High Cost of Losing Your Car Keys

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Stuck Car Keys on Floor
We've all done it. 
You are late for work and rushing around, trying to get out the door, when you realize that you don't have your car keys. You thought they were in your pants pocket, or your purse, or your other pants, or the little bowl that the family puts keys in by the door. But no, the keys have fallen victim to the key hiding fairies and they have vanished. 

Most of the time, your car keys reappear as if by magic and you scurry out the door, forgetting all about your peril in losing them. Most of the time. But what about when the time comes that your car keys really have slipped into some alternate dimension or the cat has flushed them down the toilet? 

Lithia Auto is here to help. Let's talk about what you would have to do in order to get a new set of keys in your hands. Let's talk about the high cost of replacing your car keys and why it is so expensive.

The Good Ol' Days

If you lost your car keys before the invention of smart key fobs, replacing them was not a big deal. You used to be able to get basic keys replaced  at the local locksmith or even most hardware stores. People used to have duplicate car keys all over their homes and garages so losing one wasn't a big deal.

However, that convenience meant that car thieves had just as easy a time getting keys to your car. This caused car keys to evolve into various different types of car keys. Today, high tech key fobs help keep us safe from auto theft but make it really expensive to replace your keys. 
What's a "Fob?" 
Electronic key fobs come with today's cars, trucks and SUVs. These remote transmitters work with your vehicle to create a unique signature that allows you entry into your car but keeps the bad guys out. They are called "Fobs" because the first one was invented by Milton Fobinski in 1975 when the cat flushed his keys down the toilet. Just kidding. Actually, the word fob originated from watch fobs from back in the 1800s, which were an ornament attached to pocket watch chains. 

Losing Your Key Fob

Today, electronic key fobs are very complex and do a number of important things, including remote starting your car, arming and disarming the car alarm, and enabling the ignition. The cost to replace such a complex electronic key fob can be many hundreds of dollars. There's the cost of the actual fob itself and the cost for having it programmed specifically for your make and model of car. 

Most key fobs are programmed with an intriguing combination of button presses that may involve inserting the fob into a sleeve in the car dash, pressing the start button a number of times, rolling the windows up and down and other unusual shenanigans before the fob is programmed. Owner's Manuals sometimes show you how this ritual is performed or you can find tutorials and videos online. 

While your car dealer can do all this for you, it is rather expensive. Losing your key fob or transponder keys can cost you up to $500 to replace and program before you can get back down the road. However, there is a cheaper way to do this. 
The Other Way 
A simple search of Amazon will show you an amazing display of aftermarket electronic key fob clones produced in third world countries that are cheaper than the OEM versions that are available through your dealership. The problem here is, though you can save money by purchasing an off-brand type of key or key fob,  you don't know what you are getting. Having entered the year, make and model of your vehicle, you are faced with many dizzying and confusing choices for a replacement "knock off" of your original fob. 

These aftermarket fobs are shipped to you, often unassembled, and the quality of non-OEM fobs can be suspect. They are cheaper for a reason. Plus, you will still need to perform the archaic and confusing ritual of programming them. It is far better to go to a locksmith that specializes in replacing automotive electronic key fobs. A car locksmith will come right to your home with a new fob, program it expertly, and get you on the road in about a half an hour. Total cost will be around $300 including the smart key fob. In fact, watching them perform the secret ritual is almost worth the price of admission. Plus, if you just locked your keys in your car, an auto locksmith is the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get you back on the road. 

What is a Transponder?

In an effort to find ways to defeat car thieves, automakers came out with an ingenious device in the 1990s called a transponder key. These include a tiny transponder chip in the key that emits a signal to a receiver in the ignition system of the car. If the wrong key is inserted in the ignition, the transponder defeats the ignition circuit and the car will not start. 

Some of the more expensive car brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar include laser-cut keys into the scheme that are unique to the vehicle. Auto dealerships have the equipment to program the use of transponder keys as do auto-specific locksmiths. Transponder keys and electronic key fobs are often one unit these days, which adds to the overall price you'll pay for a replacement. Some of these are called "switchblade" keys because the key retracts into the fob when it is in your pocket. If you choose an auto locksmith over a dealership, make sure they are a member of the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA). You can find an ALOA locksmith in your area  here

What Are Smart Keys?

The majority of car keys for new cars today aren't really keys at all. Known as keyless entry remotes, these "smart keys" are fobs that you either insert into the car dash, or that stays in your pocket or purse when you are in the car. These fobs send an electronic signal to the car when you are within range (several feet from the car). They allow you to walk up to your locked car, touch the door handle, which unlocks the car, or you can unlock it by pressing a button, get in and press the start button on the dash. 

These use high tech security in the form of rolling security codes. Basically, the device scrambles the code to unlock the car in order to further deter ever-more ingenious car thieves. Your car's onboard computer recognizes a code sent from the smart key and verifies it before allowing you to start the car. 

Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the cost for purchasing a replacement smart key and then having it programmed can run anywhere from $200 on a Ford F-150 to $400 on a Porsche Cayman. 
Let Lithia Help 
While replacing and programming your smart keys is an expensive undertaking, Lithia Auto is here to help. We have dealerships from coast to coast, servicing all makes and models of cars. You'll find the Lithia Auto dealer near you right here.

One bit of advice… keep your car keys away from your cat.