In November 2014, an elderly New Zealand couple was locked in their new car for 13 hours. Not understanding how to escape from a keyless entry vehicle almost cost them their lives. While the story seems incredulous to some, the fact remains that entering or exiting your vehicle may not be as simple as you thought it was. It is time to hone up on your knowledge about how different car keys work so that you know what to do when your car keys need replacing.
Traditional Car Key
The traditional car key looks similar to a house key, and was issued for all vehicle models up to the late 1990s. It is completely made of metal, and has a long shank which has a series of notches cut in it. If this type of key is lost and there is no spare, you have two options:
- Contact the vehicle dealer. Provide them with your car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and they may be able to order a new key for you. They will do this by accessing a database that keeps a record of every car ever made by the manufacturer. The downside of this method is the wait time for the key to arrive.
- Contact an automotive locksmith. They may be able to produce a replica of the lost key by using a blank key. This key is inserted into the door lock of the car, and becomes marked with the notches on the tumbler. The master key can then be filed and altered until it is an exact replica of the key that was lost.
At the end of the 1990s, car keys became more complicated thanks to the introduction of electronics and the transponder.
Transponder Car Keys
Transponder keys look like a basic car key at the shank end, but at the head of the key is a thick, black plastic head. Within the plastic head of a transponder key is a chip. This chip talks to the engine and if the two do not agree with each other, the car will not start. Therefore a lost transponder car key will cost more to reproduce than a basic car key.
A replacement transponder key can be programmed by either a car dealership or an automotive locksmith, but they will need to be in possession of the tool required to program a blank key so that it will talk to your car. Many online forums report that the automotive locksmith is the cheaper option.
As an alternative, for some cars you can get a locksmith to fashion the key, and you can program the transponder part yourself to save money. An online search of your car's make and model may give up the step-by-step instructions of how to do this. However, it is advisable to see if this is an option for your car before you buy the key, otherwise you could be making a double trip to the locksmith.
Most recently, smart keys have led to a keyless entry into a car, which is how the New Zealand couple got into trouble. These cars do not have a key at all, but rather a fob that is carried by the driver. There is no ignition, just a start/stop switch that can be activated when the fob is close to the system.
While the doors of this type of car will automatically lock once the car is started and moving, they can be unlocked manually by a switch which is located on the driver's and front passenger's doors. This type of key is the most expensive to replace, and at this stage you can only get a replacement one from the dealer.
The easiest way to avoid an expensive key replacement is to have a secondary key organised when you purchase a car and discover it only comes with one key. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 when you find yourself in a situation with no key. In which case your fastest recovery option is to call your local automotive locksmith for assistance.