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Car Key Replacement: The Ultimate Guide to Getting A New Car Key

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Car key replacement is getting more complex with every passing year. Many modern car keys cannot be replaced through any other means than the dealership or an automotive locksmith. There are still older models that use simple keys that any hardware store employee can make, but a new car key for modern cars uses electronic components that need programming. There are also different considerations if you are trying to replace a lost car key vs. replacing a broken car key. So let’s break down the finer points of car key replacement in the most generally helpful way possible.

Everything you need to know about getting new car keys boils down to:

  1. Types of Replacement
  2. Replacement Parts
  3. DIY Replacement
  4. Programming
  5. Nearest Options
  6. Cost Considerations

If you end up feeling that you need car key replacement services from a professional, do not hesitate to call United Locksmith. When you put your trust in the hands of a professional automotive locksmith, you can rest assured that we have all the answers you need. But for those of you who want to know what they are getting into when buying new car keys, please read on. Just know, there is no way to give exact advice for making every new car key, but this will provide the road map for answering any remaining questions.

Do You Need Car Key Replacement?

Just because your car key isn’t working, doesn’t mean it is broken. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but there is a potential litany of issues you might be facing. And car key replacement may not be the answer to your problem. Though the trouble may appear to generate from the use of the car key, it may be disguising a more serious problem.

Say your car key remote is not working to unlock your doors, how do you know the trouble is with the car key and not the lock assembly in the door? If your car key is not working in the ignition, what can you do to make sure you don’t need an ignition replacement? You don’t really know if you need car key replacement until you do some troubleshooting.

One of the reasons why everyone needs a spare car key is because an additional key allows for simple troubleshooting. Using a spare key, see if whatever problem you are facing persists. If two keys have the same problem, it is a good indication that the issue extends beyond car keys. If you have no spare key, car key replacement is still a good idea so you have a spare for the future, or as a preface to troubleshooting if car key replacement isn’t the complete fix.

Key Takeaways:

  • Car key issues may be masking more severe problems.
  • Test multiple car keys to make sure one needs to be replaced.
  • Consider car key replacement regardless if you only have one key to test.

1. Types Of Car Key Replacement

When we talk about car key replacement, the subject is often too broad to be helpful because of the seemingly endless variations. For example, duplicating a working car key has entirely different considerations than trying to copy a broken key. And attempting to make a key without an existing copy is unique from either of those other options. After you have determined your precise circumstances, you need to look at the type of new car key that you need.

Simple Bladed Car Keys

If you have a car from the 1980s or older, your car key most likely is a simple chunk of shaped metal. Whether it has the snake-like side etching of a slider key or the double serrated edges of a wafer key, these keys only need to be cut identically to the last working key. This is the easiest new car key to make as it only requires metal to be cut. However, if you do not have a working key, you will need a locksmith to retrieve your key code and cut a fresh key.

Transponder Keys

By the early 2000s, car keys were reliably using transponder chips concealed in the plastic covering of the bow. Most of these keys can be programmed using the instructions in your owner manual, but may require more than one working key. If you are incapable of programming a transponder key as specified in your vehicle documentation, you can have a locksmith or the dealership do the programming directly to the onboard computer. Without programming, the car will not start, but keyed cylinders will unlock.

Car Key Remotes

Car key remotes are similar to transponder keys, in terms of requiring programming that will vary procedurally and likely needing more than one working key. They can also be more complex if they act as keyless ignition fobs (more on that next). However, remotes are intended for conveniently locking and unlocking your doors, and will not necessarily start your car. You can go without a remote as long as you can remember to lock all your doors manually, and are fine using your key to unlock your doors.

Keyless Ignition Fobs

Though keyless ignition fobs include remote functions, they have different considerations when making a new car key. Very few new ignition keys like this can be programmed with DIY methods. It is also unlikely that you will be able to get these new car keys made at a hardware store. In some cases, your local locksmith may not even have invested in the tools for certain luxury models. The only option for this type of new car key may be contacting your dealership.

Key Takeaways:

  • The type of car key your vehicle uses will determine the particulars of your car key replacement.
  • Whether you have an existing key or not will factor into the methods you can use to make a new car key.
  • The more complex your car key, the more difficult replacement will be.

2. Car Key Replacement Parts

You can get car key replacement parts at a retail store, online, from a locksmith, or a dealership. Depending on the make, model, and manufacturing year, those options will also disappear in that order. The most likely option for you not to have is at a retail chain or big box store. A vast amount of car keys are available from online sellers in both licensed and aftermarket profiles. Just be aware of the dangers of aftermarket electronic car keys before you buy.

The best places to buy your car key replacement parts institutions that are easily reachable. You want to be able to return or exchange your keys if they are in any way unsatisfactory. Online sellers are the most likely of your options to give you trouble with this. Physical locations such as stores or the dealership provide a great satisfaction guarantee. Your local locksmith should also offer car keys, which can be delivered to by a trained technician.

Dealerships and locksmiths will also guarantee the programmability and functionality of the parts they provide. If you are going to need your car keys programmed, it is best to go with an option that ensures this will be possible. In cases when you’ve lost your car keys and have no spare, having someone available to program the keys is preferable, as most DIY programming procedures require at least two existing/working car keys. That means you should buy at least two keys if you want to be able to program new keys in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Replacement car keys are available at big box stores, auto parts stores, online retailers, locksmiths, and the dealership.
  • Depending on your particular vehicle, your key may not be available at all or most outlets.
  • The dealership or a locksmith is the most likely to carry your key type.
  • Make sure to buy the appropriate number or replacement car keys.

3. DIY Car Key Replacement

To perform a full car key replacement by yourself, your car key blank will need to be available, cuttable without specialty equipment, and have a self-programming protocol (if it requires programming). Replacement parts will need to be obtained online or from a storefront. Cutting will require a self-serve key machine. Programming protocols will be detailed in your owner manual or online. Without knowing about your particular case, it is impossible to walk you through the steps more specifically than that.

There are only a few ways to program and replace car remotes, and DIY is becoming less and less a part of those options. As modern vehicles take painstaking efforts to be as secure as possible, they have begun adding signal encryption to remotes and car key electronics. The reason for this protection is third-party code-capturing devices can be used to surreptitiously copy a key’s electronic signal when it is used. But this protection keeps you from being able to fully replace a car key yourself.

In cases where the electronic components of your car key need to be professionally programmed, you can still do parts of the replacement yourself. As mentioned above, you can reduce the cost of car key replacement by buying parts yourself from aftermarket sources. Professional services such as dealerships and locksmiths cannot guarantee the functionality of the car key you have purchased, but they can still attempt to program them.

If you have to get a new car key made without the original, you will not be able to do the work yourself. You could replace your ignition with a different keyed cylinder, and end up with a new car key, but your car door locks will also need to be replaced. Doing this much work on car locks yourself is not recommended. There is just too much that could go wrong which can leave you locked out of your car, or even leave your car inoperable.

Key Takeaways:

  • DIY car key replacement requires you to have access to key blanks, a key cutter, and information on performable programming.
  • Most vehicles from the last decade require car key programming that cannot be done yourself.
  • To reduce the cost of car key replacement, you may attempt aspects of the full process yourself.
  • If you do not have a working car key to duplicate, you need professional assistance.

4. Car Key Replacement Programming

As we have already covered in the section on DIY car key replacement, programming is going to be one of the most difficult aspects to manage with newer cars. Key fob replacement will obviously require programming, but how do you know if a physical ignition key has to be programmed? You can put it together from a few context clues. First look at your key. If the bow (the part you turn) is covered in plastic, then it can hold a transponder chip.

Almost all switchblade style keys have transponder chips. This is the same for car keys that are in any way integrated with a remote. So now that you know to consider whether your car key needs programming, it is time to find your programming method. Look in your owner manual or for an online tutorial specifically for your vehicle. For remotes and keyless ignition fobs the easiest way is to simply look it up on a site like programyourremote.com, but specific transponder chip programming techniques are more difficult to find.

If the car key is not working after you have attempted programming, there could be several reasons the car key is not working. The programming procedure may have been performed incorrectly or the key may be broken. Whenever you cannot find programming instructions that are specific to your vehicle or make the instructions work, contact a professional. Unfortunately, there is no way to give better advice than this without getting too specific to be generally helpful.

Key Takeaways:

  • If your car key is partially coated in plastic or attached to a remote, it likely uses a transponder chip.
  • All new remotes and keyless entry fobs must be programmed.
  • When you cannot get programming procedures to work, call an auto locksmith.

5. Car Key Replacement Near Me

Proximity to your location is paramount to getting fast and helpful service. In many instances where you need a new car key, you may not be able to drive the car. Online buying options will deliver your replacement parts directly to your location, but shipping can take days. After you receive your parts, it is still possible that you will need a professional to handle the programming. So if you are asking the question, “Where is the best car key replacement near me,” the answer is a mobile locksmith.

There are several options for car keys made near you, but a locksmith is the only one that can come to any location and deliver full service on-site. If you want to know what the other close-by options are, we have already covered them: online car key retailers, stores with auto parts sections, and dealerships. A locksmith is the only nearby option for making new car keys under any circumstances if the technicians in your area are of the highest quality.

A locksmith can make a key from a lock, open your locked car, and you will not need to have the vehicle towed to a service location. Some manufacturers have gone to great lengths to restrict access to key blanks or programming equipment. In cases where only the manufacturer can provide new car keys, the only option for car key replacement near you will be the dealership. Go with a locksmith when you can, and the dealership when you have no other choice.

Key Takeaways:

  • A locksmith is the only option for new car keys that can come to you.
  • If you need to replace a lost car key immediately, a locksmith is the fastest service.
  • There are rare cases where only your dealership will be able to make a new car key.

6. Car Key Replacement Costs

Consumer Reports did an extensive report on their findings with the various costs of replacing modern car keys. They state that even by their own data, prices for new car keys range between $50 to $400, depending on the brand. With an additional $50 to $100 for programming. The findings boil down to, the best way to keep costs down are to buy parts yourself online and do the programming yourself. But this is becoming less and less possible, so do as much of the work as you can yourself, and go to a professional when you have exhausted your other options.

I would suggest checking out the full consumer report’s article as they are the closest thing to unbiased that exists in the consumer protection space. They outline how locksmiths can offer lower car key replacement costs and more convenient services than any other option. So you don’t just have to simply take us at our word when we say a locksmith is the best choice to make you a new car key. If you are looking to reduce the cost of key fob replacement, the research shows, you should hire a locksmith.

Another important consideration is the number of services you need. For example, car key duplication costs are lower than prices associated with making a new car key by decoding the lock or recovering the vehicle’s key code. If you are locked out of your car as a result of not having a working key, you will also need to factor in the cost of unlocking your car door. You may need to spend more than is associated with parts and programming, but expect to pay at least $120 for a new car key.

Key Takeaways:

  • New car keys cost anywhere from $50 to $400.
  • If your car key requires professional programming costs between $50 to $100.
  • A locksmith is the best way to reduce car key replacement costs.
  • There may be additional costs related to servicing, such as unlocking the car.

Closing Considerations

Remember that there are many reasons your car won’t start, and new car keys are not necessarily the solutions you need. Also, there are options to fix broken keys that do not require a full replacement. But if you do end up needing to replace a car key or remote, a locksmith is going to be the best way to get service fast, cheap, and have service and parts brought to you. Give United Locksmith a call so you can get the new car keys that you need.

Category: Automotive, Car Keys


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