Manual vs. electronic locking safes

Written by dennis hartman
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Manual vs. electronic locking safes
Electronic safes come in a variety of sizes. (Safe box image by Raulmahón from Fotolia.com)

A home safe is one of the best ways to protect your valuable property from thieves or loss due to carelessness. Safes can also keep firearms out of the hands of children and keep personal information private. With so much on the line, it makes sense to choose the best type of safe. Manual and electronic locking safes each have their own advantages and drawbacks.

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Functions

No safe is secure without a good locking mechanism. Manual locks use a series of pins and wheels to engage a metal bolt that passes between the door and a slot in the body of the safe, keeping the door closed tight or allowing it to open. Electronic safes have a similar metal bolt for security. But to engage and release the bolt they use an electronic mechanism, usually with a digital keypad, rather than a numbered dial.

Advantages

The biggest advantage to a manual safe locking mechanism is its ease of use. Anyone who has ever used a key to open a door or used a simple combination lock will be able to operate the lock with little effort.

Although electronic safe locks can take some time to learn, they allow the user to program a common code, such as a birthday or banking PIN as the safe's combination. Electronic safes sometimes also include a keyhole as a backup method for opening.

Drawbacks

Although neither type of safe locking mechanism is perfectly secure, there are more methods for picking the lock on a manual safe than there are ways to disable an electronic lock. Some electronic safes have added security by using a magnetic key card rather than a numeric code. This prevents anyone from guessing the code, but it makes the safe easy to open if the card falls into the wrong hands.

Other electronic safes use fingerprint analysis, but this makes it impossible for anyone whose fingerprints aren't preregistered in the lock's digital memory from opening the safe, even with authorisation from the owner.

Electronic safes operate on battery power. If they aren't used over a period of many years, the batteries can lose charge, making the safe impossible to open without a key.

Costs

When comparing two similar safes with different types of locks, the electronic lock version is likely to be more expensive. However, features such as size, construction material, warranty terms and installation costs are likely to affect the final price more than the type of lock. Considering the value of a safe's intended contents, the extra cost of an electronic locking system might ultimately be very reasonable.

Sizes and Types

Besides choosing between electronic and manual locks, you'll need to decide which type of safe is best for you. There are four main types of safes, each of which is available with either a manual or electronic lock. Gun safes come with compartments and fasteners to hold rifles or handguns, along with ammunition and gun accessories. Wall safes can be installed in a wall, behind a piece of framed art or a mirror for added security. Floor safes are even more secure, and they are built in to the floor of a room where they can disappear under an area rug or a piece of furniture. Finally, general safes are free-standing and appropriate for most uses, but are more portable.

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