What are the Most Common Types of Car Keys?

July 30, 2020

For most of the history of the automobile, you used a basic mechanical key to do everything from starting it up to opening the trunk. The past three decades have seen a number of enhanced security developments that have changed the way people access their vehicles.

It might seem like a confusing amount of options at first, but most modern car keys fall into one of the following four categories. The good news is that all of these are types that a mobile locksmith can replace for you even if you have lost the original keys!

The Basic Mechanically Cut Car Key

This is the standard type of auto key that dates all the way back to the very first uses in automotive doors and ignitions. While the machining is a little more precise and sophisticated these days, the fundamental design really hasn’t changed much.

These have a unique pattern of “teeth” and grooves cut into them that line up with the pin settings of a particular lock. Unless there is a perfect match, the lock will not turn over.

Mechanical keys are fairly easy to make and copy with a machining tool, and this service is widely available. You’ve probably brought a house key to a hardware store or a retail chain to have it copied at some point. When it comes to mechanical automotive keys, it’s best to let a locksmith create duplicates or copies for you to ensure that they are cut accurately and will last a long time. The chain stores don’t always have the best equipment or highly trained professionals on hand.

The mechanical key cutting device is not a particularly large piece of equipment and can be fit into mobile locksmith vans so that these can be cut on-site immediately during a lockout situation. In most cases a trained locksmith will not need a copy of the original key to fabricate a new one; they can usually get all the information they need for cutting by examining the lock itself.

The Transponder Code Car Key

Transponders are a very interesting modern evolution of the standard car key. At a glance, they look like a regular mechanical key. But look closer and it may not have teeth, or may have a much simpler pattern than usual. It also has an electronic chip embedded in the key head known as a “transponder.” This chip supplies a unique digital code that is sent to a microcomputer in the auto. If the code doesn’t match what the auto is expecting, the key won’t work.

Most transponders have one constant code, which has its trade-offs. This makes it much simpler to duplicate the key or create an emergency replacement, and it’s something that any competent automotive locksmith should be able to do. However, it also makes it easier to defeat the car’s security.

To make transponder keys more secure, many cars made in the last few years now have what is called a “rolling code” system. This means that the transponder code automatically changes over time. This greatly improves the security of these, but makes them much tougher to duplicate. If you need a replacement you either need to find a locksmith that is certified for that particular type of auto or go to the dealer. If it has to be ordered from a dealer, it could take several days to get your replacement.

The Laser Cut Car Key

Laser-cut options are an enhanced version of the traditional mechanical card keys, made with advanced laser cutting equipment. The added precision allows for different and distinctive patterns of teeth that cannot be created with standard mechanical cutting equipment. These are also cut so that they can be inserted into locks in either direction and still work.

Hardware stores and retail chains often can’t duplicate laser-cut keys; you’ll need a locksmith with special equipment to do it.

The Car Key Fob

A “fob” is something like the transponder key, but with the transponder, bit separated out to its own little device. There are a few varieties of auto key fob. The most common is the convenience add-on fob, in which you have a standard mechanical key but also a fob that can remotely start the engine (most often used for warming up the car in cold winter climates). There are also fobs with built-in “switchblades” that pop out.

Standard fobs are fairly inexpensive and easy for automotive locksmiths to reprogram. Before you assume that a fob is broken, check to make sure that the battery isn’t dead. In rare cases, sometimes radio interference can also stop a fob from working.

What are the Most Common Types of Car Keys - The Car Key Fob

The Bottom Line

There is a broad mix of key types in use. Basic mechanical options are still very common, but newer cars are making enhanced security features standard. A quality automotive locksmith needs to keep up with the entire market and its continual developments.

That’s where Express Locksmith comes in. No matter where you are in the Houston area or what sort of key issue you have, our automotive locksmith team is prepared to respond immediately and get you up and running again as quickly as possible. We’re available 24/7 every day of the year by calling (832) 690-1640; keep our number on hand in case you run into trouble out there on the road!

Categorised in: