Safe Opening: Getting a Bid

Get your information together before you call a safe company for a safe opening price.

The most common question we safecrackers hear is "how much do you charge to open a safe?"

That's a very broad question. Pretty much like calling a car repair place and asking "how much do you charge to fix a car?"

See what I mean? What kind of car, and what's wrong with it? It's the same for the safe business: What kind of safe and what's wrong with it?

If you ask the broad-spectrum question but don't supply even general details, the answer is going to be "anywhere from hundreds to thousands." Yikes, right?

Not every safecracker who advertises safe openings can identify safes very well, so it behooves the safe owner to supply some information. And more is better than a little.

"A big old black safe" isn't much help. .

So here are a few items to note before calling:

Maker's name, if visible.
Safe makers commonly either paint their names on safe doors or attach labeling and logo tags, most often on the front of the door.

Copy everything that you see, word for word. Sometimes you'll see small metal tags or stickers attached to the door. Don't tell the the safe company "there's a metal tag but the writing is really small." We already know it's small. Often those small letters numbers and words will give a safe company a very good general idea of what you have, even without a maker's name.

Mechanical dial or keypad?
If it's a dial, look closely at the center knob (dial grip) and also copy any letters words or numbers you see there if present. (Yes, we already know they're small.)

How many numbers on the dial?
Is it numbered 0-50, 0-70, 0-99, 0-130, or any other variation? This can be helpful.

Shape of the index mark at the top of the stationary ring around the dial (12:00 position).
Is this a straight up and down mark, does it look like a "Y" or a bird track, an arrow, a small circle, or what? This can be helpful.

Dial material and color?
Is it black metal with white number markings, silver or gray metal with black number markings, black plastic with white numbers, or what?

Does the dial turn smoothly, not at all, or does it turn roughly in spots?

Digital or Push Button Keypads
Shape of keypad?
Round, rectangular, oblong or other?

Button shape and material?
Round buttons, square buttons, or other? Are the buttons rubber, plastic, or blister-type membrane?

0-9 with * and # symbols, 0-9 with other symbols or words like "ENTER," "START", or anything else?

Is there any response when buttons are pushed (beeps, LED flashes, tones)?

Can you see a battery compartment cover?
Some safe lock keypads have their batteries underneath, and must be slid upward to get to the batteries, other keypads must be pulled straight outward to get at the batteries, and some have small plastic panels on their undersides that can be opened to expose the batteries.
Try these actions, but never force anything.

When you know the combination to a digital safe lock and it beeps and flashes when buttons are pushed but still won't work, ALWAYS try installing brand new high quality (Duracell or Everready) batteries before calling for help. Low batteries are a major cause of problems, because users reason that if it beeps or flashes when they enter a valid code, but won't open, it's broken. Making beeps and flashes takes almost no battery power to speak of, but the lock batteries need a full blast of power to energize the lock sufficiently to open.

So save embarassment and aggravation and try new batteries first. Digital safe locks don't get their power from the wind, they're mostly battery powered. (I should add here that one well-known brand of digital safe lock has a knob or rotating keypad that turns by hand to power a small built-in generator, so it doesn't use batteries.) Otherwise you will pay a safe technician to come and install new batteries. These will be the most expensive batteries you ever bought, because you'll pay at least that company's show-up charge, and you won't be happy about it.

How many doors on the safe?
Safes can have one door or two doors. Don't get confused. A double door safe has two doors but one lock.
If a safe has two doors and a lock on each door, what you have is essentially two safes.

Door shape:
Rectangular or round?

Is there a dial or keypad plus a handle that moves the door bolts?
If yes, is the handle shaped like a "T" or like an "L"? Some safes have a spoked ship's wheel type of handle, and still others have a simpler round wheel to control door bolts. Take note.

This can be important in helping a safe technician differentiate whether your safe is a fire resitive unit or a burglary resistive unit (which generally costs more to open). So Look closely at the safe bottom from both front and side to see if it's on wheels. A lot of wheeled safes have decorative trim skirts that reach almost to the floor and effectively obscure any wheels from a casual glance.

Floor safe or not?
Don't make the mistake of thinking that if your safe sits on the floor it's a floor safe. That would suggest that attaching to the ceiling would make it a ceiling safe.
A "floor safe" is a safe installed in your floor (or above the floor in a block of poured concrete) with concrete poured around it.

The "floor safe" mistake can be a source of confusion if you call your safe a "floor safe" when it isn't. It can also inflate the opening price quote you hear, because many safe companies charge more money to open one than they would for the same safe if it's not in the floor. Floor safes mean working on hands and knees with expensive tools on surfaces that are usually not the cleanest, and often with foot traffic, which is distracting and annoying at best. I'm one of those who routinely and unapologetically quotes floor safe openings higher, because the work is neither fun nor comfortable.

Approximate age.
If known, this doesn't hurt.

Approximate dimensions
Specifics leave nothing to conjecture, but not everyone has a tape measure handy. I'm just as happy to hear dimensions like "ankle-high, knee-high, waist-high, chest-high," or whatever you come up with.

The Easy Alternate Way
Is your head spinning yet?
There's actually more info we safe techs find useful to know when giving opening quotes, but this will do for now.

There's an easier way to get an opening price quote if you'd rather bypass all the tedious info-gathering without paying a safe company to come, look, and give an opening bid (usually if we charge for this it's applied to the opening fee if you go for the job on the same visit).

a) Take clear, detailed digital photos of the entire safe front (direct and angled views), a close-up of the dial or keypad and handle, and close-ups of any small metal tags attached to the door or frame. The sharper and clearer the detail the better.

b) Call a safe company, get ther email address, and send the photo with a cover note describing not only the problem but also the exact result desired.

Just opening the safe door does not automatically restore usability to your safe.
By "result desired" I mean you need to clarify whether you just want the safe opened only, or whether you want it opened and made usable and secure again. Quite often the safe will need repairs, parts, service, or all three after an opening. More work after opening means more expenditure.

When I open a safe on an "open only" quote, the job is finished when the door opens. When I know this before quoting, my price won't be as high as "open, repair, and make useable."

Next time through will be a little about how to best accomodate the needs of the safecracker you hire.


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