Make Your Old Car Feel Newer In 10 Seconds: Lube Your Locks With This Stuff

Photo: Andrew P Collins
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If your car’s more than 10 years old and you’ve never lubricated its locks, I bet this cheap and simple job will make your keys seem to magically work better. So here’s a rundown of two common types of lock lube, and my findings after field-testing both.

(Full disclosure: I don’t have any affiliation with 3-In-One or any lock lube company. I bought the stuff in this test myself for my personal use.)

Just Get Yourself Some 3-In-One Dry Lube

I recommend a pressure-propelled can lube like 3-In-One Lock Dry Lube over good ol’ fashioned graphite lube because it’s easier to aim, it’s cleaner, and has better penetrating qualities than powder. It’s also anti-corrosive, supposedly, which means it might actually protect your lock against rust. And, it’s about the same price as graphite anyway.

For those who would like to dig in a little more, read on.

Illustration for article titled Make Your Old Car Feel Newer In 10 Seconds: Lube Your Locks With This Stuff
Photo: Andrew P Collins

Turning the key in the door of my 1998 Mitsubishi Montero to unlock it was like opening a treasure chest that’d been at the bottom of the ocean for 20 years. It involved a godawful screeching sound and required way more force than should have been necessary. This, my friends, is what I might call an Extremely Unlubed Lock scenario.

My locks were actually so gummed up that I needed to use two lock lubricating products. That’s unusual. The benefit is, now I get to provide you with this side-by-side competition between powder lube in a tube and magical mystery dry-lube-that-feels-like-liquid in a can.

Dry Powder Graphite Lube Extra Fine (Tube)

Illustration for article titled Make Your Old Car Feel Newer In 10 Seconds: Lube Your Locks With This Stuff

Graphite has been used as a lubricant since pretty much the industrial revolution. You might have used it to make your Pinewood Derby car go faster. (Any former Cub Scouts in the house?) It’s still used to lubricate locks because it smooths out metal-on-metal contact without attracting and holding dirt as an oil would. Also, it’s cheap.

You can get this stuff at pretty much any hardware or auto parts store for like $3 to $5, and that tube gives you enough graphite to lube the locks of half the cars in the parking lot. The brand doesn’t matter. Dry graphite lube powder is dry graphite lube powder, regardless of what color the tube is.

Graphite powder is, like I said, easy to acquire but if you need an eight-pound industrial pail you can cop it from Grainger. (You can get the little consumer-sized tubes from Graphite Store if you don’t feel like going to a brick-and-mortar.)

I had some in one of my toolboxes so I just stuck my car key a tiny bit into the lock, so the metal cover would be pushed aside and squeezed the tube (gently!) twice to let a couple of puffs of the powder into the lock.

The best thing about graphite powder is that it’s readily available. The worst is that it kind of likes to get everywhere. It’s so fine that it gets into your fingerprints, resting in the little canyons in there, so try to be as gingerly as possible when you pump it into a lock. In the lock, you want it to get everywhere, for max lubrication.

I would advise being conservative with your application because you can always add more. But in my experience, you can’t really add too much. If you do, the excess will blow away soon enough. Don’t try to blow it away with your mouth, though. It will fly back into your eyes and nose. You will hate that.

A little poost of the stuff in your lock should make its operation smoother immediately. In that case, job done. But not always.

3-In-One Lock Dry Lube (Can)

Illustration for article titled Make Your Old Car Feel Newer In 10 Seconds: Lube Your Locks With This Stuff

Dry powder graphite lube has worked plenty well for me in the past, but this time, the Montero’s key still wasn’t really cranking smoothly the day after my liberal application of the stuff. So I picked up an alternative: Lock Dry Lube from a brand called 3-In-One that also makes a gimbal oil I like.

I paid $3.79 for a can the size of half a Red Bull (it’s $3.98 at Lowe’s), but as with the powder, you only need a little bit per lock. So it seems to be pretty much the same price-per-use as the powder.

The 3-In-One website has a map for where you yourself can gocan buy this stuff

What’s it made of? What are the “3” things going into one? Who knows, who cares, what would we do with that information, anyway. It’s a dry lubricant propelled by pressure that feels like a liquid. Makes sense to me!

The can says that the stuff is safe on all materials except certain (clear) plastics, so keep it away from that and you should be fine.

Once you shake the can, you can adjust the little red nozzle (be gentle, the plastic spray tip and trigger aren’t too robust), stick it into your lock, and spray away for a second or two. I gave my Montero’s door lock three beat-long squirts, squirted the key for good measure, and locked and unlocked the door a few times.

The action was remarkably smooth in seconds. Like, almost disconcertingly smooth. But I didn’t break anything–I applied this stuff a week ago and the SUV’s still locking and unlocking just fine. Beautifully, actually. It’s like microwaved butter on hot toast.

3-In-One also claims to have anti-corrosive properties, but here in SoCal I won’t be able to test that for you in the near future.


I’ve been really happy with the smoothness I’ve gotten out of locks with graphite powder, but the 3-In-One stuff actually made it feel like the entire locking mechanism was brand new. Better than new, almost, actually. It left just enough resistance in the lock to make it feel like it was working, but otherwise, after application, the using the lock feels more like pushing a button with this stuff.

I think the 3-In-One creates a more comprehensive, so to speak, lubrication situation because of the way it comes out of the can like a liquid despite being “dry.” It gets into cracks and crannies more easily than powder and ends up giving you better lubrication coverage, too.

If you do a lot of driving where there’s road salt or sand, lock lubing could really make your key systems feel fresh. But even if your car’s just been driving a long time, I have a feeling a spritz of this stuff would make its doors lock and unlock more smoothly and make the car feel younger.

At least, assuming you’re one of the dozens of Americans who, like myself, still use the key slots in your car doors at all.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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On the 3-in-1 spray:

I used it when I refurbished the mortise lock mechanism on my front door (108 years old). Can confirm, amazing stuff. I have no way of saying with any certainty that it feels like new, but I can’t imagine it felt much smoother back in 1912.