When your car needs an oil change but you can’t pop the hood, a minor mechanical problem turns into a major frustration. A few tricks and a little patience will usually open a stuck hood, but there are worst case scenarios that take protracted fiddling. Once you do open the hood, always address the underlying problem before you close it again.
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Bypassing a Failed Latch or Cable
Press down on the hood while engaging the interior latch. If the cable between the latch and hood is sticky or stretched, it may not disengage the latch properly. Most cars are designed to disengage the cable when you press down on the front of the hood. Do this while your assistant pulls the interior latch. If it works, the hood will shift and raise slightly, and can then be opened with the exterior latch.
Pull on the cable from inside the car. Locate the cable under the dashboard, near the interior release latch. Tug gently on this cable and see what happens:
If the hood opens, your cable may have slipped or stretched. Try to adjust it at the front end, or replace it if you see any damage. (Less commonly, your interior release latch could be broken.)
If you feel no tension at all, the cable is no longer attached to the front latch. Continue to the next step. Once you open the hood, check to see whether you can slip it back on, or whether the cable has snapped and needs replacement.
Locate the latch through the grille. At this point, you need a way to reach the latch or cable from another angle. If you’re lucky, you can see the latch through the front grille. Investigate with a flashlight and a small mirror until you find a hook-shaped object.
Alternatively, the latch may be accessible from the driver’s side fender well. In many cars, such as Hondas, the latch cables are run through the inner driver’s side fender well. Remove the inner fender well clips and reach in. Pull the cable to pop the hood open. This will only work if the cable itself is still attached to the hood latch.
Trip the latch with a thin tool. Once you find the latch, reach in with a long, thin screwdriver. If the gaps in the grille are small, use a wire coat hanger instead. Hook this over the latch and tug.
You can remove the grille to get more direct access. Even replacing a non-removable grille might be cheaper than taking the car to a mechanic, depending on your model.
Approach it from under the hood. If you can’t operate the latch from the front, your last chance is to reach under the hood and attempt to tug the cable with a pair of pliers, or reach all the way to the latch. This will be much easier if you jack the car and refer to the owner’s manual.
Warning: if the engine was on recently, let the car cool off before reaching under the hood.
If this doesn’t work, take the car to a mechanic. Removing the front bumper yourself may end up more expensive than paying for a repair.
Opening a Stuck Hood
Park the vehicle. Park the car on a level surface and engage the parking brake. Park at home or at an auto garage if possible. If it turns out you can’t fix the problem on the spot, you don’t want to be forced to close your hood again to drive to a mechanic.
Locate the release latch. If you’re not familiar with the car, look for the interior release latch under the steering wheel, low down near the driver’s door, or in the corner of the glove box. This often has a picture of a car with an open hood.
Some older cars only have an exterior release. Look for a latch under the front lip of the hood.
If you are locked out of the car, skip ahead to fixes that do not require interior access.
Test the interior release latch. When working correctly, this causes the hood to move upward a short distance. If you hear a noise but the hood does not move at all, the hood is probably stuck. Continue to the next step to fix it. If you do not hear anything, there’s likely a problem with the cable or latch mechanism. Skip down to the next section.
If the hood does open partially, all you need to do is press the exterior latch at the front of the hood. This latch is usually at the center or just to one side, and may depress upward or to the side.
Slap the hood to get it unstuck. Stand outside the driver’s seat and reach in to hold the interior release in the fully pulled position. With your other hand, slap the hood with an open palm. If you’re lucky, the hood just needs a jolt.
Take care not to dent your hood. You may need to use force, but keep your hand in an open palm position.
Attempt to open the hood with an assistant. Have a friend pull the interior release and keep it in that position. Stand at the front of the vehicle and pull up on the hood slowly but steadily. If the only problem is rust or grime, you can usually overcome it. If the hood won’t budge, don’t force it.
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Leave the engine running in cold weather. Chilly weather or frost can cause the hood to stick. Let the engine idle for a while to thaw frozen parts, then try opening the hood again.
If the hood still won’t open, the cable or latch mechanism might be at fault. Continue to the next section to keep troubleshooting.
Inspect the latch after opening. Once you get your hood open, check for broken latch parts or a frayed cable, which needs replacing. If you don’t see obvious problems, just lubricate the latch with a penetrating oil.
It may also help to lubricate the cable with a spray lubricant. Insert the straw nozzle at the cable’s end, between the inner cable and outer sheath. Pinch the area with a cloth and spray.
Do not use silicone spray under your hood. It can contaminate the oxygen sensor, throwing off engine performance.