Why Transponder Car Keys Cost So Much, Explained

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There may be some things we want to forget about the 1990s (Dial-up? Crystal Pepsi? JNCOs??), but the decade did give birth to many technologies that we use today: the World Wide Web. MP3 Players. Transponder car keys.

“Wait, what’s a transponder car key, and how is that important to me?”

The transponder key, a technology originally developed during World War II using radio frequencies to determine if incoming aircraft was friendly or hostile, suddenly became a major necessity to car makers in the late-1990s. Crime was steadily on the rise, and car theft was no exception. Car makers set out to develop a solution that would prevent criminals from hot-wiring and stealing cars. They decided to use an engine immobilizer system that would detect a chip inside car keys in order to start the engine. A transponder chip transmits a low-level signal via an rf transmitter, engaging a receiver which can be found near the ignition switch. In other words: cars with transponder keys cannot be turned on unless the user has a correctly programmed key.

“What does it mean that my key has to be programmed?”

Prior to transponder car keys, car makers only had to focus on cutting the key to correctly fit your locks and ignition. These types of keys are now known as standard car keys. With transponder keys, not only does your car key have to be cut correctly, it also must be programmed to disarm the immobilizer. A programmed key has a unique digital signature that your car can identify. Some transponder keys respond to a rolling code emitted from the immobilizer, which the transponder then calculates and responds to in order to start the vehicle. Some simply mimic a signal that the immobilizer emits – if the transponder gets the signal right, the vehicle will start.

Regardless of the type of transponder key you have, the key has to be programmed to respond correctly to the immobilizer. The code from your original key is copied onto an electronic device, then is copied directly onto your new key. Some transponder systems will need to read information from the immobilizer in your vehicle before copying information from your original key.

And if you don’t have your original key? It could cost you up to $1,000 to get your car towed to your dealer and have them replace the locks on your vehicle. It’s always a good idea to have a spare key around!

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Stop Paying This Guy To Copy Your Car Keys

“Why is my dealership charging me so much?”

The cost of a transponder car key at a dealership can run you several hundred dollars depending on your specific vehicle. That’s because dealerships charge you a base fee for the key plus an hourly labor cost for programming.

At KeyMe, transponder car keys start at just $59.99! The price for standard car keys is even less, at $19.99. Programming is simple, as the kiosk is able to gather information from your transponder, so you receive a partially programmed key in 1-3 business days. You just have a few easy steps to finish the programming process. Either we can do it in our office or you can do it from home. These steps vary based on your car key type, but all take just minutes to accomplish. This allows you to cut out the middle man and avoid paying hundreds in labor costs to your mechanic. 

While we love 90’s nostalgia as much as anyone, you shouldn’t let outdated car key technology cost you an arm and a leg at a dealership. Contact us today to copy your car keys for less!