Why do modern car keys cost so much?
So one day you lose your spare truck key. No big deal, you head to your local dealer and get a quote for a new truck key, for $300. You choke and start cursing…in your mind of course…and walk away quickly because “everyone knows they are made in China and cost $2, right?” This is mostly true. Most older transponder key blanks don’t cost hundreds of dollars.
One like this Ford key blank is worth about $40.
So what’s up with huge bill!
There are three things that affect the price with transponder or chip keys. Programming, key blank price, and physically cutting the key.
- Programming transponder keys often requires pricey gear. At Fineline Locksmithing we use a popular device called the Advanced Diagnostics MVP Pro. One of these computers will run you around $3500 USD or almost $5000 Canadian at current exchange rates. On top of the purchase price, the machine requires an electronic token every time it gets used which costs $35, every time you use the machine. The token price covers the cost of yearly software updates. At Fineline Locksmithing we charge $85 to program a key (includes the cost of the token, the labour to program the key, and the cost of the machine).
- Key blank price varies wildly. Plain, older (2000-2009 ish) Ford, GM, and Chrysler transponder blanks cost around $35, but many modern keys integrate the Remote Keyless Entry fob (the push button fob) into the key which bumps the key blank price up considerably (think $60-$250). Proximity keys for push button ignitions (sometimes called Smart keys) being issued on many newer 2008+ vehicles are also pricey ($250 and up).
- Cutting the key now requires dedicated and pricey new key machines. For years nearly every common key was cut on the edges. So every locksmith, hardware store, and car dealership had a key machine which was capable of duplicating 99% of common keys. With the introduction of high security “laser” or “sidewinder” cut keys (first seen on european luxury cars like BMW and Mercedes), locksmiths had to buy new machines. Good ones cost $10,000 and up. More importantly, instead of being used dozens of times a day like the old edge cut key machines, the new sidewinder machines can only cut one type of car key (which means they get used 10X less) so it takes much longer for a business to pay off the machine!
An example of a Lexus sidewinder or laser cut key.
What is the point of all this technology?
So it is really difficult to steal your car or pick the lock!
I hope after reading this is makes sense why a car key might cost you $120 dollars. Dealerships still charge more than most locksmiths, so there are deals to be had. The internet is both a wealth of knowledge and mis-information. Be careful what you read. Sometimes aftermarket parts are ok, sometimes they aren’t. When someone quotes you $150 for a Honda key understand that the price includes tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and years of experience applied to solve your problem!
Thanks for reading!
Curtis Taitinger, CJL