A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Laura Raab
Most of us have had the frustrating experience of being stuck in a car lockout for a variety of reasons. And then there’s the potential of losing the car remote, which in newer cars is often combined with the key itself. In the case of car keys that are also remotes, you may also need to get your new key cut. How you can go about replacing them will largely depend on the make and model of your vehicle. Most ignition keys now have a transponder that electronically communicates with the vehicle to prevent theft. The key won’t work unless it is programmed to match the vehicle. In some cars, the distance of the chip of the transponder key must be the exact distance of a fully inserted key, away from the reader. Most cars are more forgiving than that, and just need the chip to be in the general vicinity. Newer systems also include a separate or integrated fob with buttons to lock and unlock doors. Here are some common questions people often ask in regards to replacing their keys and remotes.
Lost, stolen or broken car keys are easily replaceable through an automotive locksmith or your car dealership. They will have a new car key cut and programmed to your vehicle. The cost of the car key replacement depends on the type of key required. If you have an older vehicle with a basic key, the cost will be minimal to replace but if your key has a transponder, plan on spending $80 or more if you want the key to work in the ignition and not just open the doors and trunk.
Each vehicle has a different procedure for how to program a new remote. Some remotes you can program yourself fairly quickly, while others need to be programmed by a professional.
A local car dealership or automotive locksmith can program keys and remotes for you. Certain auto shops can also program your fobs (depending on the make and model), as not every process is that tricky. Depending on the cut of the car key, and the nature of the replacement it might also be necessary to go to a locksmith that can cut the key by code.
You can take your key to most hardware stores, a car dealership or an automotive locksmith to find out if your key has a transponder chip. If you have a spare key that you have had made from a blank, you can also try this simple metal key in your car’s ignition. The key should open the doors and the trunk, but if your vehicle needs a chip it will not start the car. Make sure that if you are checking the ignition settings like this that you do not have the key you know works inside the car. The transponder chip from the working car may be giving the necessary signal. A good indication that your car does have a chip is by examining it. If the key has a plastic casing around the bow (the large part of the key that is usually round or square, and rests outside the keyhole when the key is fully inserted), this is a good indication that it may have a chip. Though you may need a locksmith for programing, there are transponder keys available online.
Transponder chip keys have to be programmed before they will be able to start your vehicle. Once a key is cut, an automotive locksmith or car dealership can program it for you. You may be able to program keys from older model vehicles yourself.
You can find an automotive locksmith in the yellow pages, through online listings or professional locksmith organizations like the Associated Locksmiths of America that provides a list of licensed locksmiths or through other state based locksmith organizations such as the California Locksmith Association. The best way to find a reputable locksmith is through referral.
The price for cutting keys and transponder key programming varies based on your local area, model and make of your vehicle. The price will almost always be steeper when you are being serviced through the dealership, though that may be the only choice in some cases. More often than not you can get unprogrammed fobs and transponder keys. If you do purchase one of these and wish to reprogram it yourself, try to buy the key from a company that offers tech support. Because each car is going to be slightly different when it comes to programming the signal, it is best to have someone that you can ask for help. Our price list can give you a ballpark of starting prices.
Your programming instructions may state that you must have two working keys to be able to program a new key because the vehicle’s programming mode can only be accessed with two separate keys. You can’t use one programmed key twice. If you only have one working key, any new ones will have to be programmed by a car dealership or automotive locksmith.
Your license and registration are used to verify you as the owner of the vehicle. You must provide documents with names and addresses that match the shipping address on an invoice for online key cutting services before they will ship a key to you. They do this for your own protection.
If you currently have or had a remote for your vehicle, it does have a keyless entry system. If you purchased a vehicle without a remote keyless entry, any car dealership can verify if it has a keyless entry system by the vehicle identification number (VIN).
For an existing remote, you can match the part number on the back of the remote and the functions on the front to verify if it is the correct remote for your vehicle. If you have lost your remote or your vehicle didn’t come with a remote, a car dealership can provide a part number based on your VIN. You can use the part number to verify the remote listed is the correct one for your vehicle.
Most transponder chip keys are aftermarket unless stated otherwise. Most remote head keys, fob keys, and keyless entry remotes are from the original equipment manufacturer.
If the battery is not the issue, the remote portion inside has probably gone bad or was damaged which means you will need to replace your remote.
Most replacements come with a 90-day warranty for both new and used replacements. Make sure that you do ask the key provider for this information because electronics (especially those sold over the internet) can be faulty or be damaged in the shipping process.
Most online key replacement companies buy in bulk so they are able to offer more competitive prices than a dealership, however, you will still need to have a key with a transponder programmed in some cases by a car dealership or an automotive locksmith. The simplicity of the process will vary, as will the availability of the information on how to do it yourself.
You can usually replace your keys, fobs, and remotes online for less but you will have to wait longer to receive them and depending on your vehicle, a locksmith may still have to carry out transponder key programming for you. This is why it is easier to let your locksmith handle the key fob replacement for you. If you’re in a time crunch, contacting a local locksmith may be the best option.
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