So you’ve been stranded after losing the last key to your car. What do you do now?
What should you do for lost car key replacement? You could call a tow truck at your own expense to have your vehicle pulled to your local dealership’s service center to have them make a new key. Or; you could call a Houston automotive locksmith who provides mobile service to make the key for you on-site, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars in unnecessary costs. But how do locksmiths replace car keys so much more efficiently than the dealer? What do they do differently that can save so much in cost for you, the vehicle owner?
Today we’ll be discussing this very topic, as well as how a locksmith can make new car keys from scratch!
Lost Car Key Replacement By VIN
The most common way of making a key for a vehicle without a preexisting key is to perform a process referred to as “running the VIN”. This is actually the same process used by most major dealers against their own records, or through the National Automotive Service Task Force (aka NASTF) for third parties. Essentially, a professional will collect valid proof of ownership of the vehicle, such as a car title document, registration form, or even valid insurance in some cases in addition to a valid driver’s license that matches. After submitting this proof to either an internal records division or NASTF, the original key’s pattern of cuts is released to the professional.
They would then use those cuts to make a new key for the car on a metal “test” key to ensure that they still function against wear or a changed lock (more on that in a minute). If the key were to work mechanically, it would either then be sold to the customer or copied onto a metal transponder key and programmed in. You can read more about car key programming in our previous article if you’re interested in that process, as it falls outside the scope of this article but is still very important for car owners to understand.
This method is common because it requires the locksmith or technician only to understand how to submit documents, how to physically cut keys, and in most cases how to program keys to a vehicle’s computer. So you may be wondering, why aren’t missing keys always created this way? The answer is simple. The records used in the VIN running process only include the original key used to work the vehicle. If the locks have been changed or “re-keyed” at any point, say if attempted theft had left them damaged in some way and the replacement came with a new key, this process will not produce a working key. This is because the cuts recorded are for a lock that no longer is installed on the vehicle, and the new lock will have a different set of cuts than what existed on the dealer’s lot.
Rekeying a lock does not involve the car’s computer or the programming of the key. This means that if you have your ignition lock mechanically rekeyed to your old key, you will not have to “reprogram” the electronic chip in the key to have it work, as the system should still remember the electronic frequency of the key from previously.
Guardian Safe & Lock also always recommends having replacement automotive locks re-keyed back to the original key cuts when possible. Otherwise, you may have 1 key for your driver’s door lock and a separate one for the ignition, glove box, trunk, and other locks on the vehicle. In addition; if you have all the locks to your vehicle changed, you cannot have a replacement key made by running the VIN.
Car Key Replacement By Lock Deciphering
So what if your car’s locks have been changed? What do you do for lost car key replacement then? The answer is simple, you call an auto locksmith; someone whose licensed to professionally work on locks. Locksmiths have a secondary method to make keys, even if the locks have been changed, that involves reading the wafers inside the lock using specialty tools such as an EEZ Reader or Lishi pick & deciphering tool.
These tools insert into an automotive lock in the same way a key would but allow the locksmith to adjust moving components to read the inside and see where the cuts fall on the key, as well as how deep they should be. From there a locksmith reviews what they find to ensure it makes mechanical sense against the key they’re trying to copy, and the process proceeds much like running the VIN by cutting a metal test key and then programming if necessary.
So why aren’t all keys made by deciphering, if reading the lock can theoretically create any auto key? Mainly, it’s logistics and a matter of skill. EEZ Readers and Lishi Tools are specific to the exact type of key blade in use on the vehicle, and auto manufacturers will change their key designs to improve security over time. For example; there is a Lishi tool for early 2000’s Ford Keys, but a change in key design means that this specific tool would not work on a 2020 vehicle, as it uses a different key design.
There is not one specific Lishi tool or EEZ Reader that works on any car lock, but dozens of different models that each may work on a few model year and model combinations each. Each of these tools costs your Locksmith, who may not have purchased every Lishi. These deciphering tools also require some practice to use correctly. Someone inexperienced with automotive locks would have no idea how to work them, and even a trained locksmith may not be able to decipher a specific vehicle lock as the process is performed by “feel” and is prone to errors if not executed perfectly.
Replacing Car Remotes & Proximity Key Fobs
So we’ve covered two of the more common style keys, but what if your car has a push-button ignition? These vehicles come with remote key fobs instead of traditional keys, so how are they replaced? Well, the answers like before are simple. There are very few vehicles that are actually keyless, keyholes and blades are simply hidden for cosmetic purposes. For example; if you have a proximity key fob that operates your vehicle, take a look at the bottom of the driver’s side handle.
You should notice a slight notch or hole about half an inch wide or so. Now, take a look at the case of your proximity key fob. There should be a button or slide that acts as a catch for a key blade. If you trigger this catch while pulling near where a keyring would connect, you’ll be able to retrieve a key blade to operate your car mechanically. This key does not operate the ignition of the vehicle, only any physical locks in case of an emergency. This insert key will slide into the notch mentioned earlier and allow you to pull a plastic shield off from the car handle, exposing a keyhole that this insert key will operate. Please note that some keyfobs have their insert keys fully encased by the shell of the keyfob that must be fully opened to retrieve them.
The process for replacing this keyfob is much the same as other keys, either running the VIN number or deciphering the lock if possible to get the key cuts and put them on a new key blank. As for the remotes and fobs themselves; they’re an even simpler replacement. A locksmith would gain entry to the vehicle, then use their key programming tool to go through a procedure commonly referred to as “all keys lost”. This procedure fully wipes all transponder and remote signatures from the car’s computer, “deactivating” any missing keys or remotes.
After going through the All Keys Lost procedure, the locksmith would then use the software to add the new key to the system, allowing the vehicle’s ignition to start. Please note: some vehicles require 2 programmed keys to exist in the computer to function at all. Be sure to ask your locksmith if you need a second key to get the vehicle to run ahead of time, to save yourself from unnecessary additional costs or wasted time.
Guardian Safe & Lock – The Locksmith To Call For Key Replacement
Guardian Safe & Lock is the Houston Locksmith to trust for replacing your missing car key or fob, but did you know we provide all kinds of security services? As the commercial locksmith and the residential locksmith Houston trusts most, we know a thing about security. Call us when you need a commercial doorbell buzzer system like PDK access control installed, or if you’re interested in some of the best gun safes Houston has to offer.
When you need anything from lost car key replacement as described in this article or a cloud-based security camera system Houston businesses have increasingly chosen to switch over to, Guardian Safe & Lock stands ready to help secure and protect what matters to you. Call today at 832-534-8687 for more information!