Safe Combinations On File

Ken Dunckel
Safe and Vault Service SF Bay Area and Northern CA
CA License 1985 CA Contractor 553337

Is Your Safe Combination "On File?"
Lots of people whose safe combinations are lost/unknown ask me if there is some "master override" combination, or some "reset code" that either I or they can enter, open their safe, and return it to service.

The answer is yes for some safes, no for others.

Sometimes there is a combination that might be usable. It all depends on the safe make, the safe maker's policy around this sort of thing, and the lock installed on the safe.

If your safe has a mechanical dial:
(That is, a numbered dial that must be turned a varying number of times in alternating directions to open the lock.) Forgive me if I over-explain this. I just went through hell on the telephone yesterday with a lady who could not comprehend the concept of push-button electronic safe locks vs. mechanical.

Depending on the lock, a mechanical dial can be numbered from 1-50, 1-70, 20-100, or 1-100.

Some (not all) safe makers set combinations at the factory and record the numbers, usually referencing them by safe serial number.

I don't know if they do this for end users who might one day lose their combinations, or for protection against claims by safe dealers who call and say a safe arrived from the factory but the combination for it was missing or inoperable.

Unless a safe owner has a specific arrangement with the safe dealer or service company, dealers and service companies don't as a rule record customers' safe combinations

One thing I do know: Nobody, neither safe dealer nor safe user, wants to pay to have a safe opened. When you're dealing with a locked safe with a lost/unknown combination, being able to have the numbers looked up is (usually) easier on the wallet.

How It Was
The way I was schooled in this industry, safes would be shipped from the factory with combinations set to a single number (usually 50), or set to what is generally known as a "shipping and storage" combination. In the US the most commonly-used shipping/storage combination is 50-25-50.

The understanding was that when a safe was sold, it would be reset to a new combination of the owner's choosing. The user would select numbers, the technician or salesperson would set them, instruct the user on dialing procedure, then watch the user work the lock to be sure the numbers worked for the user. The customer who just worked the new safe would then sign off, to the effect "I tried the safe combination and it worked."

Doing that shortstopped warranty service claims by customers. A common customer claim is "the lock never worked since the safe was delivered." What's more likely is that such people are dialing the lock incorrectly, or that they have lost or forgotten their combinations. You'd be surprised how many people try to get free safe openings this way. Many such people can't conceive that they might be dialing the combination incorrectly, therefore the lock must be broken.

Generally, the accepted "best policy" for safe dealers is to not keep a record of combinations they set. This avoids potential liability. Otherwise, a customer could claim that someone from the safe company used the recorded combination to clean out his safe.

Another potential scenario: What if someone compromises a dealer's combination records? A conscientious safe dealer doesn't want to feel obligated to change every customer combination on record just to avoid liability. Better to not have it on record.

My Policy:
I set combinations on safes and vaults all the time. I don't record or remember them.

The above policy is the same as that of the majority of safe and vault service outfits around the country. I don't care what customers do with their numbers; if they lose or forget them, whose problem is it? (And I don't know where your missing plaid sock is, either.)

I get paid more to open safes than to set combinations. People like me serve the needs of people who can't keep track of important information like their safe combinations. My reasoning is that if being able to open your safe when you want is important, then you'll remember or record the combination. If not, one fine day you get to meet me or one of my cohorts.

I'd like to see more lost combinations, not fewer. I'm trying hard to disprove the adage that nobody gets rich doing what I do, but people who remember their combinations make it hard.

It's Up To You
Do you like knowing that the safe maker has a combination on file for your safe?
Do you even know if this is the case?
You could call the maker and ask if you're curious.

Electronic (Push Button) Safe Locks
The existence of a recorded secondary combination is most often the case when you have an electronic combination lock. Such locks often have the feature of a second combination, which safe makers will often program and keep on file. Gun safe makers do this routinely. They can look up combinations and disclose them to safe companies or end users if the numbers get lost or forgotten. Sometimes there's a fee for this.

If you don't like the idea of a combination being on file for your safe, you should specify to your safe dealer that you have access to any and all combinations for your safe. That way you can change them (if they're changeable). But you'd better keep track of them, because now only you have them. If a secondary combination exists, but the safe maker won't disclose it, you can have a different lock installed, for which only you know the combination.

Some people aren't bothered by the knowledge that their combination is on file. Others feel uncomfortable about it.

Mechanical (Dial) Safe Locks
If you have a mechanical combination lock there can only be one combination for it. If you change the combination that was set at the factory, the factory's record is no longer valid.

As always, reader comments are welcome.

Ken Dunckel


Joseph Russo said…
I've lost my keys and been locked out twice in the past. In both occasions it was very stressful and both locksmiths took ages to respond.
locksmith in Bellevue
You make a good point and I guess I never thought about it that way. We have children in the house so I like to have our guns locked up at all times but I can definitely see the benefits to have various hiding spots in the house where you can easily access your weapons if you are ever faced with a difficult situation.
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