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How transponder keys work

Nowadays, transponder keys are standard for most new cars. They make it harder for your car to be stolen. Even though it’s more costly than a regular key, a transponder key is worth the peace of mind it affords you.

Anyone who has used a transponder key - also referred to as a transponder “chip” key - knows how much easier it is to use than an old-fashioned key. These specialized keys are ignition keys that make it effortless to enter and leave your vehicle, because you can unlock your car doors without actually sticking your key in the lock mechanism; you can remotely open the trunk; you can activate and deactivate your car alarm; additionally, with some transponder keys, you can even start your car remotely.

A transponder key has a chip inside it, which emits a distinctive signal to your car’s computer, a singular frequency aligned only to your automobile. When the signal is received, the key’s mechanical part releases your steering lock so that you can activate the ignition. Nevertheless, problems can sometimes happen. Here’s how to get out of trouble when it comes to transponder key challenges.

Was your transponder key stolen?

When you first bought your car, you should have been given two transponder keys. You can get your other transponder key from a family member who has the spare copy, and that will get you back on the road for now. But keep in mind that because your transponder key is connected only to your vehicle, a would-be car thief who finds your key could easily take your car. Thus it’s best to go ahead and get a replacement now, and then reprogram them both.

To get a transponder key duplicated, reprogrammed, or replaced, track down an automotive locksmith specialist, or go directly to your dealership. In most cases, a locksmith will charge less than the dealership will charge you. If you’re located in Ahwatukee, Arizona, then take all your questions and concerns to a reputable locksmith company. For instance, the mobile automotive locksmith specialists on staff at Ahwatukee Locksmith AZ offer free consultations and they’re available 24/7.

Have you lost your transponder key?

Losing your car key is more problematical than it was decades ago. With a traditional key, you could duplicate a spare key at almost no cost, at any local hardware store or locksmith company, or even at the dealership. But a transponder key is something else altogether. If you’ve mislaid your transponder key permanently, replacing isn’t going to be cheap. Depending on your automobile model and make, and on the complexity of the key’s design, the price for replacing your electronic fob will range from somewhat costly to exceptionally expensive. There are some dealerships that will reprogram your key fob at no charge, but most will charge you a great deal.

A switchblade key is a transponder key with a shank, but it folds into the fob, which you pop out by pressing a button. A switchblade key has either a basic cut or a laser cut. One benefit to a switchblade key is that you can purchase its components separately; but if you’ve truly lost your key, you’ll have to program both parts.

For some vehicles, the transponder key is an all-in-one unit that includes the fob. It’s also called a laser-cut key. The shank is a bit thicker, with fewer carved-out grooves. It’s also referred to as a “sidewinder” key, because of the shank’s winding-cut feature. The dealership will likely need to program a laser-cut key’s built-in chip.

A smart key actually isn’t a key at all - not in the usual sense. It’s just a fob, which you either insert into the dashboard, or keep in your purse or pocket. When you sit behind the wheel, then just by pressing a button, you can start and turn off the engine. A smart key gives you exceptional protection because it has rolling security codes. Continuously randomizing the right code, it stops a car thief from hacking it with a code grabber. If you have a smart key, your car dealership will be able to replace it.

Has your transponder key stopped working?

  • One common reason your transponder key isn’t functioning is that there’s a manufacturer’s defect, which has been there from the beginning. If your vehicle is under warranty, you’ll be able to get the problem corrected for free. If it’s no longer under warranty, then you’ll have to hire an automotive locksmith specialist.
  • There might be a tiny foreign object lodged in the ignition. Don’t try to remove it yourself, because you could easily do damage to the ignition. Instead, hire an experienced automotive locksmith professional, who can capably remove any foreign object from the ignition with the precision required, so you won’t have to replace the whole switch.
  • Another possibility is that your transponder key isn’t communicating with automobile’s computer because the chip has lost its programming. You can get it reprogrammed, or, you can get an entirely new transponder key with all-new programming. Whatever you choose, the car dealership or an automotive locksmith technician will be able to handle it.

Do It Yourself

If you do need to reprogram your transponder key, with some vehicles, you can take care of it yourself.

The following method below will be successful on quite a few American-made cars. But before you spend any of your hard-earned money, read the owner's manual, ask your dealership, and/or consult with a local reliable automotive locksmith to see whether this procedure will actually work on yours.

1.      Insert one of your two functioning keys. Turn the ignition to the "on" position for about 3 seconds (without firing up the car).

2.      Do the same with the second key.

3.      Insert the new third key, and turn it to the "on" position for 3 seconds. This ought to program your extra key successfully.

If you often lock your car keys in your vehicle, another thing you can do - which will at least give you access to your car doors and to your trunk - is to order just the basic key, without the transmitter, which means you’ll have a key which does everything except start your car.

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