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Were slim jims created for thieves? And do they really trigger side airbags?

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Posted August 3, 2019

You definitely know this tool. If not personally, you’ve seen it in movies. This is the infamous Slim-Jim – a thin strip of metal, used to unlock the car doors without keys. There are many myths surrounding this tool. Was it developed for thieves? Can it trigger side airbags? And are new cars immune to it?

What is the Slim-Jim?

Slim-Jim is a lockout tool, usually made from spring steel, although other materials are sometimes used too. Its length is usually somewhere around 60 centimetres, width – 2-4 cm. At the end of the Slim-Jim there is a hook. Its shape varies between the brands and specializations of the tool, but generally it is rather small. It has to be – Slim-Jims have to penetrate very tight areas.

Slim-Jims are made from spring steel and can have hooks of different shapes. Image credit: Pro-Lok via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

How Slim-Jims work?

Slim-Jim is a very simple tool, but it does require some skill. You have to push it between the glass of a side window and its rubber seal. This way the tool gets inside of the door and can be hooked onto some lever of the lock mechanism. A skilled locksmith (or a thief) can find the necessary rod and pull it up, unlocking the door without tempering with the actual lock. Essentially, Slim-Jims unlock the door similarly how you would unlock them from the inside.

Were Slim-Jims created for stealing cars?

Slim-Jims are manufactured by companies specialized in lock-picking equipment. For example, HPC Inc. is or at least used to be one of the major manufacturers. Slim-Jims were created for locksmiths and even today are sold mostly to professionals. However, thieves get their hands on them too or make their own. It is just a thin strip of spring steel and it is very easy to make.

Can anyone use Slim-Jims to unlock their cars?

Nope, not at all. You have to know the interior structure of your car’s door. You also have to have pretty good understanding how the lock works and where are the rods, which could unlock the door. It is not as easy as it looks. A wrong move could disconnect some rod or a lever and the door would not unlock even with a key. Some jobs are better left to professionals and this is one of them.

Can a Slim-Jim unlock a modern car?

Due to thieves using slim jims, car manufacturers had to come up with drastic security measures. Now lock rods are protected and there is a barrier on the bottom of the window. All major lock components are guarded or protected and it is very difficult to unlock a car using a Slim-Jim. However, in some cases it is still possible. Thinner twisted Slim-Jims are used, but they require an even higher degree of skill and knowledge of the locking mechanism.

Do Slim-Jims trigger side airbags?

A myth that Slim-Jims cause side airbags to deploy is just that – a myth. Airbags are triggered by an impact and not just tinkering with the lock. This myth appeared as a warning to those who would try using Slim-Jims – airbags would injure them. However, multiple tests have confirmed that side airbags do not deploy during lockpicking operations.

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