Car Key Replacement — Everything You Need to Know

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There are several reasons why you may want to have your car key replaced, but most of the times it’s because we lose them; other reasons include getting broken, worn or even getting locked out of your car. It is quite fascinating how our car keys get lost in the most unusual ways, for instance, you could remember placing the keys in your coat pocket, and not finding it there, and then finding it months later underneath your couch, or in your closet, or someplace you never imagined it would be — inside the freezer. Sometimes you are left wondering how the car key walks away from where you think you left it.

Before the 1980s, when the electronic era began, lost car keys were not a challenge. Since you could easily walk into any locksmith shop or hardware store to get a replacement, or better still you could go to the car dealership for a replacement. However, because the keys could be duplicated easily, it also made it very easy for car theft to thrive. With the advancement in security technologies, even car key technology evolved, and thus, made it more difficult for cars to get stolen, this does not mean that cars don’t get stolen though, it only means that it’s not as easy as it was back before the 80s. It is also important to note that the innovative technologies used on the keys have made their replacement costlier than it was years ago. With that in mind, car theft is still an issue. And unfortunately, with thief getting more and more tech-savvy, and more vehicles added on a road throughout the year — the Vehicle Theft in the US is on a steady rise. You can see the vehicle theft statistic in the US in the past few years for more details.


Car Key Types

  • 1. Basic Keys and Fob

    From the name, you may have an idea what a basic car key looks like, and it was a common type of car key till some later parts of the 1980s. The basic car key is as basic as it sounds; it does not have any additional security feature except that it’s cut uniquely; it looks something like your regular house key. Such keys are easy to cut, and the locksmith does not really need to employ the use of extra equipment, because the same machine used to cut other keys can be used to cut the basic car key. While a locksmith will do a good job of duplicating the car key, you may also want to get the job done at a car dealership, for the sole purpose of having the key branded with the automaker’s logo. However, the cost of having the key replaced by the car dealership is significantly higher than getting it done by a qualified locksmith.

    Modern cars have gone beyond using just basic keys, and that is thanks to the advancement in automotive innovative technologies, the car keys come with transmitters or remote, also referred to as electronic fobs. The fob is a very important part of the key, and its replacement costs more than the basic keys because there is usually the need to have the fobs programmed in order to function normally with the car. The fob needs to send a radio signal to the car locking mechanism.
  • 2. • Keys with Transponders

    The later parts of the 1990s saw some notable advancements in car key technology, as car manufacturers began to introduce the use of transponder keys, and this they achieved by embedding the transponder chips in a not conspicuous place in the keys, particularly the key’s plastic head. So when the key is put in the ignition, there is a communication between the transponder and the ignition’s receiver, adding another security layer. Hence, when a wrong signal is detected by the immobilizer, the vehicle will refuse to start. Back then, a lot of car thieves did not know about this, and that’s why there was a significant drop in car theft cases, as opposed to when basic car keys were used.

    Replacing a transponder key can be done at car dealerships, as they have the equipment needed to cut the key and program the transponder. Good auto locksmiths also have the equipment, hence, it is up to you to decide to opt for the car dealership or a good auto locksmith. Write your self a note: the auto locksmith is usually cheaper than going to the auto dealer; however, you may not get the automaker’s branding on the key.
  • 3. Switchblade Car Keys

    You know how you press a button on a switchblade, and the blade pops out? Similarly, there are car keys designed that way. When the car keys are not in use, the shank stays hidden in a folded manner in the fob and then pops out when a button on the fob is pressed. A switchblade car key can come as a laser cut or a basic cut key. An added advantage of the switchblade car keyis that separate purchase of the components is possible. So if your key gets damaged, you may not need to worry about replacing the whole unit, as you can purchase the shank on its own, however, if it is a case of a lost key, then you may need to get the shank and the fob, and it could be really costly, as there is the need to take the programming of the different components, into consideration.
  • 4. Laser-Cut Keys

    It is quite easy to differentiate between a basic cut key, and one common way to do this is by the key’s thickness. Laser-cut keys are usually thicker than the basic keys, and its carved groves are fewer. In most cases, laser-cut keys also go by the name ‘sidewinder’ keys, because of the shank’s distinctive cutting. Unlike some other key cutting machines, the laser-cutter costs more than the basic key cutter, and you may not find them at every hardware store or locksmith.

    They also come with a transponder chip embedded in them; hence they need to be programmed, either by a locksmith or at the car dealership.
  • 5. Smart Keys

    As part of the world’s way of constant evolution, technology also keeps evolving, and we are in an era where everything is becoming ‘smart’. In the beginning, it started with smartphones, now we have smart watches, smart cars, smart homes, smart fridges, and so on. Do you know we also have smart keys? Well, traditionally, smart keys are not really keys, rather they are fobs that either stay in your purse or pocket, and you can start the car at the push of a button on your car’s dashboard. You may be wondering why it is called a smart key, and here is why. The smart key has a totally different security feature that rolls its security code, and does it randomly, in order to prevent thieves from using code grabbers to hack into the key. When the ignition button is pressed, the vehicle’s computer communicates with the smart key and recognizes the code the smart key is sending, and when it verifies the code’s validity, the car’s engine will start. Mercedes Benz was among the first car manufacturers to adopt the technology and were the ones that gave it the name ‘SmartKey,’ and at the moment every vehicle in the automaker’s lineup uses the smart key. However, only dealers are the ones to go to when there is a need to replace the keys, and replacement could cost from between $200 to $900 depending on the automaker and the complexity of the key.

Tips When Ordering Car Key Replacement Services.

You need a plan B for your car keys, so you do not get stranded when it gets missing, or when you are locked out. Here are some tips to help you ease the locksmith services procedure if you decide that dealership prices are too high, or if it’s an emergency.

• Inform the locksmith about the make, model and year of your vehicle, because locksmiths are good with making basic car keys, but transponder car keys  would need a piece of different equipment, hence, it is good to ascertain they can do the job.

• It is also important to know whether the locksmith is insured, licensed, and bonded.

• Give a detailed explanation of the problem.

• Be sure that the locksmith actually serves the area you are in, so you do not have to wait for long

• Perhaps you got locked out of your car and do not own a spare car key, it is important to allow your locksmith to know, in order for them to expedite their  services, knowing that it is an emergency situation.

• If you have changed your ignition before the car key got lost, you should let the locksmith know about it, as it will give them more insight about how to go replacing your car key for you.


Saving Money on Car Key Replacement

The recent trend in technological innovations prevents you from just walking up to any hardware store to have your keys replaced, and this has contributed to the high cost of replacing car keys. However, there are some ways you can replace your car keys without breaking the bank:

• Automotive Locksmiths
As opposed to going to the dealership to have your lost car keys replaced, the locksmith is a much cheaper option, and even for transponder keys, some locksmiths have the equipment needed to program the keys, all at a cheaper cost than visiting the dealership.

• Car Insurance Claim
This is one option a lot of people do not use, either because they do not know about it, or they think the process would be tedious. But you can lodge a complaint with your insurance company about your stolen or lost car key; however, it is imperative that you ensure that the stolen or lost car keys are in line with the time requirements, stipulated by the policy defining lost car keys. There are several other criteria to consider; hence, it is important to pay attention to the agreement before opting for the insurance for your car key replacement.

• Have Spare Keys
When buying a car from a dealer, it is a good practice to request for spare keys, because some dealers also offer that service. When you get the spare keys, it is imperative to check them there to ascertain that they are working perfectly. Having spare keys saves you a lot of time and money in case your car keys get missing, or you get locked out while the car is running.

• Use Shockproof and Waterproof Car Keys
If you are the type who is really active and are always on the move or partying, then it is a safe practice to request for car keys that are waterproof and shockproof, as they increase the lifespan of the car keys, especially in the prevention of wear. You can get a good automotive locksmith to do this for you at a cheaper rate than the car dealers will offer you.

• Key Locator Devices
This is handy for people who misplace their keys often. It is designed in such a way that it can be connected to your smartphone, and gives a ring when you begin to look for it.
We cannot deny the fact that modern car keys are expensive to replace; hence, it is always a good practice to have a spare before the main one gets missing. You will spend more time and money when it becomes an emergency situation.

Bottom Line

Losing a key is a common scenario, especially in a high paced world we live today, and dealing with locksmith issues doesn’t need to be stressful and complicated if you are prepared!
Everybody wants their car to be safe and secure. Our cars are not just a means of transportation but also act as our private gateways. Unfortunately, the increasing crime rates including theft and burglary have made this one of the difficult tasks to be accomplished. One of the best ways to protect your vehicle from possible future robberies is to change the manual lock to something automatic or technologically advanced or to have a skilled and trustworthy locksmith on your speed dial for any emergency.


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