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Car Key Replacement Types

The Six Most Common Types of Car Keys that Locksmiths Need to Know

As a vehicle locksmith, copying keys and making working replacements for keys is one of the most common and important tasks. Most individuals who own cars have experienced losing their keys at least once in their lives, and many wish to create several duplicates for added security or benefit of the doubt. However, there isn’t just one way to duplicate a key or create a car key replacement. With advances in technology, many customers will be bringing in keys that were programmed with a microchip or contain specific anti-theft codes. How can something like that be duplicated? Presently, there are six different car key replacement types that a locksmith will encounter. Knowing how they are made and what tools can be used to copy them will give a good understanding of what a locksmith can expect in an average day on the job.

Car Key Replacement Types

The Commoner: Mechanically Cut Keys

Automatic Key Cutting Machine for All Car Key Replacement Types

The mechanically-cut car key is the most common and oldest type of car key, and is made with the most basic tools and machines. Ridges and lines are cut on one side only, and it is easy to cut with almost any cutting machine. Mechanical keys are also the easiest to duplicate. Unfortunately, since they can be so commonly copied, they are also the most likely to become stolen and duplicated by an unknown party. Mechanical keys can be made to fit into any type of keyhole or lock.

Common key making machines, such as the self-service duplicators found at Home Depot and other hardware stores, can be used to easily copy a mechanically made key. A metal carving machine simply copies the key’s pattern and etches out a new piece of metal. Inaccuracies can occur, but most locksmiths have the process refined to a science.

Code to the Future: Transponder Keys

transponder chip key
transponder chip key

Transponder code car keys are the current buzz word in the locksmithing world. More and more individuals are purchasing and using cars that come equipped with transponder keys in replacement of mechanically cut keys. These keys cannot be made with a metal cutting machine and do not have a means of fitting into a hole. Transponder keys are devices equipped with a microchip that allows the car to unlock when the key is close. The key holder also uses the key for ignition; if the key is not in the car, the car cannot be started.

Each transponder key is programmed to respond to each unique car’s specific code, and therefore it can be difficult to duplicate or especially to replace them without the proper tools. Fortunately, transponder machines are available and the right locksmith can duplicate a transponder key within minutes. The machine accesses a database of codes provided by all of the major car manufacturers, and once the code is matched up, a new microchip can be made and fitted into a car key replacement.

A Nice Upgrade: Laser Cut Car Keys

laser cut key

The laser cut key is made in a similar fashion to the mechanically cut key, but is much more accurate and provides more complexity which increases its security value. Also known as a sidewinder key, laser cut keys have ridges and patterns cut on both sides, making it more difficult to duplicate.

Specialized machines are needed to duplicate a laser cut key. Locksmiths use an internal cutting machine to accurately cut both sides of the shank, making a unique key that can’t be copied anywhere else.

Let Me Get That: A Valet’s Key to Security

valet key

A valet key is far less common to the individual, but is still used widely by professional driving services and venues that offer large valet services. A valet key acts as a limited-access key that car owners can use to allow for valet parking and still feel secure that their personal belongings will not get stolen.

Valet keys give the valet access to unlock the door and start the ignition, but they can do little else. With some newer car models, valet keys come equipped with the normal set of keys and are used for special occasions such as when your car is being parked for you. Since this is a simpler version of a much more complex key, locksmiths can easily replace and duplicate it.

Get Smart: Have a Smart Car Key

smart car key

Smart cars are the future, and the tiny vehicles are becoming more and more popular as dealers receive more and more of them in stock. Smart cars are equipped with keys that are far more advanced than transponder keys, and are by far the hardest to duplicate.

Smart car keys can allow the owner to remotely open and close doors, as well as start the ignition from varying locations. Locksmiths can use the technology necessary for transponder keys to access the complex smart car transponder codes. Fortunately for the locksmith, these keys are still the rarest, and as time and technology progresses they will become easier to duplicate. Smart car keys work in a similar fashion to transponder keys, and sometimes can be duplicated using that code method.

A Protected Option: VAT Keys

VAT key

VAT keys, or Vehicle Anti-Theft keys, are widely an upgrade that can be given to any type of key and they allow for added security. This boosted safety measure can be taken by adding a unique security chip to the blade of the key, giving resistance to anyone who tries to open the doors and doesn’t have the specific key. A variety of security levels can be added to the chip depending on how much security the client needs.

VAT keys are the hardest to replace, since the chip used in the blade is very custom and its code changes from customer to customer. Most of the time, a car key replacement cannot be made. Locksmiths recommend that a customer purchases and duplicates a new basic set of keys and then creates a new VAT chip to be applied. The code can sometimes be too specific for a locksmith to be able to access in his or her records, and transponder machines can only replicate the chips used in factory issued transponder keys. While great for security, VAT keys aren’t easy to replace if lost or stolen.


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