Before car ignition systems and door locks became high-tech and complicated, a car owner was essentially given two or three sets of two specific keys. One was for the door and trunk, and the other turned on the car. As things became more advanced, well into the early 2000s, auto keys were manufactured by code. However, in either case, a duplicate was still made from the primary keys that were originally provided with the car. Blanks were then cut to the same shape as the original. Even 20-year-old cars today can still get new blanks made from the original key code by going back to the same car brand dealership, usually.
However, by the mid to late 2000s, new vehicles started receiving an entirely different key set, the key fob. They used a button to open and lock the doors as well as open the truck, and the shape of the key fob itself was essentially the ignition key to turn on the car. Even in the latest cars with push-button ignition, the key fob still needs to be in proximity to turn on the car. So, one would think that with such an essential part to run the car, key fobs should be warrantied in case something goes wrong or they get lost in the first few years of ownership. Interestingly, many key fobs are not covered, and they can become a very painful hit to the wallet if a replacement is needed.
For any car owner, there are three sources of funding possibilities for today’s key fobs: a manufacturer’s warranty if covered, one’s car insurance as a damage claim, or out of pocket. Many people find that the third option is the most common.
Types of Key Fobs Make Things Complicated
Four very different key fob designs are on the market today, and they are not all the same from one car type to the next, even with the same brand. Some of this difference is due to nuances to help justify a higher car line package, but some of it is plainly what was decided for a given car or pickup truck model versus another. The types include:
- Key Only – This is an odd-shaped key fob with a computer chip integrated inside so that no one can fake the shape only to start the key, which was the weakness of old legacy car keys.
- Ignition Plus Remote – This type of fob has the key feature above plus a remote start that allows the user to get everything going as they approach the car or open it, handy during cold or wet days.
- Key, Remote, and Push Button – Bullets one and two plus the added feature of working simply by proximity, and the car is started with a push-button instead. This can be a bit confusing for a person the first time they start the car without ever having driven a push-button ignition before.
- Key, Keyless Entry, and Push Button – As long as the key is on the person, the driver can literally walk up to the car and operate it. There’s no need to even take the key out of one’s pocket.
Obviously, the more features a fob has, the more it will cost to replace it. Depending on the model and the security aspects that have to be programmed, today’s vehicle fobs can run anywhere from $50 to as much as $400 or $500 to replace a lost or damaged one. And keep in mind, that’s a replacement straight from the factory. Then the fob has to be tailored to the car, which is likely another $100 to $150 in labor. Domestic key fobs tend to be on the lower end of the cost range, and European car fobs tend to be the most expensive with added security features to fend off theft.
Where to Get a Key Fob Replacement?
Obviously, the car brand dealership nearby would be a logical start. After all, the folks selling the vehicle brand should have access to most of the inventory for that vehicle. However, dealerships also charge a hefty price for any non-warranty service and add-on markup for parts as well. No surprise, the dealership option is the most expensive way to go for a key fob replacement.
There is some certainty with a dealership fob, however. Some cars simply won’t work at all with any kind of aftermarket key fob for that model, even if it was designed to work with that car. Both Audi as well as Subaru vehicles, for example, fall into this category. It’s really important to find out before making a decision if a car has to be handled by a brand dealer only. Otherwise, one could find themselves paying twice for a replacement fob.
The age of the car makes a huge difference, opening up possibilities of other replacement options. Cars older than 10 years have aftermarket key fobs that work. They can be programmed and can also be set by a commercial locksmith as well. The blanks can be obtained through big providers like Amazon and Walmart, and the programming work can easily be handled by a locksmith. In some cases, locksmiths have channels for obtaining the fobs as well, providing both services for a customer in one provider. The skillset varies though, and different locksmiths handle different types of fobs. Some handle all types; some don’t handle push-start/keyless entry types. It’s best to talk with a locksmith first, get a clear idea of what their capability is, and then choose a key fob replacement path.