The Good News: Advanced Key Technology has dramatically increased vehicle safety…making it much more difficult for thieves to steal your car.
The Bad News: Losing your car keys costs much more for vehicles made after the mid 1990’s
It’s no longer a matter of going to a locksmith or hardware store for a $5 quick fix. Going to car dealer starts the replacement process with labor rates easily hitting $100 an hour. But it’s bound to happen sooner or later. When it does, you’ll likely find yourself in one of these 5 vehicle key categories:
- Basic Keys & Fob: Until the mid-to late-1990s…a basic key was the most common and had no unique technology security features. Copy these keys is easy for your local hardware store or a locksmith. A few buck and you’re out the door. It’s not necessary to even concern your self with a car dealership would be to get the automaker’s branding on the head of the key. An electronic key fob (aka: remote or transmitter) is the next step in complexity and is a vital part of the key set. A dealership may charge anywhere from $50-$90 (depending on it sophistication and maker). But…all fobs need to be programmed. That can range from “free” …to a half hour or more of labor at a car dealer. Sometimes you can find the programming information online…sometimes the vehicle’s owners manual tells you how to do it. Locksmiths also usually offer aftermarket fobs…as a (usually) cheaper alternative to the dealer.
- Transponder Keys: The next step in key technology evolution (post mid-late 1990s)…car makers began inserting a transponder chip in the plastic key head. It sends a signal to the ignition’s “immobilizer”. If the immobilizer doesn’t receive the correct unique signal (i.e. because the wrong key is in the ignition) …no go, no start. The shank of a transponder key is either: a) a basic key …or b) a laser-cut key. Regardless…the chip in the transponder key must be programmed before it’s able to start your vehicle. Dealerships have the necessary equipment for programming the key’s chip…again, anywhere from “free” to an hour of labor charges. Usually, locksmiths also have the chip programming equipment. If the transponder key & fob are an all-in-one unit… the price of the replacement key goes up and it becomes more difficult to avoid getting it anywhere other than a dealership. $200+ for the key & fob combo is not uncommon. Do you frequently lock your keys inside or in the trunk? One potential low-cost alternative for you is to order a basic key without the transponder. It will do everything but start the engine…but is a cheap backup for retrieving keys locked inside the vehicle. Saving money on the programming costs of having a third spare key is also possible. With two keys already in your possession…several carmakers allow you to program a third key on your own. First, a locksmith must cut this “emergency” key. Next…follow the procedure for programming it…often found in your owner’s manual…or instructions can also often be found online. Try this search term: “How to program a (insert your year, make, model) key”. [Also, watch the video above].
- Laser-Cut Keys: these differ from a basic key in that the shank is slightly thicker and has fewer carved-out grooves. Often nicknamed “sidewinder keys” because of the unique winding cut on the shank. Equipment necessary for cutting these keys is considerably more expensive than for cutting basic keys…and consequently are more difficult to find at locksmiths and hardware stores. The transponder chip is also a feature of laser-cut keys…and usually need to be programmed at the dealership or by a locksmith that is certified by the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) preferably. Again, a thorough online search is always advisable.