of a running automobile.

Now, if this sounds like something that absolutely shouldn’t happen, you’re right. And that’s why automatic locks should be abolished in their entirety.

Here’s the thing: if I want my doors to be locked, I personally will lock them myself. I will get in my car, reach over, and press the “lock” button on the door panel. This is a simple action, and I am more than capable, as a human being and a consumer of automobiles, of carrying it out in its entirety.

What I don’t want to happen is the doors start locking and unlocking at random intervals without my knowledge. I don’t want to end up locked out of the car. I don’t want my passengers to end up locked out of the car. I would almost rather have the windows go down at random levels, causing me to quickly react and send them back up like an automotive whack-a-mole game, than have to deal with this crap from the door locks.

This is especially annoying when you’re driving press cars. Allow me to illustrate the situation: you find a nice open spot to take a lovely picture of the latest press car you’ve been given. You pull over. You get out to grab a great image; a lovely shot that will make all the readers excited to learn about your press vehicle du jour. And then you stop. You think. Does this thing have auto locks?

So what you do is, you either leave it running with a window down, or you turn it of off and bring the keys with you. And not once: Every. Single. Time. Because you’re that worried about the potential of the doors automatically locking and blocking you out from returning from your vehicle. You’re that worried about having to call the local PR guy for whatever automaker you’re dealing with, and announcing: “I’ve locked myself out of your press car, and also I’m parked in front of a decaying urban structure that I thought would make a good photo background.”

So I have a piece of advice here for automakers: We like the other automatic features. We like the automatic seats, and the automatic trunk, and the automatic brake lights that pulse really fast when you’re slamming on the brakes. But automatic locking has no business in any of today’s automobiles. Please. Spare us.

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2 of 201 comments
  • Alcaponed Alcaponed on May 05, 2015

    Lockout problems can be solved by having intelligent keys. I used to install remote starters on my old cars but 3 of my cars now have intelligent keys. I go in, start the car, then lock the car from outside while the key is still in my pocket. I can get ready to go and by the time I'm done my climate control will have made the car bearable to drive. Before the smart keys I would just carry a spare in the back pocket in case I locked myself out, which has saved me in the past.

  • Somebody Somebody on Feb 10, 2017

    My wife and I are shopping for a new car and automatic door locks is one of the top requirements. The OP's reasons against automatic door locks puzzle me. Having to unlock the door when you pick someone up hardly seems to be the great inconvenience, especially when weighed against the locked door preventing a homeless person from trying to gain access to the vehicle when stopped at a traffic light - which is what happened to my wife, fortunately her doors were locked. The story about his uncle equally puzzles me as it makes little sense to me to leave a car running with the keys in it. However, I can agree that the automatic door locks should be based on the activity of the car and not a timer. One thing that I do NOT like is automatic door UNLOCKING. I find this to be very dangerous, especially when stopping at a drive up ATM and putting the car in park, only to have the doors unlock - while you are getting cash. Doors should never unlock automatically, IMHO. A good compromise is for the owner to program the car for their preference. I would disable unlocking, and have the doors lock when the car is put into gear or achieves a set speed. The safety of always having the doors locked while driving far out-weighs the minor inconvenience of "reaching over to press a button".

  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys for that money, it had better be built by people listening to ABBA
  • Abrar Very easy and understanding explanation about brake paint
  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?