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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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  • Note the related question about freezing locks. I voted to reopen.
    – theUg
    Feb 8, 2013 at 1:02
  • FYI - WD-40 makes a spray lubricant specifically for locks. Dec 28, 2020 at 19:08

10 Answers 10

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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, 2013 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). Feb 5, 2013 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, 2013 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. Feb 6, 2013 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, 2013 at 17:20
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For those trying to use graphite, a little trick I learned of in a camera repair manual is to use a liquid to carry the graphite into the areas you're trying to lubricate. The liquid they used in the book was lighter fluid as it evaporates completely leaving no residue, so it will carry or wick the graphite you have mixed into the lighter fluid and then the lighter fluid will evaporate leaving only the graphite, it will also wick into close fitting parts you couldn't possibly apply the graphite to.

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    Remember too, a little bit of graphite works wonders ... too much can cause a gummed up mess. Use it sparingly for best results. Feb 6, 2015 at 17:13
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Professional locksmiths (my best friend is a CML) will tell you to never use grease, oil, WD-40 or the like inside a lock cylinder. That stuff collects dust and dirt, gumming up the pins in the lock cylinder.

Graphite is the way to go, and your local locksmith should carry a plastic tube or rubber squeeze bottle which has a very small tubular opening about 1/2" long on the end. A couple of gentle squeezes, run the key in and out several times, then rotate the key several times.

If the lock is gummed up, use carb cleaner to loosen the gunk, followed by some air. Be sure to protect your paint.

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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, 2013 at 9:55
  • WD40 wears off quite quickly though. You need a proper lubricant for a proper lasting result.
    – Kromster
    Feb 6, 2013 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. Feb 8, 2013 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, 2013 at 8:46
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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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i used 35 weight silcone shock fluid from an R/C truck shocks... hope it works

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After flushing out the lock with a no residue cleaner, use AGS Lock-Ease made specifically for locks. Google it, many professional locksmiths won't use anything else.

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  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! Dec 25, 2017 at 19:03
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I ended up using wd 40 specialist dry ptfe after a spray clean with non-residue fast drying break cleaner. sprayed it behind the outer seal between the bezel and the door panel so that the formula would work its way around the barrel of the cylinder and also sprayed through the tumblers and lock via the key hole by pushing the little lock dust cover latch in with a small flat screw driver.

I discovered a worn/bent lock dust cover latch spring so one of the covers doesn't close all the way for the lock that was stuck. So some dust and water probably gets into the lock over time.

The driver side lock dust cover latch closes all the way but only sometimes. Sometimes stays a very small amount open. From my observation it's cus the spring tension arms are a bit bent so the latch covers don't close evenly.

However, this method unfroze my lock and now operates smoothly. I was able to look inside the key hole with a light and found what looked like a worn coat of graphene so this made me think that it would be a good idea to give it a good clean.

If your car is old, even if the manufacturer did apply a coat of lock grease or a lubricant, that original coat is probably gone by now. So don't worry..clean it and relube! Especially if you purchased the car from someone. What if they used wet oil-based wd-40?? 😬

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  • What is a "worm coat of graphene"? Is that a typo? Sep 21, 2023 at 7:58
  • my bad it's a typo. "worn coat of graphene" ptfe dry lube worked well after cleaning the lock with non-residue fast drying cleaner formula like break clean and giving the break clean like 10 min to dry before applying the dry ptfe spray.
    – LVX-001
    Sep 21, 2023 at 13:49
  • No problem. Thanks for extra details too. Sep 21, 2023 at 13:57
  • @EndAnti-SemiticHate no problem. Hope it works for you too. I also applied some black silicone around the lock cover seal cus it was a bit worn and had some cuts. So water wouldn't coming in. Just a light coat. Don't want the silicone to get into the lock cylinder.
    – LVX-001
    Nov 7, 2023 at 5:46
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I tend to use WD 40 after flushing the barrel out, although you have to repeat this every year, check th key is not worn it turns a brass colour if this happens get a new one cut.

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Heard wd-40 specialist dry ptfe formula works well and the classic du pont Teflon dry lubricant (don't think they make it anymore) works well. Both after a good clean with a non residue fast drying cleaner.

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