The Real Cost of Replacing Your Keys

Written by Jeff Murray

Life is imperfect. Keys break, get lost, or sometimes you just need more than 2 sets. When thinking of getting parts for your vehicle, most people immediately think of the dealership – until they find out the cost, then, once sticker shock has passed, comes possibly hours of researching the internet for aftermarket options. Auto remotes and keys are no different.

First of all, there should be some myths that need to be dispelled before anything else:

1. When you order a new key/ remote it will come to you ready to go.

NO – false. Every car has its unique key cuts that match the ignition, door, trunk, and glove box. Without the existing keys in their possession, there is no way any company can sell you a key already cut (unless you provide them with key code). What’s more, nearly all modern cars have keys and remotes that require programming and without the keys/ remotes being with the car there is no way this can happen unless you buy straight from the dealer- at upwards of 4 times the cost of a non-dealer unit.

2. Significantly discounted remotes are brand new.

NO – false. The reason you get a replacement at half the price is due to specialized companies that recycle used remotes and make them resellable to the public. A “refurbished” remote is the same electronics you would buy at the dealership but at significantly reduced cost. At the time of writing, there is no current technology that allows for keys to be refurbished so when finding a key at lesser prices than a dealer you are just getting a much better deal.

3. Refurbished/ aftermarket remotes are of lesser quality than brand new.

You can never tell how a remote was treated before it was refurbished. Some people wrap their keys and remotes in leather or silicon covers and treat them well. Others do not. Some remotes are sourced from junkyards and may have damage in some way not detectable. This is the trade-off. Upwards of an 80% discount over the dealer but there is a slight risk the process will not be as smooth as sitting at a dealer waiting room as they handle everything. There have been reports that Chinese made aftermarket “replacement” options are inferior in small ways, like the distance the remote is effective and robustness, meaning if it is manhandled it may break sooner. This is not indicative of all aftermarket remotes and varies wildly.

4. If all keys/ remotes are lost the dealer has to replace my entire computer/ ignition system.

No – false. Except for a few early years and models of Lexus vehicles, this is not true. In 99% of all cases if you lose all your keys and remotes a local auto locksmith can erase the lost ones and enter new ones in your vehicle from scratch.

5. Once the replacement key/ remote is received it is taken to a dealer to cut/ program.

Only in rare cases. MOST dealers are only interested in making as much money as possible from you (not all dealers are greedy). We all know this, that is why you would seek out a cheaper key or remote alternative in the first place, right? So if it is already known that the dealer is raking you over the coals why would you then go to them with someone else’s product? Not all dealers are crooks, and some of them are so honest they will even buy from refurbished remote dealers to save their customers money (but in most cases, they buy refurbished and still tell you it is new so they make even more money off of you). This is a rare occurrence and if a dealer is your only option for programming just buy the remote or key from them because they are going to tell you a story to get you to return the one you bring in and buy one of their own. We have heard it all, the dealer will say the item you bought from outside is not OEM when it is. They will say it is used and cannot be paired, when in fact they know from the beginning they cannot program refurbished items and are going to charge you for time knowing it is going to fail. Of course, they will also never tell you a lot of remotes can be reused and self-programmed as well. The point is if you did not trust them with your business from the start, why use them at all? If a dealer is your ONLY option anywhere near to you than you are stuck going to them.

I could go on all day busting myths like this. How car keys and remotes work in modern vehicles is such an unknown to most people that the myths are never-ending. That being said there are just a few things everyone needs to know and understand about the topic:

  • Assume your car has a transponder key system if it is newer than 1999 and not a Kia or Hyundai from the US market, It will ALWAYS need cut and programmed before it will work. NEVER think that the remote will work as soon as it slides out of the wrapper.
  • Manufacturers use several different remote variants every year for each car model (in most cases) so when using a website’s search tool make sure you match your existing info perfectly. This means to match the button configuration, FCC ID (or part number), as well as prox or non-prox variation. Websites will present you with ALL the options for cars like yours so do not just pick one that looks the same.
  • “Prox” means a ‘smart’ style remote. If you keep your remote in your pocket all the time and push a button to start the car, you use a prox remote.
  • If you have even a single question about anything involving your remote/ key purchase do NOT buy it until you contact the website you are buying from and have all of your questions answered.

The most common occurrence we have when dealing with potential customers is when they find out that the massive discount they are getting from us does not include the key being cut or remote ready to work as soon as it arrives is, “where do I take it to get it programmed and cut to my vehicle”? The answer is a local automotive locksmith. Open up Google maps and type in ‘auto locksmiths near me’ and you should have options. Call around and ask them the following questions:

  1. Do you have a shop or location I can drive to?
  2. Do you work on outside items?
  3. What do you charge to just pair the items I bring in?

There are more in-depth questions the discerning consumer could ask that I will cover in a separate article but for now, these 3 basic questions need to be answered. By driving to them (assuming you still have 1 working key) you avoid the dreaded “service call fee”.

Most locksmiths do not have shops and work out of their van. This is quite common so don’t think it is a bad thing. If they will not wave the service call fee if you drive to them, move on to the next locksmith. Most locksmiths will work on outside items but none of them will warranty the work. This is fine as you should have a warranty with the place you purchased the items from anyway.

Lastly is the charge. This will vary from place to place depending on how many locksmiths are competing against each other and what the local dealerships charge for similar services.

The rule of thumb is to first call the dealership and ask them how much the remote AND the programming will cost you all together. Dealers will rarely include the programming charges in your quote unless you directly ask it be applied. Once you have that figure you can evaluate if buying a refurbished remote and using an auto locksmith to pair it are significantly cheaper. In most cases, this will save you 20-80% over the dealer price.

If you lose all your keys and are stuck wondering what your first move should be, fear not, we have the answer for you here. Firstly, call the dealer as advised above and get the total charges for them to do the work. It will be expensive but the point is you get the top end charge to do your replacement and can use this quote to calculate your savings using other options. Second, go to and use the search tool to see what options you have available. Use our handy chat feature, email us any questions, or call us. We are happy to help you get the correct option. With our price for the replacement unit, you will then get a quote from a local locksmith to pair our remote for you, again using the advice as outlined above. The only difference is instead of you going to the locksmith’s shop, you will pay their service fee and have them come to you. A dealership would require you to tow the car to them if they did the work so the locksmith coming to you is very convenient.

Modern keys and remotes do not have to be a mystery. They are complicated- no doubt. Locksmiths that are real masters at their trade are talented and smart people that spend years and a lot of money learning the latest technology and buying the best tools. Just because they are complicated does not mean they need to be mysterious. To learn more about this subject you can read further articles published on this site in the future.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Feel free to share this article with anyone who has the same question as you.

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