For many cars manufactured after 1995, replacing lost car keys isn't as simple as purchasing an inexpensive replacement. That's because these keys have a chip inside of them that sends a low level signal to the car. The signal sent must match the car's when the key is in the ignition in order for the car to start. This guide can help you navigate the replacement process of this specialized key.
How to Tell If You Have a Transponder Key
The simplest way to tell if you have a transponder key is to look at the keys themselves. If all the ignition keys to the vehicle, including the spares, have a plastic head and if the car is a late 90s or newer model, chances are you have a transponder key. You can verify this with the car dealer, in the owner's manual, or by taking a key to a locksmith. In some cases, the plastic head of the key may also contain the fob, which controls automatic door locks and the alarm.
You have two options when it comes to replacement – the dealership or a locksmith. All dealerships have the ability to both cut a new key and to program it to your vehicle. Unfortunately, dealerships may be the more expensive option, often charging you for both the key and the labor involved in programming it.
Many locksmiths also have the ability to make you a new key. You will need to call and make sure they have transponder enabled equipment first. Locksmiths usually charge a flat fee for both the key creation and the programming of the transponder, so the cost is often lower. As an added benefit, unlike the dealer, a locksmith will often come to you to perform the service.
Whether you opt for the dealer or the locksmith, you will need to prove ownership of the vehicle before a key will be made. You can do this simply by providing your driver's license and the car's title or registration. You will also need to bring the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) with you so the locksmith or dealer can look up the transponder code when they program the new key.
Cost Saving Options
The transponder is only needed for starting the ignition, not for unlocking the doors. If you simply locked the keys inside the vehicle, you can request that the locksmith make you an inexpensive key without the chipset so you can just unlock the doors. Some vehicles will also allow you to make a spare transponder key ahead of time yourself. You can order a new, unprogrammed key from the dealer. Then, you will use an existing transponder key to set the code on the new spare key. Cars that allow this will indicate the information in owner's manual, along with the necessary programming directions for the specific make and model of your vehicle.