What You Need to Know About Car Key Replacement

What You Need to Know About Car Key Replacement

Not so long ago, misplacing–or losing–a car key wasn’t that big a deal. But as cars have become more sophisticated, so have their keys, which are now more expensive than ever to replace.

CHOICE shadow-shopped several dealerships to find out how much it costs to replace one of five types of keys.

Electronic Keys

Car manufacturers have created digital keys in an effort to be more effective at preventing car theft. These keys have a small microchip embedded in the head of the key, which is paired with the vehicle to ensure only you can start it. If you lose your Car Key Replacement, you will need to contact roadside assistance to have it reprogrammed.

This process is typically a lengthy, expensive endeavor at the dealership. Fortunately, local locksmiths like Pop-A-Lock are able to duplicate and program these kinds of keys at a much faster, less costly rate.

There is never a good time to lose your keys, but having them replaced is often the most cost-effective way to get back on the road. To avoid Car Key Replacement, we recommend keeping a Faraday Key Fob Pouch nearby to block radio signals from hackers and thieves. It will also keep your car’s key fob safe from water and other environmental factors that may cause it to stop working.

Transponder Keys

A transponder key has an element that communicates with your car when you insert it into the ignition. The chip inside the key has a serial number that is unique to your car, and when you plug it in, the microchip transmits a signal to the engine control unit. The vehicle then uses that signal to identify whether the key is valid, and it will allow the engine to start.

A reputable locksmith will have the necessary equipment to program your transponder key correctly. You can also visit a store such as AutoZone, where an associate will help you select the correct key and will program it for you.

If you have a standard transponder key, you can get it duplicated at a locksmith for a lower price than at a dealership. However, you will need to have the original key with you in order to use it, since a copy won’t work without a proper code.

Standard Key Fobs

Many cars built since the mid-1990s use standard key fobs that lock, unlock and arm an alarm at the push of a button. They do not start the car, though you can still use a traditional key to do so.

Older fobs can often be replaced at a dealership, while newer ones require programming to work with the complicated security systems of the car they’re in. Depending on the make and model, this can run from $50 to $400, says Consumer Reports automotive analyst Mel Yu.

Some auto parts stores and locksmiths offer programmable fobs that cost less than those at a dealership, but we found that some brands won’t work with aftermarket fobs. Check your car’s owner manual to see if there are any restrictions. You should also find out whether your insurance or car warranty covers replacement. If not, you can save by buying a standard fob at a discount online and having it programmed at a local dealership.

Folding Key Fobs

Folding key fobs are a feature that some cars offer to allow drivers to unlock their car or start it without having to put in a traditional key. These types of fobs cost more to replace than standard ones.

If you have a folding key fob and it stops working, the problem likely has to do with the battery. You can purchase a new battery at a hardware store, big-box retailer or online and swap it in yourself. Your owner’s manual — or the YouTube videos automakers post — should include instructions on how to do this.

The cost of replacing a key fob can vary widely depending on the type of key and where you turn to get it replaced, so check your car manufacturer’s website or a trusted automotive locksmith for options. Also, find out if your car’s warranty or insurance covers the loss. Depending on the car, losing a key can be a very costly experience!