How To Get Safe Opening Prices

Ken Dunckel

Safes and Vaults Opened and Repaired San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California
415-203-7298 CA License 1985 CA Contractor License 553337

"How much do you charge to open a safe?"

This is one of the most common questions I hear. The answer is there are as many prices as there are safes, and there are a lot of safes. It's like asking a garage owner "How much do you charge to fix a car?" You are going to have to supply more information before the garage owner can even begin to tell you. Make, model, year, and the nature of the problem. That makes sense, right?

It's the same with safes, but here's the frustrating part. The majority of people can rattle off a list of every car they ever owned; make, model, year, color, and what have you, and they can do it from memory. This is pretty good when you think about it, given that so many people change cars several times or more through their adult car-owning lives.

Not so with safes, even if they've only owned one, even if they've had it twenty years or more, even if they been using it on a regular basis. So it's more likely that I'll get a pause when I ask a question about a caller's safe, followed by "I don't know," or "wait, I'll have to go look."

That's probably because people identify more with their cars than with their safes, despite having the same one for a longer time than they would have a car.

Whatever the reason, what usually follows is a Q&A session which can be as frustrating for the caller as it can be for the person trying to supply pricing. Some people don't listen too hard or don't give the safe company rep a chance to get everything out. They hear one question and cut off the next question, with "wait, I'll go look." When they come back to the phone with the answer only to hear another question they usually sound a little surprised or even annoyed.

It only gets worse as the questions continue, and there can be a handful of them. It's because the people calling who open with price questions are usually only interested in the final dollar amount they will have to put on the check they write.

That's fair enough, but the only way for the safe company to give intelligent prices is to know what the hell it is they'll be expected to do with what kind of safe. Some safes are a lot cheaper to get opened and repaired than others, because there are so many different kinds. And keep remembering, too, that safes, whether big or small, are supposedly designed to be difficult to open except by their combinations or keys.

So if you're looking for pricing on getting a safe open, here are some of the pertinent details you should be able to supply to the safe company you call.

Maker's name. Most of the time this will be on a label or tag on the door, sometimes very prominent, sometimes not. Not all of the time, but most of the time.

Model. This can be a little harder to know, because not all safe makers put the safe model designation on the outer door. If you still have the bill of sale (assuming it's not stored in the locked safe) the model will often be noted there.

Safe rating. This is another piece of info that's not usually at the tip of an owner's tongue. When it is, it's a real big help to people like me in giving pricing.

Size: Not as important as too many callers think. Remember, you want me to open it, not pick it up and throw it across the room. A small safe can be as expensive or more expensive to a open than a big one.

Another comment I get about size is the inference that because it's small or at least not giant, the caller expects a "small" price. Not always true.

Serial Number: Sometimes helpful, but most usually helpful to the maker, not people like me. There is a faction of safe technicians that religiously gathers the serial number and then calls the safe maker to see if the safe maker has a record of the combination the safe was set on when it left the factory. If they can get this, they often visit the customer and try the supplied numbers. If the numbers supplied work, they charge for the visit. I don't typically do this; I'm the person who comes out after the factory-supplied numbers don't work. What I usually do is tell the owner to call the factory him or herself and get the numbers direct if the factory will supply them.

A side note here: I don't like the idea of safe combinations, or override combinations being on file somewhere. I don't record customers' combinations after setting them, either. However, some makers do this routinely, and I'm not in charge of what they do.

Bottom line: The best way to get accurate pricing for having your safe opened is to take a sharp, clear, full frontal photo of your safe and text or email it to the safe company. Any such photos should include a close-up of dial, keyhole, and handle.
I'm experienced enough to be able to ID most safes this way, and then I supply the requested pricing. Seeing a picture saves a lot of brain damage on both sides of the transaction; callers act very pained when they're forced to supply information that requires going back and forth from safe to phone repeatedly.

Last, too many people seem to automatically assume that once a safe get opened, it's ready to be used again. This is true in some cases, but definitely not always. Some (not all) safes must have something forceful done to them in order to be opened, such as drilling. Opening via any kind of force usually dictates that there must repairs of some kind before a safe can be used again and provide security.

So opening is one job, repairs after opening is another job. This is why it's important to let the safe opening company know what end result you want.

"I just want it opened." is one job.
"I want it opened and I want to use it again." is another job.

Most halfway decent to good safes can be repaired and used again after a forceful opening. Many cheap safes (think "big box store safes") are not repairable, because their makers opt for foreign-made nonstandard locks, and don't as a rule make repair parts available. This doesn't' necessarily mean the opening charges for such boxes will be super cheap. In fact, these are the safes that most often have owners saying "you want more to open it than I paid for it."

The answer is that when you buy the cheapest stuff, you save on the front end, and you often pay on the other end. You don't get heirloom quality stuff at the big box stores. Sorry about that.


Note to readers: Please feel free to comment and post your thoughts about this and any of my posts. Don't worry, I'm pretty thick-skinned. Thanks.
Ken DunckelSafes and Vaults Opened and Repaired
San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California

CA License 1985
CA Contractor License 553337


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