Understanding Why Automotive Transponder Key Replacement Is Expensive

Posted on: 28 November 2016

If you have a newer car and lose your key, then you may be surprised to learn that a new key can cost as much as $350. This cost does depend on the type of locking system that your car currently has. Some of the most expensive keys are called transponder keys, and these will generally cost one to several hundred dollars to replace. If you want to know why the costs are so high, then keep reading. 

The Keys Contain A Computer Chip

If you were to contact a locksmith to have a traditional key replaced, then the professional would cut a new key for you. This key can be created by locating the key code for the original key. This code can be found on the tag attached to your original keys, in your user manual, or on the faceplate of the actual lock. If the code is not in one of these locations, then it may be on the barrel of the lock itself. If these places do not show a proper code, then a locksmith may need to contact the car manufacturer with the VIN number. This is rare though, and the code is typically in one of these areas. Once the code is found, the new key can be cut. This typically only takes a few minutes, and the replacement key will be fairly cheap.

This simple process cannot be used to replace a transponder key though. Transponder keys have computer chips that are specifically programmed to work with the ignition of your car. These chips are installed in the small head of the key underneath the plastic bit. This chip deactivates the immobolizer in the ignition that keeps the car from starting if the wrong key is placed in the ignition. 

The immobilizer and the key chip are part of a safety system that was implemented almost 30 years ago to reduce thefts. Each key is programmed with a distinctive electronic signal that indicates that the correct key has been placed in the car. This means that an individual cannot make a key for your car based on the key code alone. Only authorized individuals can create transponder keys and your personal information will be recorded when one of the keys are created. This stops criminals from anonymously creating transponder keys and using them to steal cars. The programming of the chip is more time consuming than cutting a key, and the added time will cost you some money.

Key Programming Requires Special Equipment

Locksmiths will have a variety of tools at their disposal to cut keys and change locks. The key programming device is one of these tools, and it is a specialty device that is often quite expensive. Not only is the tool an expensive one, but new types of computer chips, transponder keys, and signals are being used at all times. Specifically, as technology advances, car manufacturers create and implement new theft deterrent devices. These systems typically include more complicated signals emitted from the transponder keys. 

When a manufacturer creates a new anti-theft system, a locksmith will need to purchase a key programmer that can be used with the new system. This new programmer can usually be updated for some time with downloaded programs, but many of the devices only have update support for a few years. Since new devices need to be purchased constantly, the cost is passed to the customer. 

Fortunately, key programmer devices are usually smaller handheld tools that can be used almost anywhere. This means that a new key can be programmed for your car if you lose your key at home or at the local supermarket. This is far more convenient than having to arrange new key creation with your local dealer.

Keep these idea in mind when you find that you need car key replacement