How to Open a Safe That You Purchased in a Storage Auction

Open Safe

Finding a safe in a storage unit is not a common occurrence; However, it does happen. In my first year of buying storage units alone, I found five. Three of those five had no valuables inside of them; However, after I had them opened, I was able to resell them and make a small profit. Used safes can bring a pretty penny and they typically sell fast. Not only that, you never know what valuables may be inside.

I'm sure most of you have seen the episode of Auction Hunters where the guys use a cutting torch to open a safe. Using a cutting torch is a bad idea. If there were high-end items inside the safe, they could be damaged by the flames or heat. Some of the safes I have opened contained precious items like collectible paper currency, valuable documents, stamp collections, mint proof sets, cash, watches,  jewelry & an antique revolver. It isn't worth risking damage to items like these just to save a few bucks.

Trying to break into any safe with a resale over $75 is like throwing money away. For example: a Sentry standard size fire safe with a retail value of $150 would cost less than $50 to have opened and would typically resell for $75-$100. If you were to break into this safe, it would be unsellable. Also, some safes have a re-locker mechanism. Though the designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, if the re-locker is tripped when the when someone is trying to break in, it triggers a set of auxiliary locking devices which will lock out the safe completely. Even the proper combination will not open the safe once the re-locker has been activated.

Hire a locksmith or a safe technician. This will save you money in the long run because they can typically open the safe without causing permanent damage to it. Then, you can resell the safe and recover the fees you paid to have it opened and, in most cases, turn a small profit. If you are lucky enough to find valuables inside, that's just icing on the cake.

So, how does the locksmith open the safe?

This really depends on the type of safe. If it is a standard size fire safe and the previous owner never changed the factory issued combination, the locksmith can usually make a phone call to the manufacturer and have it opened in minutes. If the original combination has been changed, they may need to drill a small hole on the side of the tumbler, which can be easily soldered. The fees for these services range from $30-$50 for a standard re-key or replacement combination to $50 -$100 to have the safe drilled and the tumbler combination changed.

If it is a common fire safe, and you want to save a few bucks, you can contact the manufacturer directly. Most manufacturers will charge you around $35 for a replacement combination. They will require you to sign an affidavit and have it notarized and it can take up to a week to receive the code. Keep in mind, there is no guarantee that this will open the safe since the original combination may have been changed. Once again, I recommend hiring a locksmith who specializes in safes. In most cases, locksmiths won't charge you a fee if the manufacturer's code doesn't work and you have them open by another method immediately.

If the safe opens by key only, the lock can be picked or drilled and replaced inexpensively. If it is an antique or a high security safe, it may require you to hire a safe cracker. Most crackers charge a minimum of $300 to open a safe; However, this shouldn't cause dismay. Chances are, if you have to hire a cracker, the safe is worth a lot of money.

I hope this article has been helpful.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The cost to unlock and open a safe is based upon several factors. For example: The difficulty of the lock varies from safe-to-safe. Also, many mechanical locks are now manipulation proof, as we are in the 21st century. The same applies with the latest technological changes to safes, digital locks. The thickness of a safe and the material in which it is made make a big difference in the effort required for ultimately being successful at opening a safe. If a safe has anti-drill plates, standard re-lockers, glass plates with re-lockers or time locks (most have at least two), a person can figure they’ll need to invest roughly the same amount they spent on buying the safe in the first place, in order to have it unlocked and opened.

  • I bought a “Dibold? Safe at an auction for 20 dollars. There is no combination and the only person who may have known the combination passed away about 4 months ago, consequently it is probably empty, but I would like to get it opened. Any thoughts?

  • I got a safe from an auction, but I can’t figure out how to get it open. It makes sense that I might want to get a professional to help me out with this! That would be a good way to ensure that I get access to everything I need.

  • We have a large Globe-Wernicke Co. safe from the 1920’s, that belonged to my grandfather. We don’t know the combination, and the locking bolts are extended so it doesn’t close. We’ve tried selling it, with no luck yet. Wondering if you might have any suggestions. Thank you!

    • Carrie, since the safe is open, I believe a locksmith can get the combination for you rather easily, or at very least, switch the tumbler. I usually have good luck selling things on Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Due to the weight of the safe and the high cost of shipping, I don’t recommend eBay for this item, unless you list it as local pick-up only. Hope this helps!

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