In a bid to expand his knowledge and skill set, garage owner, Andrew Kelly, signed himself up for a 10-day Hickleys auto locksmith course. In this article, Andy shares his experience with PMM and reveals whether he mastered the art of lock picking.
The Hickleys introduction to the auto locksmith foundation course is a 10-day intensive course based at the company’s offices in Taunton, Somerset. It is split into two parts, each a week long. At the end of the 10 days, an NCFE certificate is awarded, which is equivalent to NVQ level 3 and is designed to give the learner an appreciation and understanding of how locks work, how to pick them, the various ways of decoding them and then how to replace them so a vehicle will start and run.
What surprised me was the diversity of the people attending. I currently own a garage between Leeds and Bradford but, due to a change in circumstances, I needed to find something different. I’m reluctant to leave the industry as I feel that it would be a waste of my time and experience, so when I heard of the Hickleys ‘Unlocking the keys to success’ seminars, which look at aspects of being an auto locksmith, my curiosity got the better of me. Six months later, I took the plunge into the world of locks.
The course is presented by Andy, who has been in the business for 13 years and has run this course for Hickleys since 2010, whilst owning a successful auto locksmith business that he runs with his partner.
The first week started with coffee and introductions, quickly followed by an overview of the course. The importance of running a business correctly, pricing and dealing with customers is emphasised throughout, but is particularly focussed on during that first session. It included the importance of targeted advertising, concentrating on how to promote a business online. Some may see this approach as fairly obvious, but Andy is incredibly proud of the number of ex-students he meets at shows or who keep in contact because they are successfully running their business based on his teachings.
The second session worked on the premise that, to be able to pick and decode locks, you need to have knowledge of how the lock works, the parts that make up a lock and how to dismantle and rebuild them. Once this knowledge was absorbed, we were introduced to key cutting machines and how to cut a key blade for the lock we had stripped and rebuilt. Doing this would determine whether we had decoded the key correctly or not. If the decoding is wrong, the lock simply won’t work. The different types of lock were tackled over the next day and a half – stripping, decoding, rebuilding and cutting a key for cylinder, laser and Ford’s Tibbe locks. Andy was always around to help and offer advice, but he usually stayed in the background, allowing us to learn through our own experiences. Once we had understood how locks worked, we moved on to lock picking. This is an art that requires practice, so for the next day and a half we picked locks. It didn’t stop there. Any free time we had, we would grab a lock and practise.
Week two concentrated on the programming aspects. A car door lock is only there for show really. All the security for a vehicle is around the key’s transponder and how that communicates with the vehicle’s immobiliser system. We learnt how to add and delete keys, so lost and stolen keys cannot be used to start and steal a vehicle. Then it was on to transponders, the different types such as carbon or glass and the different names and functions they have. Of course, different types of transponder require different methods of programming, so we were shown the different methods and tools used for the job. As in week one, after a demonstration, we had a go by taking a vehicle key, deleting it from the car and then reprogramming it. Thankfully all the cars started up again!
The final two days brought everything together, where Andy became ‘the customer’ who had lost his keys and wanted the job doing, from pricing all the way through to driving away with new keys. Quite a challenge when it’s a new subject. As always, Andy was happy to help where needed, but didn’t hold our hands. We worked in pairs but alone. This means we could help each other but had to do the job by ourselves, providing invaluable experience for dealing with potential jobs.
I really enjoyed the course, met some great people, had a laugh and learnt an awful lot. But, whilst you learn a huge amount and are ready to start and run an auto locksmith business, there’s still much more to learn. It is only a foundation course and Hickleys runs other courses to complement your training. I’m looking forward to booking the next one. There is only so much that can be covered in 10 days but we all left feeling positive and excited. The notes that accompany the course are full and comprehensive and cover much more than we could in the time we had. I would highly recommend both the course and Hickleys.
The course has been well developed over a number of years and constantly evolves. All in all, it was a challenging, informative, well presented and enjoyable 10 days and I can’t wait for my kit to arrive!