How to Replace a Key Fob

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If you think you can go to any hardware store to have a new car key cut for a few bucks, you’re still living in the 20th century. Nowadays, when you lose a key or need an extra, you’ll probably have to go to a car dealer or automotive locksmith (or have them come to you) and pay anywhere from around $150 up to $500. And it probably won’t be for an old-school, bayonet-style metal key, either; instead, it will be an electronic fob that transmits radio signals to unlock doors and, on vehicles with “smart” keys and push-button start, enable starting the engine.

New key fobs must be programmed with codes that the vehicle has to read before it unlocks the door or allows starting the engine. With many vehicles, manufacturers give these codes only to dealers and licensed locksmiths (and with some brands, just to dealers) that have the equipment and know-how to program a new fob to work with a particular vehicle.
Some fobs still come with a separate metal key or one that stores inside the fob. Those keys will need to be cut, and they typically come with embedded chips that must be programmed to work with a particular vehicle.
The cost of a new fob may start at less than $100, but dealers and locksmiths also charge for programming, boosting the bottom line to more than $150 in most cases and much higher — $400 to $500 — for keyless-entry vehicles that have rolling codes that constantly change so they are harder to intercept by car thieves.

Need a New Key Fob?
First, look in your owner’s manual or search online for information on programming a new key fob. If you have two working fobs — some vehicles might require only one — you might be able to buy a third fob and program it yourself. If a metal key also is included, it will have to be cut by a locksmith or dealer.

If you can’t do it yourself, contact a dealership to find out how much it will cost, including programming.

If you’re looking to save money, you should contact two or more automotive locksmiths to see what they will charge, and whether they will come to you. A locksmith might be cheaper, but ask whether they provide the same type of guarantee as a dealership. Locksmiths might not be able to program fobs for every brand.

Another option is to buy a key fob online and then have it programmed at a dealership or by a locksmith. However, they may agree to program it only with the understanding that you will still pay for their labor if it doesn’t work. They also will not guarantee that the fob will continue working because they didn’t supply it. Most online sellers are reputable, but some may sell cheap knockoffs that don’t always work the way they should. The best bet is to buy a fob made by the vehicle manufacturer.

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