Spare Auto Keys, Smart Keys and Transponders

In the days of the Commodore, Camira, Gemini, Falcon and Corona, losing your car key just wasn’t a problem.

Head down to your local hardware store or shopping centre’s Mr Minit and 5 minutes and a few bucks later, there’s your duplicated key.

Getting car keys cut in the last 15 years, as technology in car security has exploded, has got a whole lot more complicated.

The new age car key usually has what is known as a transponder. This technology not only unlocks all doors remotely, but only when matched to your car’s computer, will it enable the car to start.

Getting a second transponder enabled key duplicated can be an expensive exercise. To get one made from scratch if you lost your car keys completely is a small fortune.

In my experience, the dealers charge way too much for this sort of service.

Just recently a customer required a spare key for a 2009 Toyota Ultima (pictured above). This car had what is known as a proximity smart key. Which is effectively a push button start.

Toyota wanted $550 for the key alone and then a further $80 to cut the blade key within it (an emergency access key down the side of the remote control) and to match the transponder to the car’s computer.


Somewhere along the line there is some gouging taking place and Ferrari enabling margins being had.

You will rarely be able to get a transponder enabled key supplied and coded for anything less than $180 for any car.

The most expensive I have heard of is for a Lexus at nearly $800.

If you loose all of your keys and need the system “re-booted”, this is anywhere up to a few thousand dollars to achieve.

These push button keys don’t last a long time either.

Perhaps you have noticed your buttons are getting worn or ripped?

Sometimes you can get away with buying a “shell”.

This means for under $30-$50 you can get posted the shell of the key and an uncut blade.

Then you need to pry open your old unit, which no doubt there are dozens of YouTube videos showing you how to do this, and basically swap the old electrics into the new shell.

Then running down to a locksmith to cut the blade the same way as the old one.

I recently did just this for a 2001 BMW and it cost me only $36 to essentially have a brand new key.

The only problem though is the old key, whilst having the right blade cut, can open the car, but cannot start the car because the transponder is now missing.

So in this instance, to get a spare, it is unfortunately in the hundreds of dollars to get.

From the little bit I have read on this topic, it seems the auto industry is keeping the supply and information for programming their car’s computer’s tightly guarded secrets.

Whilst some auto specialist locksmiths can do everything a dealer can – for sometimes half the price, the auto industry it seems is trying to clamp down on this practice to keep these truly ridiculous profits to themselves.