CAR KEYS… Why are they so expensive?


Car keys these days are not just a little bit of oddly shaped metal, but a marvel of electronic engineering! Back in the early 90’s insurance companies faced with escalating payout's for car theft forced car manufacturers to come up with better car security to reduce vehicle theft. The answer being to disable the engine rather than stopping vehicle entry…after all, strong door locks wouldn’t stop thieves smashing the windows to gain entry. If a thief couldn’t start the engine once entry gained then it was pointless getting entry in the first place.


Since about 1995, all cars are fitted with immobiliser systems which are armed/disarmed automatically by the key. It works roughly in this way: The head of the key has a transponder chip buried inside it. You cannot see this, but it is there. The area around the ignition has an ariel and when you insert the key and turn it the transponder sends out a signal which is picked up by the ariel which in turn sends the information to the engine management system. If it is the right code (all cars have different codes) then the management system will allow the engine to start.

In the early days the codes were fixed and equipment to read these codes and copy it to another key (called cloning) soon became available from specialist engineering companies, albeit at a premium cost! Many of us at key cutting outlets invested in this technology only to find this equipment become quickly obsolete and worthless when the car manufacturers changed the transponders from fixed to crypto chips. The codes in these chips change every time the key is used. New equipment had to be purchased to clone these keys. Over the last decade it’s been a cat and mouse game with car manufacturers bringing out different types of transponder chips and the electronic specialists bringing out new key cloning equipment. Remember, when you buy a key now it isn’t just a key but a piece of electronic equipment requiring expensive electronic devices to program the chips with the right codes.


I have just invested a substantial amount of money in the latest key cutting and cloning equipment so I can clone many keys much cheaper than dealer prices. Even this will only enable me to cut about 70% of the car keys  in the market today. The remainder have to be done by the main dealers or specialist auto locksmiths at a hefty price. Some keys will cost in excess of £200 at main dealers!!


To those of you who don’t have a spare car key, I strongly advise you to get a spare one before you lose or break your only key. You could find yourself miles from home and having to pay a large tow charge to a garage and a several day wait for the dealer to get a replacement key. A few hundred quid down the drain for not getting a spare!


One final piece of advice. When you are home or especially when you go to bed at night, do not leave your car keys in sight. Car thieves now look through windows and letter boxes to see if any keys are lying about. They will be in and out in minutes to steal those keys and the last thing you will see is your car exhaust as they drive off in your pride and joy.


Russell Wilkinson

Mumbles Shoe Repairs & Key Cutting