Every year over 20 million car and house keys are lost in the United States. In addition to that, approximately 4 million Americans lock their keys in their car every year.

Whether you have broken a key, lost your keys, or locked them inside your vehicle, car key replacement is frustrating, costly, ad time-consuming. The quickest, most efficient and financially affordable option is to contact a locksmith who specialized in car key replacement services.

Three Options for Car Key Replacement

When you need to replace a car key you have three options on how to get the key repaired or remade.

Contact Car Dealership

This may seem the most logical choice. The dealer will obviously be familiar with your vehicle and the needed key. They are usually trustworthy but are also the most expensive option.

If this is an emergency lock-out a dealership is not a good choice. They typically do not offer road-side service for key replacement. You will need to find a way to get your vehicle to the dealership for the service. If you have no keys this will be an added expense for a tow-truck.

Dealerships operate on limited hours. They do not have 24-hour emergency service, nor are they open 7 days a week. You will need to get your key replacement handled during dealership hours.

You will pay about twice as much to obtain a replacement key at a car dealership. To check, call your dealership and ask for an approximate cost for a replacement key and programming. Ask how long it will take to get your new key. Find out if they provide on-site service.

Many dealerships outsource their key replacements to local locksmiths. The dealer will markup the price the locksmith charges them. It is less costly to go directly to the locksmith yourself.

Now call the locksmith and ask those same questions. Also inquire whether the automotive locksmith is insured, licensed, and bonded. You will likely be very pleased with the answers you get.

A car dealership specializes in selling and servicing cars. They do not handle lost keys on a regular basis. A locksmith has key replacement down to a quick and efficient process.


Replacing a car key on your own is the cheapest option. It does depend on you getting quality parts and doing all the work correctly. When ordering parts you will want to make sure you are familiar with the type of key you have and understand basic car key terminology.

Programming a car key can be complicated. You will need to make sure you follow all the steps to car key coding and car key programming.

There are several options for key coding and programming available to select from. You will need to thoroughly read each of the options before making your selection. This is a specialized area to work in and when learning the process it may not go well.

Contact a Locksmith

Hiring an automotive locksmith will provide you with professional services at a mid-range price. The work will be done properly. Normally a locksmith can cut and program a key for about 50% less than a dealership will charge.

A locksmith will come to you. With 24-hour emergency service, you do not have to wait until a dealership is open. Most dealerships will require you to come to their location, they do not offer on-site service.

In addition to car key replacement, a locksmith can help you if your key becomes stuck in the ignition, or if the car ignition is worn. A locksmith is a key replacement specialist.

Parts of a Car Key

When talking with a locksmith about a broken, damaged, or chipped car key it will be helpful if you know the terminology used for the parts of your key.


This is the part of the key where your thumb and forefinger go to hold the key. This portion of the key is usually round or square in shape. If there is a plastic coating over the bow than your key probably contains a transponder chip. If the key is metal then you have a standard key.


The bitting is the part of the key that has the ridges, teeth, or cuts that operate the internal mechanisms of the lock. Depending on the lock, the key may have serrated bitting on both sides of the key. On keys for newer cars, there will be a snake or worn pattern down the sides of the key.


This is what prevents the key from fitting into different locks. It is what prevents the key of one manufacturer from fitting into the ignition of a different manufacturer. Warding requires key blanks to be purchased from a dealership.


The tip is the end that is inserted into a keyway (lock). To insert the key it must line up with the tip of the keyway. Most cars allow keys to be inserted in 2 ways, so there is no upside-down or right-side-up to using the key.


This is the part of the key that keeps it from being over-inserted into the lock. It lets the user know when to stop pushing the key in.


The blade holds the bitting, the tip, and the wards. It ends at either the shoulder or the bow of the key, whichever comes first. When the blade is fully inserted into the lock and rotated it opens the door of the vehicle or starts the engine. Everything outside the lock when the key is fully inserted is not part of the blade.

What Type of Key Do You Have?

The oldest lock in history is over 4,000 years old. Knowing the age and type of key you have will be helpful when you contact the locksmith.

Basic Car Key

Vehicles manufactured prior to 1981 used a key that in appearance resembles a standard house key. It has no additional security features and a new key can be obtained by simply taking the key into any key-cutting location.

Wafer Key

This key has grooves on both the top and bottom of the key blade. This allows the key to work anyway the key is inserted into the ignition because there is no top or bottom.

Security on a waver lock is not good. There are a lot of tools that will open the lock without the proper key. There are skeleton keys such as a jiggle key, marshal key, and wave key that can be inserted to open the lock.

If you find it necessary to replace a wafer key it is recommended that you add a transponder chip to the inside of the plastic coating. This will prevent the car from being started with a skeleton key. The chip will not stop a thief from breaking into the car, but it will keep them from driving the vehicle away.

Switchblade Key

This key is hidden within the key fob. When you push a button on the fob the key flips out like a switchblade. The fob may hold either a basic or laser-cut key.

The advantage of switchblade keys is that the individual components can be purchased separately. If you only need the actual key replaced, you will not need to replace the fob.

Laser Cut or Sidewinder Key

Laser-cut keys are thicker than basic car keys. They have fewer carved grooves or teeth. They are sometimes referred to as a sidewinder because of the shank’s distinctive cutting.

Laser-cut and sidewinder keys contain a transponder chip embedded so they will need to be programmed.

Smart Key

A smart key is a fob that can stay in your purse or pocket. It does need to be in the vehicle for the driver to start the vehicle by pushing a button on the dashboard. The fob has a unique security feature that randomly rolls a security code that prevents thieves from using code grabbers to hack into the key.

When the ignition button is pressed the vehicle computer communicates with the smart key. Once the vehicle recognizes the smart key code it verifies the code validity and starts the engine. Replacement of a smart key can cost between $200 to $900 at the dealership.

Slider Key

This key can be recognized by the snake-like path cut into the side of the key blade. The pattern is usually cut into both sides of the key so it can be used both ways. Most slider keys are only back-up keys for vehicles with smart keys.

The slider key will not start a car without the fob present. They are usually hidden within the fob and only slide out when a button is depressed. The key may be only useful for opening doors if the vehicle does not have a key ignition slot.

Key Fobs

This is the electronic part of a key that will open doors at the click of a button. On push-button ignition vehicles the key fob must be in the car for the engine to start.

Proximity sensors in the fob act as a security system. The fob authenticates the user, transmits a signal to the car using Bluetooth, infrared, or near field communication (NFC).

A fob can be programmed by a locksmith. They must use a new fob that has never been programmed. Once a fob has been programmed to a car it cannot be reprogrammed.

Transponder Keys

All car keys manufactured in the past 20 years are required to be fitted with an immobilizer system. If the key is lost or broken it will not be able to turn the ignition and the car will not start.

A transponder key is two systems working together as one. A traditional key in either a wafer or slider format is used to open doors, the trunk, and turn the ignition.

There is also a transponder chip, which is a transmitter and responder. The electronic chip contains a non-volatile memory that keeps programming on the chip from being erased when power is removed from the device.

When the key is turned in the ignition an electronic field releases to give the chip power. The chip then sends a message to the receiver in the vehicle. If the signal is correct the car will start. If the proper signal is not sent then the fuel injection and/or starter is disabled.

Locksmiths can program transponder keys. The transponder does need to be blank to be programmed.

When you Call a Car Key Locksmith

You are likely frustrated, upset, and want to get into your vehicle or have your keys replaced quickly. To speed the process you need to gather the following information before you make that call:

  • Vehicle Year, Make and Model
  • Key Code Number (if you have it) – this is usually in the owner’s manual
  • Proof of Ownership – the registration or title
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) — this is found on the driver’s side door post or on a metal plate on the driver’s side dashboard (usually visible through the windshield)
  • Personal Identification — to prove you are the owner of the vehicle
  • Your Location — address or cross streets so the locksmith can find you

Important — If you think your keys have been stolen let the locksmith know. They will reprogram your car so the old keys cannot be used.

Further, if your ignition was changed prior to when the key was lost it is important you notify the locksmith of the ignition change.

Some of the requested documentation is technical and provides the locksmith with the information needed to replace and/or reprogram your car keys. Identification must be provided to prove you own the vehicle. This is a safety measure that prevents thieves from calling locksmiths to gain access to vehicles they don’t own.

The normal time for creating a car key is 10-30 minutes, depending on the type and complexity of the transponder system. When you are having a key made consider getting an extra made at the same time. The cost will not be much more for the second key.

Know-How to Contact an Automobile Locksmith

When a lock-out, broken key or lost keys happens to you, you will not have the time to be searching for a reputable locksmith. Put the name and phone number of a reliable 24-hour car key replacement specialist in your cell phone so their number is always handy.

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