What to do when you lose your only car key? If you’ve ever been in the unfortunate situation of having a lost car key, know that you’re not alone. This experience can be even more stressful when it just happens to be the only key to your vehicle.
But don’t panic just yet; believe it or not, there is plenty to be done even when there’s no key left to copy. Even with all the smart keys floating around today, there’s more than a single solution to this dilemma.
The first reaction you might have is to contact your dealership; it’s worth mentioning that this is undoubtedly a worthwhile option. However, many don’t yet know that numerous automotive locksmiths or independent mechanics may offer a competitive rate compared with the dealership.
First, however, let’s take a quick look into the different types of car keys prevalent in the automotive industry today, arming you with the knowledge and terminology necessary to communicating effectively with a locksmith or mechanic.
Read on – What To Do When You Lose Your Only Car Key?
Old faithful in the automotive industry is the traditional lock and key system; the function is purely mechanical and typically operates a wafer lock in more modern cars. Standard keys generally are the cheapest system to replace the key when you lose the original.
However, sometimes in older vehicles or particular scenarios, the lock cores themselves have to be replaced.
Thus, getting a new key in this format is a hit or miss depending on your specific situation. Often a dealer is your best bet when a traditional key is in play.
The key fob is the very first smart entry system we’re going to talk about; it uses short-range radio waves to transmit a code to a receiver unit in the car. Then, depending on the signal, the fob can either lock or unlock the vehicle to provide ease of entry.
However, the key fob system is mostly coupled with a more traditional mechanical key for car ignition. That means if you lose your key fob, you don’t have to fret. You can still get into and start your car just fine; really, these little guys are just a matter of convenience.
When you lose one, they’re easily programmable and relatively cheap too. They’re found almost everywhere, from your auto parts stores to your dealerships.
Major automotive manufacturers released switchblade keys not long after the initial release of the key fob system. They’re essentially the same as the fob system referenced above; however, the traditional car key and the fob became a single unit.
A button would release the spring-loaded car key the same way a switchblade knife activates, explaining the name.
Often these were found on European cars back in the day, and unfortunately, the units themselves are more pricy when contrasted with replacing a traditional key or a fob. Often it costs more than 100 dollars to replace even the older ones.
In addition, dealerships are the single best way to replace these, as they have the means to both cut and program the key on-site for your specific vehicle.
Back in the early 90’s transponder keys became the benchmark for anti-theft systems in the automotive world. The same technology that powers the transponder key is in effect, very similar to the technology inside your modern credit card chip.
During the mid to late 80’s the theft rate of Chevrolet corvettes forced General Motors to develop the VATS key system. Upon introduction, it dramatically decreased the incidence of the stolen corvettes.
Then by 1995 versions of this same system were virtually on every production car in the entire automotive industry.
It all starts with the information on the computer of the car, known as the engine control unit or ECU for short. Then, when the transponder key is placed into a vehicle’s ignition, a ring around the ignition sends a radio inquiry to the key, often referenced as an interrogation signal.
After the key receives this signal, it will respond with another radio signal; inside that response, a signal is a code unique to the specific vehicle.
Finally, when the code sent by the key matches the code inside the ECU computer, the security system shuts down, and the car starts up.
Should you lose this type of key, the only solution is to get a tow to the dealership and shell out the cash for another key, though sometimes you can find an exceptional automotive locksmith able to reproduce a key of this nature.
Unfortunately, they are some of the most expensive keys in the automotive world, costing a few hundred dollars to replace. But, of course, that’s without factoring in the money it might cost to transport your car to the dealership or business able to assist in the replacement.
Last but not least we have the smart key systems out there, by far in the way the most advanced type of automotive key to date. It combines everything you learned about the transponder key system with additional features and often a mechanical backup.
The vehicle that uses a smart key system will be able to detect proximity to the key, able to lock or unlock itself depending on settings automatically, and gone are the days of accidentally locking a key inside the vehicle.
The actual technology behind the smart key, believe it or not, was invented back in the ’90s by Siemens, then first introduced by Mercedes-Bens.
However, we’ve come a long way since then and these devices can even retain driver profiles, such as seat position, environmental settings, or your favorite radio station. In particular ford vehicles, the smart keys can even restrict the vehicle’s performance.
Unsurprisingly if this was your only key and you lose it, you’re going to end up towing the car to a dealership. They might potentially have to order a key for you if they don’t already have it.
Since the smart keys are the most advanced automotive key device for security and convenience, it should be no surprise that they are also among the most expensive to replace and pair with your specific vehicle.
Rarely if ever, will you come across an automotive locksmith capable of producing a smart key without the original. The cost of the keys alone, depending on the vehicle, can be upwards of several hundred dollars.