Mechanical vs Electronic Safe Locks

Last Updated on September 25, 2023

The debate between which safe lock is better, mechanical safe locks or electronic safe lock, isn’t just one of personal preference.

One safe lock is entirely mechanical. It is less likely to fail. But, digital safe locks are much easier to use, and easier to repair should they ever fail. Let’s compare the locks and bust some myths.

The best safe lock isn’t a mechanical or an electronic safe lock. The best safe locks are dual locks. Dual safe locks have both digital pin-code entry and a mechanical dial as a fail-safe. Locksmiths recommend dual locks first, followed by EMP rated digital safe locks.

Why Digital Safe Locks Are Better than Mechanical Locks

We are discussing quality locks, on quality safes. All electronic locks in this article cannot be bounced open or opened with a magnet. Those are techniques used on, basically, toy safes.

Our recommendation is for Type 1 electronic safe locks and not the very inexpensive safe locks you find on low-end, big box store safes.

Electronic safe locks are better than the combination safe locks because you can access the safe quickly when you need to. For fast entry, there’s no better way than a user code.

Electronic locks are also less expensive to repair. When a dial lock fails, you’re drilling the safe and replacing the dial. If an electronic lock fails, many times you can simply replace the keypad to get in. No drilling. Dual safe combination locks have a backup mechanical dial mechanism so even if the electronics fail, you’re still getting in.

I find I am a great test for which safe lock a customer will prefer. I was born in 1968. Computers arrived at my high school when I was in the 12th grade. People older than me, prefer the dial locks. They don’t particularly trust electronic safe locks. People younger than me, though, grew up with electronics and generally prefer the ease-of-use of the electronic lock.

The Three Best Electronic Safe Locks

#1 LP Rotobolt

A dual safe lock

The LPO Rotobolt is dual entry lock, meaning there is a redundant method of entry should one method fail.

You can either use a 6-digit pin code to open the safe or the dial located on the front of the lock. The dial has a 4-digit combination.

Ease of Use: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Durability: 4 out of 5 stars

Replacement Cost If Fails: 3 out of 5 stars

Will You Need to Drill Safe if Fails: Never. If one method fails, use the other method.

The LT Rotobolt electronic components are UL listed Type 1, the highest electronic grade available and the dial mechanism is UL Listed Group 2, the most common professional rating for residential safes. The safe allows for 2 digital codes. One code is for a manager, the other code is for a user who doesn’t get programming access.

The lock has a low battery warning to prompt users to change the battery. The 9v battery is easily accessed from the bottom of the face plate.


Never get locked out.

Quick access via pin code.

1-year limited warranty

Easy to change pin code


Only supports a right-handed door configuration.

More expensive than other safe locks.

Hard to change dial combination

#2 EMP Rated S&G Digital Safe Lock

EMP Rated Digital Safe Lock

There are some other good quality digital safe lock brands out there. We especially like those from SecuRam as well.

What sets this lock apart though is its EMP rating. Many customers we talk to, are concerned about electronics failing in the event of a large electromagnetic pulse (which can be caused by a solar flare or other weapon)

Most failures of electronic safe locks are within the keypad. When the keypad fails, it can easily be swapped out. Your code is stored on components inside of the safe, so once swapped out, you’re as good as new. This makes the S&G EMP Safe Locks very affordable to replace.

Ease of Use: 5 out of 5 stars

Durability: 4 out of 5 stars

Replacement Cost If Fails: 5 out of 5 stars

Will You Need to Drill Safe if Fails: Unlikely. Most failures are a result of the keypad and that can simply be replaced.

The S&G EMP rated Spartan lock is a UL listed Type 1, the highest. Battery replacement is handled from the face of the lock, so you won’t get locked out. You also get a visual low-battery indication. Like the LP Rotobolt, the S&G Spartan lock supports two codes, a master and a user.


Most affordable to replace if it fails

EMP tested and resistant.

Quick pin code access.

2-year limited warranty

Easy to change pin code


If the electronic failure is inside of the safe, the safe will need to be opened by a safe locksmith service.

#3 S&G Dial

Sargent and Greenleaf Dial

If you’re going to go with a dial, go with the company that has been making them for over 160 years.

Ease of Use: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Durability: 5 out of 5 stars

Replacement Cost If Fails: 1 out of 5 stars

Will You Need to Drill Safe if Fails: Almost Certainly

The S&G dial is a UL Listed Group 2 lock. You can find higher rated combination safe dials, but they are not typically used for residential applications.

One of the options of the S&G safe dial is that it can be locked down via a key. The key cylinder is installed on the dial and when locked it prevents the dial from spinning so that the combination cannot be attempted or entered by anyone until the key is used.


Rarely fails because it’s mechanical.


Difficult to use when not used often.

Difficult to remember combination when not used often.

If fails, safe will almost always need to be drilled and then repaired

Hard to change the safe combination

Biometric & Smart Safe Locks

As mentioned about. There are a variety of electronic safe locks available that we did not touch because they did not have a unique feature that set them apart from the competition.

However, SecuRam also makes very good electronic locks. In particular if you are looking for a biometric safe lock, a safe lock you can access remotely, or one that offers audit trail, SecuRam should be considered.

SecuRam Locks


Do Mechanical Safe Locks Fail?

Safe locks do fail. Without regular maintenance the combinations of those locks tend to drift with time and at some point, the owner can no longer get in. For example, if one of your numbers is “45” and you notice you have to dial “45 1/2” instead of “45” it’s time to get your safe dial serviced before it’s too late.

How Do I Get Into An Electronic Safe if the Batteries Die?

Most new safes have the batteries placed in the face plate on the outside of the safe. Those that don’t either have a key override or a temporary way to get power to the keypad.

Do Digital Safe Locks Fail?

We see dial and electronic safe locks fail. The main advantage for an electronic safe over a mechanical lock is that if the electronics on the keypad do fail, most can simply be swapped out by the owner of the safe. You don’t even need a locksmith in this case. If a dial fails, you are definitely hiring a locksmith to drill and repair the safe.

Are Biometric Safe Locks Secure?

Biometric safe lock technology has been improving for years, but it’s true, we still don’t like them very much, and we don’t recommend them in many cases.

We see them often result in false negatives (a registered user not being able to get into the safe) or false positives (a non-register user getting into the safe). You see biometric locks a lot in the cheaper brands of safes. If you’re paying $300 for the entire safe how good do you think the finger-scan technology can be?

The only exception we have seen to this are biometric safe locks from a German company called Burg Wachter. They use biometric safe locks in their high-end jewelry rated safes. These locks require two successful biometric scans to pass before opening the safe in order to reduce false positive results. It also requires that the finger have a pulse, to reduce…well…you know.

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