Car Key Fob Replacement: The High Price of Lost Car Keys

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By |2020-09-18T14:43:06-04:00September 14, 2020 - 04:34PM|Car Owning & Maintenance Advice|
Car Key in Ignition

Photo Credit: Getty / Phira Phonruewiangphing

The price of lost car keys is more than just a few dollars and a trip to the hardware store. Today’s high-tech key fobs are convenient, capable, and more secure than ever, but all that technology comes at a cost.

Cost to Replace Different Types of Lost Car Keys

  • Basic Key: The classic double-edged car key has been around for ages and is still used in many vehicles. If you have a spare key at home, getting a replacement made at your local hardware store is cheap and easy – less than $10. If you have lost all copies of your original key, you may still be able to have a new key made by an automotive locksmith, after you provide the model and year and prove ownership of the vehicle. The locksmith may even come out and make it for you onsite.
  • Transponder Key: This key integrates a security chip, or transponder, on top of the metal shank. The chip emits a signal to the car’s ignition and door lock. The match allows the car door to unlock and lets the driver drive the car. The typical cost for a basic replacement chip key is around $160. If the key is laser cut – with a slightly thicker shank and fewer serrated edges – you’ll pay significantly more.
  • Key Fob (Remote Keyless Entry): Fobs let drivers lock and unlock a car door with the push of a button. The metal shank is still used to turn the ignition. Programming a replacement key fob can run anywhere from $50 to $100. Some dealerships may do this for free or charge a small fee. If you’ve lost your key fob, but you have the metal key, you can even get into your car and start it.
  • Switchblade Key: This style folds the key’s metal shank into a plastic holder. The metal key pops out when the plastic holder’s button is pushed.  Switchblade keys typically include a fob for locking and unlocking the doors with the push of a button. Replacement switchblade keys can run you $200 to $300.
  • Smart Key Fob (Proximity Key): These keys can remain in our pocket while you unlock and start the vehicle. They contain an electronic code, and once the code is verified, drivers can open doors or start the car. Smart keys don’t have the traditional metal key shank. Instead, their proximity to the vehicle allows you to push a button inside to start the ignition. If you lose a smart key, be prepared to pay a hefty amount to replace it. The cost of a smart replacement key can run you anywhere from $220 to $500, depending on the car. Getting a replacement may be tough without a backup set. Chances are, you’ll need to tow the car to the dealership and show proof of ownership. If they have the key in stock, the dealer should be able to pair the new key with your car. If they order the key, you may be waiting a few days before you can get your car back.

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keyless car remote

Photo Credit: Getty / Birdlkportfolio

Why Are Replacement Car Keys So Expensive?

Technology has advanced the security and capabilities of car keys today, but improvement comes at a price. Most keys used today have sophisticated electronic components that are programmed before use.  For cars five years old or newer, this programming can be done by a dealership or a locksmith.

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How Can You Get Cheap Car Key Replacements?

Depending on your car’s age and model, you can find a cheaper way to replace lost keys.

  • After-Market Key Fobs: If your car is more than five years old, you may be able to purchase an after-market key fob at a locksmith or online. While they are a cheaper way to go, these types of fobs vary in quality.
  • Self-Programming: Depending on the age and model of your car, you may be able to program a replacement yourself through a series of key turns in the ignition and button pushes on the fob. Check with the owner’s manual for instructions, and check out our article on programming car keys yourself.
  • Locksmith: If you have a choice between getting your replacement key at the dealership or a locksmith, the latter may be cheaper. Be sure to call your local car dealership for pricing before you decide.

Locked Key in Car? Here’s What to Do

Keep a Spare Key in a Safe Place

To save yourself money and aggravation, it’s a good idea to keep a spare set of car keys. It can bring you more money, too, when you go to sell the car.

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About the Author:

I have written about cars for more than a decade for publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Fortune, Vogue, Newsweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, Robb Report, Town & Country, U.S. News & World Report and Refinery 29. As a U.S. juror to the World Car Awards, I test drive scores of new cars each year. So far, my reporting has taken me to five continents; by my count, I have eaten ice cream in more than 50 countries.