How To Replace a Car Key Without the Original

How To Replace a Car Key Without the Original
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In the past, it was common to get extra car keys cut to have on hand. But cars today have a chip in them that needs to be programmed, and with the added tech comes added cost, so it’s less likely you’ll get spares laying around. But if you lose your keys, do you know how to get a replacement car key without the original?

It might not be as easy as you think. If you drive a newer vehicle, it could take hours or days to get a new key and be quite an expense. These are the ways you can get a new car key without original keys in hand.

How to get a replacement car key without the original

Your options for getting a key cut for your vehicle are limited. The reason is simple: security. Otherwise, anyone with your easily-found personal and vehicle information could get a key and steal your car. Your options are either to go to a dealership associated with your vehicle brand, find a capable locksmith or source the part online.

Dealer

Car dealerships that sell your car’s brand can make a key for your vehicle if you don’t have a current key. They can use the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, to retrieve a key code and cut it based on that info. But the key won’t work without being programmed, and an automotive technician uses the manufacturer’s software and programming tools to pair the key to your car’s computer.

Dealers are all but guaranteed to have the parts in stock and will definitely have the ability to program the key. It’s going to carry a year’s worth of warranty, in most cases. But your vehicle will need to be towed there–keys can only be programmed to the vehicle if you don’t have the original, so the car must be present. They’re usually more expensive, and dealership service departments tend to be a lengthy wait for an appointment.

Automotive locksmith

Can a locksmith make a car key without the original? Yes. Whether you locked your keys in your car or lost your last original key, a local automotive locksmith is a great number to have in your contact list. They have access to the most popular replacement keys and can get virtually anything. Usually, they can also find the key code. If not, the locksmith can remove the ignition cylinder to code the key.

For most cars, programming the key fob is the hiccup. The time it takes to program the key varies.

“On a good day if everything goes right, I could knock out a Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge key from scratch in about three minutes," said Stan, an automotive locksmith at AnyTime Locksmith in Reno, Nevada. “But if you’re doing, for example, a 2018 Toyota Camry key, the bare minimum time is about 20 minutes because there is an unlock procedure.”

Fortunately, most locksmith shops have mobile technicians. They can program the key to your car where it sits. They’re usually the most cost-effective option, too. According to Stan, a common vehicle like a Ford or GM is probably around $100 to program without an original and about half that if you still have one fob present. High-end cars like Mercedes-Benz are often much more.

Online

A quick online search is all it takes to find a replacement key, but the key is uncut and not programmed. You’ll still need to take it to either a dealership or a locksmith to get it cut and paired to your vehicle.

“You can buy a car key online, however it is generally not worth doing as it will take multiple days for it to arrive and most well-equipped shops have keys in stock,” Stan said.

You’re probably on the hook for the labor involved, too, whether the programming works or not, and you won’t have a warranty on it. So, you might save on the initial key purchase, but it catches up with you when you need it cut and programmed.

What kind of key do you need?

The kind of key you need is a huge factor in what it’ll cost to get a new one made. It also affects the time frame for getting back on the road. Does it have a chip or not? Are there keyless entry buttons to program? Here’s what you need to know about the different key styles.

Traditional keys

A traditional key is what we consider a transponder key. It has an RFID chip in the key head that’s picked up by the ignition, disabling the onboard immobilizer system so your car can’t be stolen as easily. These keys look like a normal key but with a slightly bulkier head.

These keys are among the least expensive, and programming is a relatively fast process by either a dealership or locksmith. You might carry a separate keyless entry fob to lock and unlock the doors with this type of key, and it can also be programmed in a similar fashion. If you get a key cut, you can still use it in the door lock cylinder to access your car.

Fob with integrated key

Made popular by early 2000s Volkswagens, fobs with an integrated key are often called laser cut keys. The key shaft is squared and the center section of the blade is cut rather than the edge. It costs more to make, but it’s not all that complicated anymore.

“Laser cut is a bit of a misnomer as there are actually no lasers involved,” Stan said. “It refers generally to high-security keys that must be endmilled. Any halfway decent automotive shop or technician should have access to a computerized key cutter that will make quick work of those sorts of keys.”

Between securing a key, cutting it and programming it, you can expect to spend around $300 to $500 typically. Some exotic or luxury models could be several times that.

Transponder key fobs

If your car has push-button start, odds are it has an all-in-one transponder key fob. These have to be programmed in the same way as other keys. There’s a key shaft tucked into the transponder fob that needs to be cut, too. It’s used as a backup for unlocking the door and sometimes can be used in an ignition cylinder if the key fob battery dies.

Smart fobs

For vehicles that can unlock when you’re in proximity, your key is called a smart key or smart fob. Your vehicle can automatically lock when you walk away and unlock as you approach. It’s very much like a transponder key fob but even more high tech. Programming isn’t all that different between the styles, but the price of the key itself can range from a couple hundred dollars to more than a thousand.

What you’ll need to provide to get a replacement key

No reputable dealership or locksmith will make a key for you without the original unless you can prove it’s your car. And for that, you need to have documentation on hand, ideally the title.

“Documentation rules may differ slightly by state, but generally speaking, the title is going to be best," Stan said. “Registration and insurance is usually acceptable, but different shops have different rules. All documents will need to be furnished with a state-issued photo ID matching the provided documents.”

Conclusion

Clearly, no one loses their original keys on purpose. But if you’re scrambling to figure out who can make a car key without the original, check out local automotive locksmiths or your selling dealer. It’s cheaper to get a duplicate made than an original, so plan to get an additional key made if you’re down to just one. And if you find yourself without a key at all, there’s a not-so-insignificant cost that goes along with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to replace a key fob for a car?

A key fob replacement varies dramatically in price depending on the vehicle you own. It can be as little as $50 or (sometimes much) more than $400.

What happens if you lose your only key fob?

If your key fob is separate from your ignition key, you can continue driving as normal while using the door lock cylinder to access your vehicle. If it’s integrated with the key, you’ll need a replacement in order to drive your car.

Are lost car keys covered by insurance?

Most insurance policies don’t cover replacing lost car keys. However, some dealerships sell coverage outside of car insurance that can cover replacing a lost or stolen car key.


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At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.