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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

How To Replace Lost Car Keys: Locksmith vs. Dealership

by Wesley December 29, 2021

Nothing quite disrupts your day with anger and frustration more than losing your car keys. You start retracing your steps, trying to figure out which crack they might have fallen into or which coffee shop barista has them tucked away behind the counter, patiently waiting for your frantic return.

But sometimes, the lost car keys fail to show up, and you need a replacement. Your next move can go one of two ways – call a car dealership or call a locksmith. Both are legitimate options fully capable of replacing your lost car keys, but going to a dealership can present certain challenges. 

In this article, we’ll talk about those challenges and explain why calling a local locksmith is probably the right decision for the following reasons:

  1. Time
  2. Convenience
  3. Cost
  4. Consistency

But first, let’s answer some questions that everyone should know before you’re irritated and ready to implode after losing your car keys. 


Can dealerships replace lost car keys?

Absolutely. Your area car dealership has all the necessary tools to replace your lost car keys. Even if you no longer live near the original dealership you bought the car from, any Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc., the dealership should be able to help based on the make and model of your car. 

But before you decide to head to a dealership to replace your lost car keys, consider these questions — How much are you willing to pay, and how long are you willing to wait? Dealerships can serve thousands of people every day, which sometimes pushes individuals down the priority list. If you’re looking for a quick fix to an already frustrating situation, you might want to consider an auto locksmith. 

Does Home Depot have spare car keys? 

Home Depot, and most hardware stores for that matter, carry a very generic inventory of car key blanks. Those blanks can be used to replace lost car keys, but this does you no good if your keys have a transponder or are a keyless ignition fob (We’ll discuss types of car keys momentarily). 

Big box retailers and local hardware stores are perfect if you need to replace older car keys. It’s fast and easy, and it will probably cost you less than $10. But a new key for modern cars requires electronic programming and specialized knowledge that essentially only a dealership or auto locksmith can provide. 

Are locksmiths able to make new car keys?

Maybe this is news to some people, but yes, locksmiths are qualified to make new keys for your car, especially when you’re in a pinch from losing them unexpectedly. Auto locksmiths have been around for several decades, helping people with everything from replacing lost car keys to opening locked vehicle doors to breaking into trunks. 

We’ll just be focusing on lost car keys in this piece, but locksmiths are extremely versatile when it comes to solving your car’s problems. And the great thing about auto locksmiths is they keep up with the latest car technologies and trends, which leads to the next question.  

Can a locksmith program a key fob or keyless ignition?

In today’s world of modern automobiles, not as many people have physical car keys anymore. Push-to-start technology is abundant, and you no longer have to turn a key to start the ignition. However, these modern advancements still don’t prevent you from losing your car keys, and locksmiths can help with that.  

There are four different types of car keys, all of which an auto locksmith can replace for you:

  • Simple Bladed: Older cars made before the 1980s will have this type of key-shaped out of metal. All a locksmith has to do is cut the key in the same pattern like the ones you lost, and you’re all set! The chances of a locksmith having the exact key blank are high, especially the longer the company has been in business for. These keys are the easiest to replace and at the lowest cost.   
  • Transponder: More modern cars made after the early 2000s use transponder chips inside a plastic chamber attached to the car key. The owner’s manual of your vehicle may have instructions on how to program the transponder, but it can get tricky for some people. 

An auto locksmith is equipped to properly reprogram transponders with the car’s onboard computer. Sometimes this process requires more than one key. If the transponder isn’t programmed, your car will not start. The only thing you’ll be able to do is lock and unlock your car manually with the key from the exterior.  

  • Car Key Remotes: These keys share similarities with transponders because they must be programmed to your car’s onboard computer. And without that, you guessed it, your car will not start. They also may require more than one working key to reprogram depending on your vehicle. Car key remotes sometimes include keyless, push-to-start fobs that are increasingly more complicated. 
  • Keyless Ignition Fobs: If you were to buy a new car right now, it’s pretty much a guarantee it will have a keyless ignition fob. Keyless car starters are becoming the new normal and before you think it’s too advanced for a locksmith, let’s remember a quality auto locksmith stays ahead of industry trends. Replacing these fobs is more complex, depending on the type of car. Some luxury car models take certain tools that only a dealership or prepared locksmith can handle. 

You’re probably picking up on the recurring theme that dealerships and locksmiths are the two best resources after losing your car keys. It’s unlikely the local hardware store can successfully replace and reprogram your keys built with more modern technology. 

You can certainly try places like the Home Depot, Lowe’s, Autozone, or a local hardware store, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be much help. Auto locksmiths and car dealerships remain the industry standard. They’re simply more prepared to replace complicated car keys across multiple makes and models. 

Even dealerships that provide the necessary services you need for lost car keys may not fit your budget, busy schedule, or expectations of quality. This is where a locksmith becomes the right option for you.  

1. Time

Time is arguably the most important factor in replacing your lost car keys. Nobody plans nor can predict when you lose these crucial accessories. Your car keys single-handedly become the best device in getting somewhere fast. 

Think of your car keys like a passport or airline ticket. Without them, you have no means of traveling anywhere in a vehicle. That’s why when you lose your keys, it can seem like the biggest obstruction to your life. And obstruction of this magnitude warrants the quickest method of replacement.

Auto locksmiths are a more streamlined option for replacing lost car keys because it’s usually a single person in your local area coming directly to your location. Car dealerships are stationary facilities with sometimes an enormous staff who have to be notified through multiple levels of communication about a customer’s situation.

Locksmiths, even if they work for a large company, act more independently and can service calls more directly. There’s also a possibility your car needs to be towed back to the dealership for proper service. This is common practice for many dealerships and inevitably adds time. 

For a tow truck to come to hook your vehicle up and then haul it back to the dealership, you’re looking at another 1-2 hours minimum. Locksmiths are more mobile and take about half the time to make a new key or reprogram an existing key on site.

The time spent on any car key service varies depending on your specific needs. Some jobs require a simple phone call to walk you through the process, while others might need a tow truck as well as additional labor hours to reprogram technology. The main point is a locksmith will likely be the fastest in both response time and replacing your lost car keys.   

2. Convenience

Similar to time, convenience is what any car key service provider should offer its customers. You don’t decide when to lose your car keys, it just happens. And when it does, you need people who can not only respond quickly but be available more frequently. Luckily, auto locksmiths fit that criterion. 

Car dealerships can be very useful during regular business hours, but do you only lose your car keys at convenient times? No. In fact, you probably lose them at the worst possible time, and it makes the situation even more stressful. This is yet another reason why locksmiths might be more beneficial. 

You’ll find most locksmiths are available after hours or will go out of their way to help you at unusual times. If the car dealership is closed, there’s nobody on standby to assist you. Maybe you lost your car keys in the middle of the night, and you have to be somewhere. Calling an auto locksmith is going to be your best chance of contacting someone to replace them. 

3. Cost  

This whole time you were probably wondering, what about price? The cost of replacing lost car keys can be the deciding factor for most people. That’s why you should know the different price points between dealerships and locksmiths. 

Consumer Reports estimates new car keys cost anywhere from $50 to $400. If those keys require additional programming to your vehicle’s onboard computer, that will run you an extra $50 to $100. 

SUVs and luxury European models are more expensive, and in some cases, can only be replaced through a dealership. Both Subaru and Audi vehicles have very specialized security chips inside their fobs that you almost certainly need programming at a dealership.

But for the majority of car keys, an auto locksmith can solve your problem. And because locksmiths are more direct and come straight to you, their services cost on average 30-50% less than a dealership. 

We mentioned earlier how locksmiths act more independently than dealerships. Well, that contributes to price too. Dealerships are operated by massive corporations that typically don’t negotiate much on price. 

Locksmiths are more willing to work with you on the cost and at the very least have a conversation about it. Now, it’s important to note these lower costs are based on average figures. As we’ve discussed earlier, everyone’s situation is different. 

Although it’s more likely you’ll spend less with a locksmith, your keys may need additional parts or programming that affects the price. Some circumstances could also require a tow truck (Note: An average tow truck costs $75 to $200).  

4. Consistency

A key factor in any service industry is consistency. You expect to be treated right and with professional care every time. Locksmiths, and also dealerships quite frankly, can deliver on this. It comes down to your preference. Consistency isn’t grounded into one component, it’s the culmination of everything that goes into replacing your lost car keys.

No matter if you call a car dealership or a locksmith, the issue with your keys will be resolved. It’s a matter of how you want it done. Do you want someone to come directly to you? Would you rather spend less money? Are you looking for someone available to assist you at all hours? If those things are important to you, then calling a locksmith should be your best option.    

Closing Words

Losing your car keys adds a list of problems to your life that nobody wants to deal with. It can test your patience and composure in a difficult situation, but there are people ready to help when you need it. 

If you’re someone who’s had a great experience with car dealerships in the past after losing car keys, that’s great! Continue to use a dealership that you’re comfortable with. But if you’ve had issues with dealerships in the past or are looking for the quickest, most consistent service at a more affordable price, an auto locksmith is probably the best move.

Category: Automotive, Car Keys

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