Not so long ago, misplacing—or worse, losing—your car keys wasn’t a big deal. You might even have had a spare attached to your car in a little box, stuck to the inside of the bumper. But as cars have gotten more technologically advanced, so have their keys, which can be more expensive than ever to replace.
Depending on what model and year vehicle you’re driving, replacing a lost or stolen key may involve several steps and several hundred dollars, says Richard Reina, training director at CARiD. If you don’t have a second car key, have a backup made and keep it in a safe place.
Here are the five main types of car keys, and Reina’s suggestions on what to do if yours goes missing.
Traditional Car Key
The standard key used by the auto industry is purely mechanical; put it into an ignition cylinder and turn to start your car.
If you lose it: You could call a locksmith, who can come and make you a new key on the spot. In some cases—an unusual or older vehicle—a locksmith may not be able to help. You might need to buy a new ignition lock cylinder and key from the dealer or an independent repair shop.
Car Key Fob
The first fobs were add-ons and meant to be a convenience. They can lock and unlock your vehicle, but you still use a traditional key to start the car. The key can also be used to unlock the doors.
If you lose it: If you lose just the fob, you’re OK. You can still use your key to unlock your car and start it. Fobs are readily available as aftermarket products and are easily programmable; you don’t need a special tool. You can find them at dealerships, auto parts stores or online. They’re also inexpensive (less than $20).
Car Key Fob And Switchblade Key
After the detached fob was released, auto manufacturers combined the two in a mechanism that would lock and unlock a vehicle with a spring-loaded key that folds into it, like a switchblade.
If you lose it: Pricier than a plain fob, an aftermarket fob with a switchblade key costs about $125 to replace. These are most easily found at a dealership, where they may be cut and programmed on-site; they’re also available online.
Created to be a better anti-theft device, auto manufacturers came up with transponders in the early- to mid-1990s. Transponders are ignition keys that have a plastic head embedded with a computer chip; they rely on the wireless connection between your key and the car before they will allow the ignition to engage.
If you lose it: If you don’t have a backup key, you’ll need to have your vehicle towed to the dealership and have proof of ownership papers before you can purchase a key. (If one has to be ordered, the wait may be several days.) Then the dealer will need to electronically pair the new computer chip with your vehicle. Besides towing charges, the replacement key will cost $200–$250.
Also known as “keyless ignition,” a smart key is associated with vehicles that have a start button on the dash. Smart-key technology operates via a proximity sensor in the vehicle that automatically knows when the smart key (which is not a key at all, but a paired sensor) is nearby. It then unlocks the vehicle and allows it to be started with the push of a button.
If you lose it: Like the transponder key, you’ll need to tow your car to the dealership if you don’t have a backup key, then order a key (if the dealer doesn’t have one in stock) and have it paired to your vehicle. The costliest of the keys, these can run upward of $320 to replace, with a possible towing charge on top of that.
If you ever need a tow, just ring up Emergency Roadside Service from GEICO—always available on the GEICO Mobile app. Add ERS to your policy today!
Read more: What To Do If Your Car Won’t Start
By Ellise Pierce
Zach Thalman says,
I should definitely talk to my roommate about some of these because he has already lost the keys to his motorcycle at least twice. He lost his sisters car keys and ended up having to pay a lot of money just to get a new key. I was talking to him about this yesterday and how much it cost him to get a replacement.
Rhys Rawson says,
This article is a lifesaver! I lose my keys at least twice a week, and it is constantly making me late! I like the idea of attaching my keys to my wallet. That will make it bigger, but also even more valuable. I’ll definitely give it a try!
Jessy Shaw says,
I literally lose my keys at least once a day and it can be really frustrating. I lost my keys at work yesterday and I haven’t been able to find them since. My co workers haven’t had any luck in the search either so I am thinking that they are finally gone for good. I am looking into car key replacement here in Austin and I think I will be able to find a good deal. I will definitely have them make a few extra copies. Thanks for sharing these tips.
Rachelle Reeves says,
I have a really bad habit of losing my keys very often. I also made the mistake of not having any back-up keys, so when I lose the keys I am stuck. Thanks for the tips, I’ll make sure to get back-ups and take better care of my keys.
Skylar Mitchell says,
I always seem to be losing my car keys, so it would be really nice to follow these tips to help me out. It would be really smart to always keep my keys in my purse and never put them on the counter or in my bedroom. If I always knew that they were in my purse, I am sure they would be much easier to keep track of. It would also be really great to have a backup plan set up like you suggest, so I should probably look into getting new keys made soon, just in case I do end up losing my keys again!
Callie Marie says,
Thanks for the advice on how to avoid getting locked out of your car. Making duplicate keys before you actually need them is great advice. I wish I had left copies with all of my friends, that way no matter where I get locked out, someone will a key will live nearby. My phone has a locksmith’s number in it just in case though.
Elsie Todd says,
I have locked myself out of my car so many times. My neice suggested a tag like soldiers wear. I now have a key around my neck at all times. It is not one that will start the car, but gets me in to get the key in the car that will start the car.
Chase Wilson says,
Oh my gosh, great tips! I keep track of things really well, but it is a huge inconvenience when I lose something. Especially my keys. Thankfully the police is really good at breaking into my car to find my keys. I don’t know what I would do without a good locksmith. Maybe I should get an extra key made up. How much do those cost generally?
Jamarcus Dantley says,
I didn’t know that there were so many ways to help you not lose your keys. I can be so forgetful, so I know that it’s happened to me a lot. I like the idea of tagging them so it makes them much harder to lose. We’ll be sure to give that a shot in the future.
Mark Daniels says,
I’ve learned from my teenage experience how quick you can be to lock yourself out. My experience was just going to a dentist and locking myself out after work hours. Police came and helped me. It wasn’t soon after that I arrived home and locked myself out again. Pathetic, I know. You definitely want to tag your stuff, just in case; however, I would recommend getting a replacement key and placing it your wallet, as I have done so. Otherwise, a locksmith will be the next best step for you if you are out of luck.
Jeff Bridges says,
I have locked my keys in my car once in the last 7 years. Luckily we had a police office help us get in without needing a locksmith, but that was enough for me to learn my lesson. What I do to prevent locking my keys is I always manually lock the car with the keys now. I don’t use the lock button on the inside. I have never locked my keys in since.
Mia Boyd says,
Thanks for the information. I’m the type of girl that loses her keys on a regular basis. I’m going to follow your tip about making my keys hard to lose. I’ll also think about having a backup plan. But, if either of those fail, I’ll make sure I call a locksmith.
Deanna R. Jones says,
I agree, having a backup plan in case you lose your keys is a great way to recover them. There seems to be many locksmith contractors available. It seems like looking up a good locksmith and carrying their contact information in your phone would be a good idea so that you can have someone to call in case of an emergency. I also liked your idea to look into how much it would cost to replace your keys. That would give you a better idea of how much it should cost to have them replaced.
Glenn Murison says,
Good topic …the basics !!!
I recently had to show my 27 year old son in law how to do a tire change.
( I had my daughter rotate tires at 16 y.o. ) In your instruction video, your car pro was shown
TIGHTENING lug nuts in a sequential pattern, rather than the suggested opposite nut in a star pattern. Thank you for what you do…..–glenn
Esther Oakley says,
This is great advice to anyone who regularly loses there keys. I have had to call a locksmith on several occasions and will start implementing these tips to helpfully reduce that number. One suggestion I have for people is to find a locksmith they can trust today, that way when you need it you aren’t stressed out finding one you can trust.