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Automotive Keys Explained

How Much For A Car Key?

As a professional locksmith, we deal with automotive keys and security every day. We get a lot of the same questions every time. We also get a LOT of stunned faces when they find out the price of even simple things related to their car keys: finding out that even a lowly replacement key can cost upward of $115 is never a pleasant surprise. So what’s going on?

Here’s a primer on automotive keys: let’s see if we can break down some jargon and explain why costs are so much higher than people expect.

Automotive Keys: Jargon Explained


Transponder. Also referred to simply as a ‘chip’ or ‘chip key’, this is a small electronic device contained in the head/fob of a car key that instructs your car’s engine control unit (ECU) to disable its immobilizer. This is a security measure to prevent a car being started without the key present. Since 1995, most car keys have included transponder chips: even if your key looks like a traditional key, it contains a sophisticated (and expensive) electronic device. This is the principle reason why prices are so much higher than people expect. The first question we ask anyone when they talked to us about their car key is whether or not it has a chip in it. Most people automatically say no, but the answer is almost certainly yes.

Car Remote – this normally refers to a transponder key (see above) that also has a remote control included in its fob. In the industry we refer to this as a ‘Remote Headed Transponder’. This will include a Remote Keyless Entry system, (RKE), also referred to as central locking, for locking and unlocking the car. It may also include a Remote Keyless Ignition System (RKI) allowing the car to be started without a physical key, though this is less common.

Smart Key – this usually (but not always) refers to a key fob that has a transponder, an RKE and an RKI. Developed by Siemens in the mid ’90s and initially patented by Mercedes Benz, this used to be a feature only of luxury cars but is increasingly used on entire ranges. The Toyota prius, for example, comes with a full smart key as standard. In the industry we call this a ‘proximity transponder’.

Automotive Key Costs

Transponders and the associated technologies revolutionized car security, making it much more difficult for cars to be stolen; however, they also made what was once inexpensive into a much more substantial cost.

Unfortunately, this is something we don’t have a lot of control over. Car companies usually protect their technology and don’t allow third parties to manufacture cheaper, after-market alternatives. As a result, the prices WE have to pay for transponder keys are very high. We have no choice but to pass them on to our customers.

One thing we CAN guarantee, though, is that we will always charge you less than a car dealer will. Because of high markups by dealers you’ll often find that we are generally 20% – 30% cheaper than them on duplicates, replacements, re-keys and repairs.

What We Do

We are able to duplicate, replace, re-key and repair for the majority of car brands. Some high end brands refuse to allow their products to be serviced by anyone other than franchised dealerships.

And, of course, every automotive job that comes to us gets the same Car Keys Done Quick “straight talk” guarantee. We will always offer you what you need rather than a more expensive option. We’re not going to try to sell you the wrong thing to benefit our bottom line. We’ll always offer the cheapest solution to your problem as long as it will keep you safe and secure.

So there you have it! We hope this answers some questions and helps you come to terms with the prices of modern car keys. We’re here Monday to Friday and we’re always ready to answer your questions.

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