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
James Duke says,
I love the keys to my truck last week and I still haven’t been able to find them. I wish I had seen you page sooner and maybe I could’ve used some of these tips to prevent myself from losing my keys. Now, I may only have a use for your tips about replacements. I’ll have to keep in mind that I can go to either my dealership or a locksmith. Thanks for sharing I’ll have to keep these things in mind.
This is just the information I need! I tend to lose things a lot and one these days it might be my car keys. The tip about training myself to treat keys differently seems like a good idea. I will have to try that. It is good to know that if I ever misplace my key I can have it replaced my a locksmith.
Laila Keirstead says,
They key is to never lose your keys, but sometimes that is going to happen. I know a lot of people that have to call locksmiths all the time to rescue them and help them get out of being stranded with a locked car. They sure make a lot of money because people are always losing their keys.
Zach Potter says,
Awesome information here on what to do if keys are lost. About a year ago my wife lost all of her keys and we had to call a 24 hour locksmith to come get the door open for her as I was away for the weekend. I will really have to look more into the GPS feature as they become more standard. This would be a great idea for us to have on some of our keys or maybe even attached to her purse or something as well!
Jason Scott says,
It has been quite a while since I have locked myself out of a car, but I do lose my keys every once in a while at home. I like the idea of attaching your keys to something bigger like a wallet and might have to try that out.
Logan Murphy says,
Making your keys “hard to lose” is an excellent plan. I try putting my keys in the same place, same pocket, same bag everyday. Locksmiths can be really helpful, but it’s nice not having to worry about not knowing where my keys are! My wife has even made little hooks by our front door so when we come home we automatically just put our keys up there. Then if we ever have to leave in a hurry, we know where they are. Thanks for the great read! I think everyone has lost a key in one point of their life.
Stephen Adams says,
Backup plans are a must. I use a hide-a-key. It hides on the underside of my car via a couple magnets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve locked my keys in my car. The hide-a-key is the best backup plan.
Ida Rodgers says,
Thanks for the info. It will certainly help me
Natalie Darcy says,
I am quite possibly the worst at keeping track of my keys. So far, I have yet to lose them permanently, but strangers hand them to me daily with a sympathetic look. I think that if I could find a better purse like you described I would be less likely to lose them, but I also appreciate your information on how to contact a locksmith. It might be giving up too soon, but I like knowing that I could handle myself with grace if I finally did lose them.
Olga Morozova says,
I would always lose my keys so my mom got me a key chain to help me out as a joke gift. It was a little device that beeped if you whistled! The only problem is you had to be near enough to it for it to pick up the whistle, so I spent a lot of time walking around the house whistling. Now I use one of the GPS key chains that I can track from my phone. No more losing my keys and calling locksmiths!
James Bay says,
I always seem to lose my keys at the most inconvenient times, and end up needing a locksmith. I really like the idea of attaching them to something larger. I will need to give that a try. Thank you for your help.
Nick Mallory says,
I agree with your suggestion about making back up keys. Like you said, after you lose the key it’s too late to make extras, so do it now. That was the first thing that we did with my wife’s car after her parents gifted it to us. Of course, most new cars have chip-enabled keys that have to be made at a locksmith, but the extra cost is worth it for the security.
Lilly Sedrick says,
Losing your car keys is definitely something that everyone does. However, there are so many ways that you can help prevent this from happening. It is also nice to know that there are ways that your keys can be replaced if you do lose them. By doing that you can make sure that you can always get into your home or car no matter what. It is always a good idea to have a replacement.
Raylin Sutter says,
I lost my keys this past summer and had to get a car key replacement. I lost my key on the other side of the country and so I felt pretty safe about not replacing the car locks. However, I would most definitely suggest that anyone who loses their keys locally to try and get new locks.
Deanna R. Jones says,
These tips are perfect for me to know right after I replaced my car keys yesterday. I have a habit of losing my keys every few weeks for some reason. Treating my keys differently to make them more difficult to lose by attaching them to a larger item like my bag or wallet is a great tip. I always have my wallet on me, so I should use that to attach my keys so that I won’t lose them as often. Thanks for the tips!