What to Try When Your Safe Combination is Not Working

Last Updated on September 25, 2023

Dial Safe Won’t Open Using the Combination

Your safe combination has stopped working. You are certain it’s the correct combination but for some reason the combination will not open the safe. This article is for you, read on. If you’ve LOST the combination to your safe, checkout our video on YouTube “How to Get Into a Safe When You Don’t Have the Combination.” That video will guide you on your options, and what you will need to do in order to get in.

When a safe won’t open with the combination first try relieving pressure on the bolt work of the safe and check for a loose screw in the handle. If that does not open safe open, test for wear on the dial (a.k.a “drift”). Call a locksmith for serious safe failures (such as broken mechanical linkage in the door or a re-locker that has been thrown). In all but the most serious cases, you will be able to open the safe on your own.

In the following table we show the problem, the cause, and what to try to get into a safe when the combination is not working. If these tips don’t get you in, it’ll be time to call a locksmith that does safe openings.

What to Do When Your Safe Combination is Not Working


What to Do When the Combination to Your Safe Does Not Work
The Issue with the Safe Cause of the Problem What to Do to Get In
Are You Dialing the Safe Combination Correctly? Left-right? Right-left? Did the dial stop? See How to dial a safe Combination.
Safe Combination has Drifted Dials wear out and the numbers for the combination drift. Try the combination +1 digit, then +2. Try -1 digit, then -2. See Drift Dialing Details. If this works, hire a safe service / locksmith to service the dial before closing the safe.
Bolts are Binding Pressure on the bolts can prevent the bolts from retracting. Push on the bottom of the door with your foot while pulling and turning the handle. See Safe Bolts are Jammed.
Safe Handle Screw Has Come Loose Typically, a hex screw secures the handle to the spindle. Handle will freely spin even before a code is entered. Tighten the hex screw. See Know the Difference between Loose Handle and Clutched Handle below.
Broken / Loose Linkage in Door Everything appears to operate, handle turns, but bolts don’t retract.

You will need a How Much Does it Cost to Open a Safe.

See When You Need to Drill the Safe below for details.

Safe Relocker Has Fired If the safe fell or was hit, a relocker may have fired to lock the safe down. Locksmith will need to drill out the relocker to open the safe. See When You Need to Drill the Safe below for details.

The Most Common Reason a Combination Safe Won’t Open

First, be sure you are dialing the combination correctly. If it has been a while since you last opened the safe check out our article on How to Dial a Safe Combination. Believe it or not, this is the most common reason we see for a safe not opening with the combination.

Safe Combination Drift – When to Dial Up / Dial Down the Safe Combination

Try Incrementing / Decrementing the Combination’s Numbers

When is the last time you had your safe dial serviced? Dials, like all mechanical parts, need servicing to stay in great condition. If it’s been years since the dial was serviced, or if the dial was hit in some one, then it’s very possible that the dial has drifted.

Safe combination drift is when the numbers of the combination no longer match the numbers that the dial needs to be turned to in order to open the safe. Combination drift can occur in both the up or downward direction. When a safe combination has drifted, the safe will act like the combination was not entered correctly and the safe’s handle will not turn at all.

So, for example, say your combination was set to 25-35-45. If the dial has drifted upward, the combination necessary to open the safe may have become 26-36-46. If you then dialed this combination the safe would open.

The recommended course of action is to try the combination by adding one digit to each number. If that doesn’t work, try to add two digits. If that doesn’t work, then try subtracting one digit for each number in the safe’s combination, and then two digits if that did not work. For extra granularity, our locksmiths try this process using 1/2 digits (so 25 1/2 – 35 1/2 – 45 1/2) in our example above.

It is not necessary to go more than two two digits as safe combinations will not drift more significantly unless the dial has been damaged beyond the ability to dial the combination all together.

If this works, and you can open the safe, IMPORTANT: Hire a local locksmith to come out and service the dial. Thought you may be able to use the new combination for a period of time to open the safe, it will drift again and possibly fail all together, resulting in the safe needing to be drilled.

Safe Won’t Open Because the Safe Bolt Work is Jammed

Too Much Stuff Put In The Safe

One of the most common causes of jammed bolt work, and the easiest to fix, is over stuffing the safe. Another thing that can happen is that something falls down into one of the bolt holes at the bottom of the safe.

When the safe has been over stuffed, the bolts can get stuck in place. The handle will either not turn or will turn part way before stopping.

You can check for this issue by seeing if your safe’s door has a jiggle in it when you pull/push on the handle. Most safes will, and it should. If it does not, try:

    • Pressing inward on the bottom of the safe’s door with your foot while gently pulling on the handle as you turn it.
    • Shaking the handle back and forth rapidly to loosen the bolts, the turn the handle.
    • With a rubber mallet, hit the edges of the safe door (not the dial or the handle – where the bolts go into the safe’s frame at the edge of the door).

If this methods don’t work to open the safe door, a local safe locksmith may be required.

Safe Handle Screw Has Loosened

This one is actually pretty common. Safe handles are most often held into place by a little hex screw located at the bottom of the handle. Over time, the can become loosened.

You can identify this as the issue because when you turn the handle it will freely spin with very little resistance-even when no combination has been entered into the safe.

Don’t confuse this with clutched safe handles. A clutched safe handle is one that will spin under considerable force but not open a locked safe. They were designed this way on purpose. One way someone can try to break into a safe is by hitting the handle very hard in hopes of breaking the locking mechanism in the safe so that the bolts can be then be retracted. Clutch safe handles prevent this because they will spin with enough force so that nothing on the inside of the safe can be damaged.

If you have to put significant pressure on the handle to get it to spin, it is not a loose securing screw.

When You’ll Need to Drill Open the Safe

When all of the above have been tried, then you are likely looking at a more serious reason why the safe won’t open with the combination. After the above, the safe won’t open because something may be broken or the safe has locked down.

Broken Linkages Inside the Door

Good safes have good bolt work, bad safes–the safe you buy at big box stores–have inferior linkages. We’ve seen safes at big box stores holding the bolt work together with a very thing strip of aluminum. Check out this video of me showing the crappy quality of a big box store safe at a very popular big box store.

You Get What You Pay For – Cheap Safes



Poor Quality of a Big Box Store Safe

Quality Bolt Work In a Hollon RG Gun Safe

You can just see the top of that thin aluminum rod used to extract and retract the bolt work in that video. The door bolt work in inexpensive safes is often just spot welded together and breaks easily. Better quality safes secure the bolt work together with bolts. This way during routine safe service, everything can be tightened up if necessary.

If the mechanism to retract the bolts has broken, then there is only one way to get into the safe. A local safe cracker (safe locksmith) will need to come out and drill the safe to force the bolts to retract and get the safe open. For cheap safes, it is often better to just break into the safe and buy a new one than hire a safe locksmith to do a professional opening and repair. It just depends on the value of the safe.

Safe Relocker Has Fired

Most quality safes come with something called a relocker. It is a device that fires a locking pin in order to lock the safe door in place when the safe has undergone some sort of hit. We see this a lot after a safe has been moved to another location. Sometimes they are dropped or hit by a fork lift. It takes a bit to fire off a relocker, but it does happen.

When the relocker has been thrown, the only way to open the safe is to drill out the exact spot that the relocker is securing the safe. This has to be done by a licensed safe cracker / safe locksmith as they know the exact spot (the drill point) that needs to be drilled out. Safe manufacturers guard that information very closely.

The better built the safe, the more relockers it will have and it’s possible that several spots will need to be drilled.

When a locksmith drills a safe he is then able to repair the safe so that it can continue to be used. Drill holes are plugged with cut steel rods to plug the holes and the safe manufacture can send touch up so that the drill point will very nearly be invisible if a relocker had to be drilled out.


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