Every year brings changes and advancements to the car industry. With these advancements, the ways you can get in and start your car have also changed. You may be wondering what keys are available. We have thoroughly looked into this for you, and we'll provide you a list of the most common types!
Car keys come in 3 main categories. Fobs, which can be operated remotely or in proximity, Cut Keys, or Digital Keys. The types of keys you'll most likely see today are:
- Mechanical Cut
- Laser Cut
- Transponder Key
- Emergency Key
- Flip Key
- Smart Key
- Apple Car Key
- Car App
We'll look at the different types of keys and features of each one. Keep reading as we see the differences between laser and mechanical cut keys and see which ones need to be programmed. We'll also discuss whether you can and how much it would cost to replace your keys.
1. Mechanical Cut
The original car key looks just like a regular house key. It may or may not have a cap. In the past, a now phased-out security system called VATS was used to prevent theft. Older keys may not have any chip at all, though antitheft features in the keys started to become common in the 1990s.
This key is the most inexpensive to replace as it would take a trip to your nearest hardware store or even a kiosk at your grocery store. Its cut is referred to as a mechanical cut as the machine is used to make individualized cuts along the blade's edges.
2. Laser Cut
Laser-cut keys are also referred to as sidewinder keys. This moniker is due to the laser that makes cuts down the center of the blade in a curvy line. High-security and milled cut keys also refer to the same type of key. These keys have a thicker key blank due to the thickness needed for the laser cuts. Key blanks for this type are relatively inexpensive. Expect to pay around $10-$20.
You'll need to bring this type of key to a locksmith or auto shop with a laser cutter, making replacing these keys more expensive than your standard mechanical cut key.
Since they do have a transponder chip, most models require you to have an original cut key or emergency key to program it. You'll need to bring your replacement to a dealership to cut and program the key if no original is available. If it is not a remote key or a key with buttons, a battery is not needed to operate.
See this example of a key blank for a sidewinder key on Amazon.
There is some debate over where the fob received its name. In the world of car keys, a fob is, in simple terms, a remote. Their original use was to lock and unlock your car doors remotely.
They now come with functions such as remote start and opening doors in some models. Some fobs have panic buttons.
Most fobs are programmable and can be paired with your car's system. Depending on functionality, a replacement will cost around $10 for the most basic to over $200. Consult your owner's manual or manufacturer's website for the specific type of fob you would need for your car.
A FOB integrated key or Fobik is a key fob that can be turned in an ignition like a key. It works by having a unique code that is matched with the car's system.
A Fobik is easily recognized by the square shape that is at the point of the fob. They may have a key tucked in to open doors in case the Fobik fails. These keys can be replaced but would need to be programmed.
If there is no original key, you would need to go to a dealer or auto service center to get your Fobik programmed and included key cut. If you have purchased a replacement yourself, programming a new fob or Fobik usually runs around $50 to $15o, depending on your location and the make and model of your vehicle.
Click here to see an example of a Fobik on Amazon.
5. Transponder Key
"Transponder Key" is a broad term that refers to any key that has a chip in it. It can be a simple car key with no fob or remote, or it can be what is referred to as a remote head key.
The chip itself does not run on batteries. It sends a code when used in the ignition. As long as the code matches that of the car being started, the vehicle will start.
Depending on the make and model and year of your car, you may be able to program blank keys yourself. Since you would need to have the key cut, you can also have a local locksmith program it at the time of the cutting. Programming of this type will usually run around $50 to $100 plus the purchase of the key.
6. Emergency Key
With the innovation of keyless ignitions, we now have emergency keys. This is a key that is usually tucked away in a smart key. An emergency key is a cut key that will open doors but may not start the car if no smart key or Fobik is present. In some makes and models, it is possible to use this key to add more transponder keys to the recognized keys in the vehicle's system.
The key itself has no chip and does not need to be programmed but would need to be cut, and the accompanying smart key or fob would need to be programmed. Since they are not electronic and do not run on batteries, they are relatively inexpensive to replace if you only need to replace the emergency key itself. This can usually run around $5 to $15 plus the price of the cutting.
See this example of an uncut emergency key for a Honda on Amazon.
7. Flip Key
A flip key is a high-security or laser-cut key that tucks into the remote head when not in use. The main difference between this key and the emergency key is that it is a cut key that flips out but remains attached after pressing a release on the head.
An emergency key is a completely independent piece. These keys combine the function of a fob and an ignition key.
Their cost to replace is similar to other laser cut keys, plus the cost of programming the remote head. Like other transponder keys, it will depend on your car's make model and year as to whether you can program it yourself. Many vehicle manufactures do allow self-programming of additional keys as long as the original is present.
8. Smart Key
A smart key or proximity key is a fob that is not inserted into the ignition. For the car to start and remain running, it needs to be inside the car. Once inside the car, push the engine start button. The car recognizes the signal coming from the key and starts. This type of key does run on a battery to boost the signal but can be used even if the battery is dead by placing it in a backup spot somewhere in the vehicle, usually in the center console or cup holder.
The smart key may have an emergency key tuck inside or another key separately provided. Smart keys are on the more expensive side to replace and program due to newer technology. Expect to pay $75 to $200 for programming and $20 to $200 for the key itself.
See an example of a smart key for a Lexus Prox on Amazon.
9. Apple CarKeys
In 2020, Apple announced a new way to lock, unlock and even start your car. For the first time, users will even be able to drive their vehicle as long as they have their iPhone or Apple Watch present in the vehicle. The digital CarKeys will work even if the phone has lost power for up to 5 hours.
Share permissions and digital car keys with other Apple users when not present since you determine the permissions for keys that you share. Other users will only be able to use the keys as the permissions you set dictate. Parents of teenage drivers may find this function especially helpful.
CarKeys launched on some 2021 and 2022 BMW models. It is expected to become more widely available as time goes on. CarKeys currently integrates with the Apple Wallet and Carplay function on the IOS system.
10. Car App
Starting at 14.99, OnStar is one subscription service that allows users to lock, unlock, and remote start a vehicle. This service is available through various manufacturer's vehicle apps for eligible vehicles. Your car must already have remote start, and this service currently does not allow driving capabilities.
In vehicles not equipped with OnStar, other subscription options may be available, such as Bluelink or Mbrace. Check your manufacturer's website for information on what auto app they use and if you can subscribe to a subscription lock, unlock and start service for your car.
New Key Types Every Year
Now that you know what key types are currently available, look out for the newest versions each year! Keys, like all other car features, are forever evolving. From a touchpad located on the door to the unique fashion leaning fobs for sports vehicles to car apps, the ways you can start your car are ever getting more convenient and more secure.
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