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Gone are the days of copying car keys at a local hardware shop. Key fob replacement usually involves visiting a car dealer, or at the very least a specialist shop with high-tech tools that can teach these advanced keys to talk to a car’s security system.
Even today’s most basic cars have keys that contain a chip that communicates with a transponder somewhere inside the vehicle. Known as a key fob, without proper key programming, you won’t be able to start your car.
More advanced systems consist of a key fob that can stay in your pocket or purse. As you might imagine, these key fobs get pricey to replace and having them programmed using those special tools can cost even more.
A little more history: The word fob dates to pocket watches, which had provisions for a small fob that attached them to their owner’s coat or vest.
Key fobs, unfortunately, don’t always stay attached to their owners! If you lose yours, here’s how to replace a key fob, what it costs and where to have it programmed.
The best way to replace a key fob is to buy a new one from a car dealer. Key fob replacement can cost between $150 and $600, depending on the car. Broadly speaking, higher-end cars will cost more than a Nissan key fob, for instance.
You’re not just paying for the fancy Mercedes-Benz or BMW key fob badge, however. These cars typically use more advanced security systems that thieves will find more difficult to penetrate.
Besides a car dealership, several online retailers offer key fob replacement. Read reviews closely, however. Use the same judgement you would with any online purchase. Those key fobs sold through aftermarket firms are often copies of original equipment fobs. They may not be of the same quality.
Additionally, many aftermarket fobs that seem inexpensive are simply cases to replace cracked or broken key fobs. They won’t contain the actual transmitter hardware inside. If you crack your key fob, these can be inexpensive solutions, however.
Insurance typically does not cover replacement of a key fob, though you’ll want to check with your agent or read your policy closely to confirm.
Likewise, services such as AAA can replace fobs, though they go through the same third-party services you can access on your own, anyway. That said, it may be worth comparison shopping as AAA may have negotiated a lower rate than you would be able to receive on your own.
Don’t look to auto parts stores for key fobs, though stores like AutoZone, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and NAPA will replace key fob batteries and they typically sell the plastic outer shell for Toyota key fobs and other popular brands.
And unlike your mobile phone, there is no “Find My Key Fob” mode that sounds an alarm or shows up on an app. Misplacement-prone drivers may want to consider a device that includes a keychain dongle linked to an app on their phone, though. These find-a-key devices work well, at least until their built-in batteries die after a few years.
Even those of us who not prone to misplacing things will sometimes lose a key. It’s essential to have a backup. All new cars come with at least two key fobs, so make sure you get both before you walk out of the showroom.
If you’re buying a used car and it only comes with one fob, be sure to use that as a negotiating tactic — or insist that a second key be programmed to the car.