Traditional car keys are nothing more than a simple key cut to a very specific shape that fits into and turns a lock. Most houses, buildings, and older model cars still use traditional keys, which can be copied for a few dollars at Walmart or for just a little more at a car dealership. Ease of copying is an advantage of these keys because owners can have a spare or give keys to multiple trusted users. Modern car manufacturers, however, are issuing more and more electronic keys, and these are much more costly to replace.
The electronic key fob is also known as a remote or a transmitter, and it has to be programmed to unlock the car. This type of key is combination of a standard or laser-cut key with a programmable chip. A car dealership will typically charge $50 to $90 or more to replace a fob and program the new one. It may be possible to purchase an aftermarket electronic fob online, but the car owner may have to be able to program it. There are also cloning services that will clone an electronic key and return it by mail.
The latest technology in car keys is the smart key. Unlike other keys, the smart key never has to touch the car, and the owner doesn’t have to press any buttons. The key stays in the driver’s pocket or bag, and the car senses its proximity. The driver then starts the car by pushing a button on the dashboard rather than inserting a key. This type of key offers the highest level of security because it uses rolling security codes. That means that the code is randomized, preventing car thieves from hacking into the system. However, smart keys are also the most expensive to replace, averaging between $200 and $400 from the dealer, depending on the model of the car. Fortunately, some locksmiths nowadays are starting to supply smart keys at a lower price than the dealer.
Most drivers find that starting out with an extra spare or two is the best policy. Factoring in the cost of an extra key at the time of purchase is easier than coming up with the money when it’s an emergency.