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I have locks on few vehicles that are in need of lubricating. I had read/heard of several options, and I wanted to see what are the common methods and techniques.

  • Graphite powder. Quite a few people suggested it, including parts shop salesman, so I gave it a try. At first I didn’t realise it was a dry powder (I assumed it was some sort of graphite-based grease), so I ended up getting my hands dirty, but did not get much of an improvement in the end. I could not puff it into the lock itself as the tube opening was too large for the lock slit, so I got some on my key, and tried to get as much as possible inside the lock cylinder. Is there a good method of application of graphite powder? Does it even work as good as it should? I don’t see how it would protect the lock from the elements (which would be an issue with cars with exposed locks, and with motorcycles).

  • Liquid lubricant. Obviously, using something like general-purpose spray lubricant would not do much good, as it would just run off out of the lock cylinder and make a mess. However, I had seen some advice about using some sort of sticky spray (would lithium grease work?) that could work.

  • Grease. Is it possible to use some sort of clean grease for the locks? If it is, would putting the grease on the key and working it inside the lock be sufficient, or is it better to take the lock cylinder out in order to properly lubricate its innards?

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See @metalheart's answer - a spray lubricant like WD40 is the best and simplest option here. –  Rory Alsop Feb 5 '13 at 9:55
    
Note the related question about freezing locks. I voted to reopen. –  theUg Feb 8 '13 at 1:02

3 Answers 3

A tiny shot of WD40 injected with the attached straw does a decent job for me.

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Agreed - this is what I have used in the past. It avoids stickiness, although you will want to place an absorbent towel below the keyhole to soak up excess lubricant. –  Rory Alsop Feb 5 '13 at 9:55
    
WD40 wears off quite quickly though. You need a proper lubricant for a proper lasting result. –  Krom Stern Feb 6 '13 at 5:46
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WD40 is not a lubricant, it's a degreaser. It works because it takes away the old gunk in the lock, but it doesn't lubricate much by itself. –  mindcorrosive Feb 8 '13 at 10:19
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@mindcorrosive, Wiki states that it is a lubricant, light penetrating oil, which forms protective (and lubricative) film. –  theUg Feb 26 '13 at 8:46

I strongly recommend a greaseless lubricant (LPS makes a good one, as do other companies). Graphite is technically better, but is very messy and hard to be effective with. I discourage WD-40 / oils as they tend to attract dirt that causes you to need to clean/relube it sooner. I strongly discourage grease and silicone lubes, those make a big mess and lead to gummed up locks.

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Are the household locks come lightly coated with grease just to protect from moisture in storage? How do I go about protecting automotive locks from moisture? –  theUg Feb 5 '13 at 16:59
    
The household locks that I used to deal with were "clean and dry" in the boxes. If there was anything on them, it was too light to notice (perhaps a light dusting of graphite?). Moisture just doesn't seem to be an issue with the materials that are used. What does seem to be an issue is getting dirt in them. A good greasless lube really just helps you get by with a dirty lock (IMO, the best solution would be pulling and cleaning the cylinder and the pins as I've had to do for people that went silicone crazy and completely gummed things up). –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 5 '13 at 19:10
    
When I was looking for greaseless lubricants, I had noticed there are some that are silicon-based. Are those the ones you advise against, or did you just mean the general purpose lubricnats, and if it is greaseleses, than it is good regardless? –  theUg Feb 6 '13 at 0:25
    
My experience thus far is that if it's called "greaseless" that it's good, but if it's listed as "silicone lube" it's too sticky. –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 6 '13 at 12:44
    
@BrianKnoblauch re: the "silicone lubes" that you discourage, are you talking about silicone greases, or "dry" silicone spray lubes? I've had good luck (so far) with these silicone spray lubes for my household lock cylinders. I chose this over household oil as i felt the silicone spray attracts less dirt. –  mac Jul 24 '13 at 17:20

My local mechanic has recommended using "white lithium grease" (for example, like this) for things like hinges & locks. It is similar to WD-40 in that it's a spray lubricant, but (apparently) it does its job longer (e.g., doesn't wash off or collect dirt as easily).

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