About Car Keys

Car keys have become confusing over the years. In this article, I will try to explain the differences in the various types of car keys and why some are fairly cheap and others can cost much more. I will list the type of key, the known vulnerability and how we replace them.

  • Standard Metal key

    • Single sided

    • Double sided

These keys are simply a metal key that depends on the unknown cutting to prevent theft of the car. They range from 5 cuts to 10 cuts for the most part. They were vulnerable because people learned various ways around this mechanical system, including brute force. Once a person was able to get the cylinder turned, the car would start and the car was easy to steal. There are few of these left on the road. These can be difficult to make keys to because the key codes are long gone and tools to decode the locks don’t always work well with worn locks. The manufacturers of these vehicles would often not make very many keys to a particular model, so locksmiths would make a “Tryout” set of keys and simply try keys until they found the correct key. Some locksmiths would also simply replace the ignition or locks with a new lock rather than attempting to find the correct key for the existing lock.

  • Chipped Key (Immobilizer keys)

Chipped keys are part of an immobilizer system. The key has a chip that has an individual code. The computer in the car must recognize this code or the computer will not let the fuel pump operate. Even if a key turns the ignition, it won’t start the car until the vehicle computer is programmed to accept the new key. This involves the locksmith plugging in his computer to the vehicle via the OBD port under the dash. The locksmith will use his computer to program the vehicle computer to accept the newly cut key. This process can be time consuming and expensive. The best key programmers require the use of tokens. The locksmith buys many tokens at a time and each time he/she connects to a vehicle computer, one token is used. This cost is passed on the the consumer. The locksmith will have to keep an extensive inventory of keys because there are many different types of chipped keys.

  • VATS Key

VATS keys were used on many older GM cars. These keys are easily identifiable by a small black chip on the metal blade of the key. These little chips prevented the car from starting if the wrong chip was used. There were 16 different chips. Without knowing the proper chip, the locksmith must determine the proper chip using a VATS interrogator. This is a very lengthy process. The locksmith must also carry at least one key blank of each value. This is costly and many locksmiths don’t make VATS keys any longer.

  • Smart or Proximity Key

The newest key on the market is a proximity or “Smart” key. These keys don’t have a traditional blade like most keys. They work by being in proximity to the vehicle. If the key is inside the car, the person can simply start the car by pushing a button. This allows the person to keep the key in their pocket or purse and still be able to start the car. These are coming on most new cars. They are much easier for the locksmith to make but the cost is greater because the key is costly and so is the programming. In addition, most of these keys have a built in emergency key that must be cut. Finding the bitting for this key is done in the traditional ways.

Each of these types of keys can come in either regular edge cut or high security cutting. High Security keys take a special kind of key machine that uses CNC technology to turn a tiny cutting spindle that can remove parts of the key blank in places other than the edges. These machines cost several thousand dollars and are not always easy to operate.

Geff Greenwood