Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Replacing Compartment Keys and Locks - (No Bagels Here!)

Several Compartments On The Right Side
Compartment locks, we all have them and at some point they will break or you'll want an extra key or some better security or, like me, want to add a lock to a storage door that was added later on. It's really not all that hard if you buy the correct hardware. Let's talk a bit about locks on RV's in general. Most of them use a few common keys. This isn't really all THAT secure, but locks are to keep honest folks out, right? You can replace these with better more secure versions, but it can be a pain. You'll want "keyed-alike" locks so you don't have to have a different key for each compartment. Much easier to keep track of with only one!

No Lock On My Oil and Misc. Storage Bay
I have a small storage compartment (really a door a previous owner added and a mounted milk crate!) that opens into my engine bay up front. It stores my extra oil, coolant and some funnels. It never had a lock, just a "twist to open" latch. I'm sure you've seen these before. Anyway, I decided it would be prudent to put a lock on this door. This style of latch is the same diameter as most of the common compartment locks so replacing it SHOULD be easy. The locks come in various lengths to accommodate the thickness of your door and the placement of the actual bar that hold the door shut. They ARE somewhat adjustable, but it's best to get the right size.

Old Twist Latch and New Lock Assembly
I just measured the length (we're actually talking about the depth of the lock here. The part that goes through the door) and bought one to fit. In the package you get a couple of keys, the lock (duh!), the nut that holds the lock to the door and TWO catches. The catches will be straight and "bent." This will allow you to adapt it to your particular door thickness. My original one was the bent style so I figured I'd just go with that at the start. As for the keys, I made sure I brought one of the keys from another compartment with me. They are usually marked on the key, but it wouldn't hurt to do a visual comparison! No, I'm not going to tell you which one I have!

Old Twist Lock Before Removal
After Removal
Next you need to remove the old latch. This is simply a matter of taking out the screw from the back of the catch (usually a Phillips OR Flat head will work.) Then, gently remove the large nit surrounding the lock barrel. After it's removed you will be able to pull the mechanism out of the door.

Lock With Retaining Nut and Striker/Cam In t=The Right Place
Next, prepare the new lock assembly. Be CAREFUL when you remove the screw there is a very good chance that the entire lock inside and all the tiny pieces and springs will fly all over the place when the small retainer plate falls out. You guessed bad! After spending some time to pick up and reassemble all the pieces you can insert the mechanism into the existing hole I started again. Make sure you have the keyhole oriented the way you'd like it to function., horizontal locked or vertical locked and key "teeth" up or down. The way it works is simple, the lock will turn and the striker/cam will engage or disengage. This all sounds complicated, it isn't!

While holding everything together screw on the nut hand tight with the striker/cam oriented the correct way. The striker/cam has a square cutout to match the one on the back of the lock so you have 4 positions. If the mechanism is LOCKED make sure the cam extends down to engage the bottom (could be side) of the compartment so everything stays tightly closed. When UNLOCKED it should move aside to let the compartment door open easily.

You MAY have to change the striker/cam to the other on supplied or remove it and LIGHTLY bend it to clear the place on your compartment where the lock engages. Ideally, you want it to be snug but not so tight as to make the lock hard to turn. Trust me, I've broken enough keys to know.
Once you have everything the way you'd like it, tighten down the retaining nut, so everything is tight. DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN as you will likely crush the fiberglass of your compartment door!! Close the door, work the lock to test it and you're done!

Main Compartment With Two Locks
While I was buying the lock assemblies, I picked up a couple of finger-pulls. My main storage compartment has two locks on it, and they are pretty tight. Once unlocked I would have to move the key slightly to one side and use it to pull the door open. Yet another way to break a key. Twice. Installing the finger-pull was an easy solution. First you have to decide which lock to install it on. I chose the back one since it looked better. Then open the compartment and set the hold open. I didn't have those when I first bought the Aero Cruiser and had a lot of "head bonks." You need to unscrew the striker plate and the retaining nut to get the lock out (watch out for falling lock innards!).

Finished Install
Once you pull the lock out of the door, place the finger-pull over the cylinder facing in the direction you'd like it to be oriented when you re-install the lock into the door. Slide the lock back into the door, spin on the retaining nut and place the striker/cam back on the lock (the way it came off!) and tighten the screw back on. You MAY have to adjust the striker/cam since you are adding a small amount of thickness to the lock. Again, so do NOT bend it while it is attached to the door, you WILL crack something and it would be bad. What started out as a lock modification may end up being a learning experience with fiberglass resin and paint. Not this time, thankfully!

This will work on any compartment and you can always buy better locks as replacements. Many manufacturers are using the cylindrical versions now. As a side benefit, when you purchase another packaged lock with the same key number you actually get two the ones that broke get replaced. almost like magic!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


  1. I replaced mine with combination locks. No need for keys.

    1. Anon,
      I like keys. Much less to go wrong, faster and I don't have to remember the combination!

      Rich "The Wanderman"


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