Do combination locks wear out?

We use a Master brand combination padlock to secure our apartment door; the current one has been in use for about two years. Sometimes when I try to open it, carefully lining up the little indicator arrow with the three little “ticks” on the dial representing the numbers (two of which are very easy to line up, being multiples of five with the number right there on the dial), it does not work. “Once, twice, X…back around once, Y…back straight to–oh, godDAMN this thing, not again!” Repeat however many times it takes for the goddamn thing to open like it’s supposed to.

This never happens to my partner (who, in fairness and full disclosure, is much “handier” and better with nearly all things mechanical and electric than me). He insists, even emphatically so, that when the lock doesn’t open it’s because even though I think that I’ve properly lined up the numbers on the dial with the little indicator arrow, was indeed at pains to do so, I *haven’t *(more fairness and full disclosure: I’ve had some age-related loss of close-up vision).

I think it is because the moving parts in the lock are starting to wear out. His Nibs insists (emphatically! vociferously! even vehemently!) that combination lock parts don’t wear out like that and I’m erroneous, mistaken, just plain wrong to think I’m lining up the numbers with the little indicator arrow correctly.

Since the first argument we had about the subject I’ve been incredibly fussy careful to always line up the numbers on the dial with the little indicator arrow. It look like it to me, anyway. Still,sometimes it doesn’t work for me , and the whole thing – the botheration of the lock situation and his insistence that it’s me getting it wrong, every time it happens-- is beginning to really piss me off.

Who’s right? If the combo lock is starting to wear out after heavy use, can we fix it? And will it be wicked of me to feel a touch of schadenfreude when it eventually doesn’t work for* him*?

Sometimes you need to give the lock a push before you pull it.

His being able to operate it without problems indicates operator error. When a combo lock begins to wear out normally it is the latch that either gives trouble releasing or locking. It is not the combination but the latch that normally fails. That is unless it is a really cheap lock. Then they just fail however.

As we get older yes the eyes begin to fail in frustrating ways. I know as I now have to sit in a lighted room with a flashlight to see things that at onetime I could read without any glasses. Grump.

I had a Master Lock wear out but that was after 15 years of thrice daily use. It was on my street locker at work. Some of the coworkers had the same lock for 40-45 years there. Then it just wouldn’t close one day. Not “it didn’t lock” but it wouldn’t close at all. I haven’t had one get harder to open. I’ve had them get easier, to the point where my last daily locker one would open if I got within 2 marks plus or minus of the target. Last number had to be the closest. My current new lock sometimes requires me to try it a time or two to hit. At least it doesn’t lock me out no matter how many tries I take. Wish my phone was as forgiving.

I am sure that combination locks wear out but I have been using the same cheap (<$5) Masterlock for 10 years that lets me spell a word for my combination. I can’t ask for better than that.

Speaking as a Certified Master Locksmith…

My gut reaction is user error. I assume you’re talking about a Master 1500 dial combination padlock, which retails for about $6 but often can be found at discount stores for $3.99. I’ve taken several of these apart and their basic operation is rather similar to any dial combination lock. It has three wheels, each of which has a gate. All three wheels must be lined up so that the fence can drop into the gates, which allows the shackle to open. The dial is connected to the third wheel, and each wheel has flys and pickups that transfer motion from one wheel to the next.

There isn’t a lot that can go wrong. Sure, if the flys and pickups are getting excessive wear, that can effectively change the combination a number or two away from the original combination, but it would take several thousand cycles (perhaps millions?) to cause that much wear. If the lock has been soaked in grease or mud, and then just the outside was cleaned, you might have wheel drag. That’s where one wheel causes an adjacent wheel to turn even when the flys and pickups aren’t touching. Have you been soaking the lock in canola oil or floor wax?

Locks with moveable flys sometimes suffer from a stuck fly. This lock has fixed flys. Dial combination locks which are key-resettable have clutches inside the wheels, which can slip. This lock does not have clutches. If the sides of the gates were getting worn by the fence, that would make the lock MORE forgiving of small errors, not less.

I suppose there could be some loose rivet inside somewhere, allowing some part to flop around and work intermittently. Of all these mechanical possibilities, I think wheel drag is the most likely. But user error beats wheel drag by at least two to one.

As for repairs, you could try hosing out the lock with a big can of Tri-Flow and see if that helps with the wheel drag. WARNING, spraying lubricant into a dial combination lock which has either clutches or moveable flys is a very bad idea. But for a Master 1500 it probably can’t hurt anything. But forget about opening up the lock to make repairs. It’s a disposable lock, intended to be opened and closed six times a day for 180 school days.

My Master combination padlock from high school still works fine after 47 years. The only problem I have with it is remembering the combination (4-6-16)

When it comes to lock failure, I am guessing corrosion is a bigger factor than mechanical wear.

I have the Master combination lock my father used for 40 years at work and got it as a freshman in high school long before that.

I appreciate everyone’s input on this question, even though most of it doesn’t speak well of my competence or eyesight.

from sbunny8

Yes, the same.

Nope, not even once.:slight_smile:

Thanks again, everyone.

as others have stated … accuracy is lost after several thousands of clutches … allowing +/- one or two degrees. and … as quartz suggested … the push 'n pull method helps. one other issue is the first turn needs to zero out the previous combination. look at the number that shows at the arrow on top … now turn the dial one complete revolution (to zero out) … then start with the first number and proceed naturally.

When a customer tells me that they’re having problems dialing a combination, I ask them to dial it while I watch. More often than not, I see a mistake right away. The number one mistake is dialing too fast, which at best leads to misdialing and at worst can damage the lock (but probably won’t damage a Master 1500). Number two is miscounting the revolutions. Number three is overshooting a number. But this is not an exhaustive list.

Locksmiths describe the dialing instructions for a Master 1500 as “Three Two One Right Left Right”, or 321RLR. You begin by dialing right (clockwise) until you reach the first number three times. This is to make sure that all three wheels are moving, which means you are correctly parking the first wheel. If you dial more than three, it’s fine. Next, you dial left (counterclockwise) until you reach the second number twice. This part can be tricky. Suppose the first number was 26 and the second number is 32. When you’re at 26 and dialing left, 32 is hardly more than one eighth of a turn away. You’re supposed to hit that second number twice. This is to make sure that the second wheel is moving but the first one remains where you parked it. People often hit it three times because they dialed so fast that they didn’t see it the first time, which means the first wheel is moving again. You stop on the second number the second time you see it. If you overshoot the second number, you need to start the whole thing over. Finally, dial right (clockwise) just one time to the third number. This is less than a full turn. If you overshoot by just a little on the third number, you can backtrack. But if you overshoot by a lot, the second wheel starts moving again and you need to start over.