I’ve had a American Security (AMSEC) safe for a while now, and have had nothing really bad to say about it… It’s a nice safe, and it seems to work well. I haven’t had any burglary attempts or a house fire to really test it out, and I hope I never have to find out how well it really works.
I chose to get my safe with the ESL5 Electronic Lock Keypad, for me, I like the easy and quick access of electronic locks and I’m just a fan of electronic things in general.
But, recently I had some issues with the ESL5 keypad…
I went to open the safe, typed in my code, and the pad blinked once and faded out… I thought the battery might be dead, so I popped open the dial, and what did I see? The small buzzer that is in the keypad sitting on the bottom of the dial. It somehow fell off of the circuit board.
Broken part circled in red (the wires connecting the buzzer have broken and it’s no longer glued to the board)
It looked like the wires just snapped… Maybe a change in temperature caused it? But the keypad sure doesn’t work any more.
I called AMSEC and when on the phone, they immediately agreed to send me out a replacement ESL5 Keypad. It sounded almost like they knew exactly what I was talking about, so I’m wondering if this is a known issue or something they were aware could happen?
But in any case, they agreed to send one out, with one-day shipping (actually took 4-days because of the weekend).
I finally got the new keypad, and well, it looks like they have been redesigned. Take a look at the picture below, the unit on the left is the old, the one on the right is the new one.
Unfortunately, my fears were correct… I plugged in the new keypad, typed in my code, and … nothing. The combination doesn’t work… Another call to AMSEC, after hours of course.
Also, worth noting, the new keypad is not lit the same, some buttons are noticeably darker than others, that’s more of a nitpick thing anything, but, still…
After talking with the tech, they had me do a few reset procedures, and then try the default code. Somehow we reset the code to be the default code (or it was reset to the default code during all of the keypad switches), something that does not lend well to the overall security of the safe.
But after about 10-15 minutes of playing with it, I was back into the safe, with the code reset, etc. So what does this tell me? Electronic safe locks, such as the ESL5, are susceptible to code reset attacks. Not something I’m happy about learning after the fact.
So in short, probably get a dial lock on your safe. Old fashion locks seem to be the “safest” way to go, and there are no circuit boards to die on you. They are slower to get into, but you wont have the same issues.
Update – 02/2021
After a few years so of use, the replacement ESL-5 started to have reliability issues… Basically the keypad would register the code maybe 1 out of 5 times it was entered. So, after a few phone calls to AMSEC, I decided to replace the entire locking mechanism. AMSEC apparently has an upgraded 3.3v ESL-5 system, but, I decided to move to an ESL-10XL. It’s a more robust locking mechanism and apparently has a better track record of longevity. We’ll see how long it lasts.
The process of replacing the mechanism was pretty easy overall, can be done by someone with some basic tools. The upgrade from ESL-5 to ESL-10 is basically just a drop in replacement, meaning that all of the screw holes line up and you don’t need to drill + tap any holes, etc. So it’s not needed to have a locksmith change things out, assuming you can still get into your safe to actually access the locking mechanism.
The one thing I will note is that after taking the internal door cover off, I was severely disappointed in the overall build quality of the safe. The internal door parts are poorly welded, most of the sheetrock insulation has holes and or joining lines with no filler, and the filler they attempted to use either completely missed or broke off at some point. I know this wasn’t a $20,000 safe, but, it would appear that the quality of the work done on these models is, in my opinion, sub-standard. A couple pictures below, you can judge for yourself.
Have you had issues with a safe with an electronic lock? Let us know about it and share your pain!