types of car keys

What To Do If You Lose Your Car Keys

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.

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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.

Transponder Key

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.

Smart Key

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

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    Leave a comment

  1. Vince Taylor says,

    Traditional car keys are severly going out of trend. Recently, I got locked out of my car and I had to call the services of Swift Locksmith. They reprogrammed my keyless entry system very efficiently.

  2. Marian Skelton says,

    I had to have my car towed y’all pay for that, I had to have keys made to replace them Mazda 2013 car will not start if the chip was lost the key will open the door but it will not start the car it’s a push button car…do y’all pay for the keys to be made I had to have two of them one would not work you have to have two for a Mazda I would like for y’all to reimburse me for having them keys made

  3. Frank Searle says,

    My tote bag was recently stolen. Among the items it contained were my house keys, cell phone and key for my Toyota Prius. Luckily I had a spare key at home and eventually got the car mobile, after much inconvenience. Replacement car key is to cost over $500. Does anyone know of a less painful way to replace the key. (Toyota Prius 2011)

  4. Bob Marshall says,

    I lost my keys while bushwhacking to the waterfalls on Big Beartrap Branch in the Middle Prong Wilderness. My new Walmart pants came with a hole in the front right pocket. I had only worn them twice and had them three days. Naturally my attempts to find them were in vain as there was no trail to the branch.

  5. Emma Dyer says,

    Thank you for the tip : vinegar, water and spray bottle night before the freeze weather .

  6. Gwen says,

    I keep my keys in a certain pocket of my purse. When I take the keys out of the ignition, for example, I instantly put them back in the pocket. This has become a habit and part of my daily routine, so I never have to search for my keys.

  7. Zach Potter says,

    I have recently found that sometimes when in doubt, it is better to call a locksmith to get the job done while being locked out. I like the idea of the back up plan for my auto keys and have been meaning to do this for quite a while. There are some big box stores that sell transponder keys that only cost around $80-100 as opposed to double or triple the amount at dealerships.

  8. Steven Harrison says,

    Indeed, you mentioned an excellent way to keep track of your keys. I keep mine attached to a lanyard and a dozen other things. I also have a keepsake item on that lanyard that I’m holding onto for a friend that I will only see in many years to come. It’s been safe and sound ever since I first had it.

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