Transponder Keys
Transponder Keys

Since the 1990s, losing your car keys has become a lot more complicated than it used to be. In the old days, you could easily get a spare key made at any local hardware store or locksmith, or at the dealership. A basic car key has its unique cuts and grooves, just like a house key, and it’s easy to copy for just a few dollars.

The disadvantage of this, however, was that because it is so simple to copy this type of key, it was also relatively easy for a car thief to steal your vehicle. Nowadays, because of advances in key technology, automobiles are much more difficult to steal because of the use of transponder keys. A transponder key for your car is more expensive, but definitely worth the peace of mind it gives you.

What type of transponder key did you lose?

A transponder key has a transponder chip inside the key’s plastic head, which emits a unique signal that goes to a receiver in your vehicle, telling it to start. The main difference between a regular key and a transponder key is that the chip in the transponder key must be programmed before it can start up your car. For most automobiles today, an electronic key fob (also called a remote) is an integral component of your key set. It’s important to safeguard your transponder key at all times, since, depending upon the automaker and the complexity of its design, the replacement of your electronic fob can be pricey. First of all, the fob must be properly programmed. A few dealerships will do this for you for free, but most will charge a lot. With some cars, your owner’s manual will show you how to do it yourself.

For some vehicles, the transponder key and the fob are an all-in-one unit. Also known as a laser-cut key, the shank is slightly thicker and has fewer carved-out grooves. Laser-cut keys are sometimes referred to as sidewinder keys, because of the characteristic winding cut on the shank. The laser-cut key’s built-in transponder chip will of course have to be programmed. In that case, it will be more difficult to get yourself a spare key made anywhere except at the dealership. Again, even though it’s more expensive, this fact certainly keeps your car more secure.

A switchblade key is another type of key that has a transponder chip inside. A switchblade key has a shank, which folds into the fob when not in use. You pop it out by pressing a button. This type of key has either a basic cut or a laser cut. One advantage of the switchblade key is that its components can be bought separately. Obviously, if you’ve lost your key entirely, you’ll need to program both parts.

Then there are smart keys, which aren’t really keys in the conventional sense. This key is actually just a fob, which you either insert into the dash, or keep in your pocket or purse. You get in the driver’s seat, and then turn the car on and off just by pressing a button. A smart key is highly secure because of its rolling security codes. That is, it’s continually randomizing the correct code, a strategy which prevents a potential car thief from hacking it with a code grabber. Your dealership can replace your smart key.


One low-cost measure you may want to take to allow access to your car is that you could order only the basic key without the transmitter. This key will do everything else except start up the engine. This comes in handy if you ever lock your car keys inside your vehicle.

There is also the element of programming for remote locking and unlocking. This feature is usually viewed as a luxury, since it’s not essential for you to be able to gain entry and drive your vehicle, but you can program this part yourself, or hire an expert automotive locksmith to do it.

Always keep a third spare key.

Do you lose your keys all too often? You can save some money on transponder key programming by making a third key to have as a spare. What’s good about this is that if you already have two keys, many automobile makes and models will permit you to program a third key yourself. You can ask a professional locksmith to cut the third key for you, and then follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to program it.

The following method works on many American-made vehicles. Before you spend money trying it, however, check with your dealership or with a local automotive locksmith technician to see if this procedure will work with your car:

  1. First, insert one of your two working keys, and turn the ignition to the “on” position for at least three seconds (without starting the car).
  2. Do the same with your second key.
  3. Now, insert the new third key, and again turn it to the “on” position for another few seconds. This will effectively program the extra key.

Avoid transponder key loss in the future.

No matter how you look at it, a transponder key doesn’t come cheap. So the best defense against losing yours is to prepare ahead of time. Do you really only have one set of keys? Don’t tempt fate! It’s so much better to have a backup spare key made now than to stress out over it later, when you’ll end up spending more money than you wanted to, in what will probably be an urgent situation.

Anywhere you go to program your transponder key, you’ll need:

  • the chassis number of your vehicle
  • proof that you’re really the owner, with 2 forms of identification
  • the unique code from the car manufacturer’s original code card, which came with the vehicle

If you’re without that code, there are automotive locksmiths who can do some reprogramming, and get you back on the road again. If you know your transponder key is truly lost, or if it’s time to get a new one programmed, if you live in Des Plaines, Illinois, you ought to consult with a mobile automotive locksmith specialist, such as the technicians on staff at Des Plaines Locksmith. Many times, such a reliable professional will be able to assist you, and at a lower cost than the dealership would charge.


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