How To Unlock Trailer Hitch Lock

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You’re ready for the camping trip you’ve promised the family, but the trailer hitch is locked and there is no key. Here’s how to unlock trailer hitch lock.

Removing a trailer hitch lock without a key will require a few tools and knowledge of where to attack the weakest point on the locking mechanism. A pipe can be fitted over the lock and used to break the unit free, or a grinding wheel can cut the metal bar surrounding the coupler or trailer ball.

Every day, millions of Americans tow things with trailers and pickup trucks. While locks can be a wonderful hitch-mounted accessory to protect against thieves stealing your trailer or hitch ball, they can also confound trailer owners when they can’t be unlocked. Whether the mechanism is a trailer coupler lock or provides a secure lock for the pin on your ball mount, these locks are designed to offer sufficient strength. The good news is that there are ways to remove a lock core if you misplace the key or the lock’s tumbler stops working.  This article will explore typical solutions for unlocking the best trailer hitch locks to keep your family rolling down the highway.

Table of Contents


What Kinds of Hitch Locks Are There?

There are pre different kinds of trailer hitch locks. One is a locking hitch pin protecting the ball mount on a receiver tube, making it impossible for anyone to steal a hitch ball. The other is compatible with the coupler or fits over the hitch ball, much like a bicycle clamp). The locks are easy to install and do not rust, but they have weaknesses.

Coupler Hitch

Most coupler or ball hitch locks are used for anti-theft and security issues offering an impenetrable appearance. They consist of a round metal bar in the shape of the letter U surrounding the coupler’s top (or the bottom) or the trailer ball. There is a tumbler that releases the round metal bar from the locking bracket when you start turning the key.

Receiver Hitch Lock

Many truck owners don’t tow all the time, but they want to have a ball mount firmly attached to their truck so that they can tow something when they need to do so. They purchase a lock that fits on one end of the pin so that the hitch ball cannot be stolen. This lock is usually a round cylinder that slides on one side of the pin with a key insert. These kinds of locks are relatively weak and can be defeated easily.

How to Remove a Lock From Coupler Hitch Lock?

If you have a lock over the trailer coupler or the trailer hitch ball, it looks like a heavy-duty lock that will be tough to remove. The weakest part of the locking mechanism is near the core (tumbler), where the end section of the locking bar fits into the lock.

Shank Method

Look for the hole where the post fits into the fastener (near the coupler lock). Secure a thin but hard piece of sheet metal cut to the size of the locking hole (on some units, a small flat-head screwdriver can also work). Insert the shank tip into the hole and force the locking portion down or up (depending on the configuration). The shank will interfere with the latches on the bar and free the unit so that it slides right off.

Grinding Method

The round metal bar that forms a U shape is the weakest point on this lock. Use safety goggles to protect your eyes as you apply the grinder to the metal bar. (Be prepared, the sparks will fly). This unlocking method is the easiest to apply (if you have a grinding wheel). It usually takes a few minutes of solid grinding to work through the bolt, but with the proper tools, you can make short work of any hitch lock.

Pick The Tumbler Method

Since most trailer locks work on a tumbler method, they can be released with a lock pick. You will need a hairpin and the shank of a safety pin to do the work. Insert the safety pin into the lock opening (where the key is inserted), then insert the bobby pin above it. Work the two instruments together until you hear the tumblers release and yank on the lock with some force. If you have picked the lock successfully, the lock should release, and the bar slide free.

How To Remove A Receiver Hitch Pin Lock

These locks are generally just circular tumbler units that fit over the exposed end of the lynch-pin that holds the ball mount to the receiver tube.

The Pipe Method

If you have a pipe wide enough to fit over the lock mechanism, this method applies force to break the lock’s pin. (The pipe off of your floor jack will probably work fine). Take one end of the pipe and situate it over the tumbler (choose the side with the key or wherever the weakest point of the locking pin is). Once the pipe is over the lock, push or pull the pipe (depending on the configuration). The pipe will act as a wedge against the tumbler and snap off the locking mechanism. You should be able to pull the lynchpin out once that happens. If the pipe is strong enough, you shouldn’t have to use repeated motions to break the lock).

The Pick Method

These locks also work on a tumbler system and are susceptible to being picked. This process takes longer but salvages the lock for use later. You will need a bobby pin and safety pin to work the magic.

Grinding Method

You can grind the lock off, but you will need to use an angle grinder with a 4.5” wheel. (You will have less exposed metal space to attack for the cut, and since you will generate sparks, we don’t recommend this - think gas tank. Just be safe).

Take It To A Technician

This method is not the do-it-yourself option, but it is still one way to remove your trailer hitch lock. Take your tow vehicle to a service center and ask them to grind it off or pop it off. (If your hitch lock is on your coupler, you may need to have a buddy come over). That way, you don’t have to get your hands dirty at all.