Most of us rarely give our car keys any thought until we finally lose them or need replacement car keys. If you drive a car made since the mid-1990s, it presumably uses a transponder key rather than the old school metal keys that only needed to be cut correctly to work. Keys for today’s cars are designed to make stealing cars more difficult. You can have a key where the metal is cut correctly and that will open the car door, but it won’t let you start the car.
Transponder keys are coded and given to you when you buy a car. There is an embedded transmission chip that is installed into each individual key to allow the vehicle to start. Without the key, you have no chance of starting the car. This incredible innovation in automotive security has made hot wiring or stealing a car nearly impossible. The only way a car that operates with a transponder key can be stolen is to steal the actual keys themselves.
Another great thing about transponder keys is that they can also be canceled if they are stolen. If someone steals your car keys or worse yet, your car, you can easily have the locksmith or dealership cancel the keys. This will render the car impossible to start.
There’s a small radio transmitter in the head of the key that communicates with a receiver inside the car so that both “know” a changing, random digital code. Only if the codes match, can the key start the car. All this is transparent to the user: they only know that their key works. But it makes getting replacement car keys more complicated than it used to be, and you should choose a locksmith who is well-trained and experienced in replacing transponder keys.
Replacing these keys is a two-step process. The metal part of the key has to be cut correctly to physically fit into the lock or ignition, and the transponder has to be reprogrammed so that it re-synchronizes with the receiver in the car, giving it the ability to start the car. Your car dealer may have told you that you have to go to them to get replacement transponder keys, but that’s not true. They’re more than eager to charge you $150 or so for the new key, and another $90 or so to program it. This myth that car dealers are the only source of replacement keys has cost a lot of people a lot of money over the years.
A good locksmith who knows how to replace transponder keys can do it for significantly less, and usually much quicker, so you can be on your way sooner. This is good to know if you’re ever stuck in the cold one night without your car keys. Car locksmiths have the hardware and software in their mobile vans, along with the transponder key blanks, to replace just about any car key of any model on the road today. Don’t let a car dealer lead you to believe that they are the only source of replacement keys. For all but a tiny minority of cars, they aren’t.
It’s a good idea to have a backup set of car keys made and leave them with someone trustworthy that you would have a good chance of reaching should you lose your keys. Doing this also gives you the opportunity to talk to several locksmiths and compare their prices, services, and professionalism without being in a desperate situation. Once you find a trustworthy locksmith, program the phone number into your phone so that if you lose your keys, you don’t have to track down the right number.
Sometimes, the key suddenly stops working and the “theft” light comes on in the car. While the key might not be programmed correctly, more likely the car’s computer or electrical system is where the problem is located. Often you need to have an automotive electrician look at your car rather than a locksmith if your transponder keys suddenly stop working.
Late after a night out in a parking lot in winter is not a good time to have to start from scratch to find a good locksmith to duplicate your car keys. Be proactive, and find a trustworthy locksmith before you have an emergency. This will give you much peace of mind, knowing you won’t be gouged or taken advantage of when you find yourself in a vulnerable situation.