What to Do If You Lose Your Car Keys


March 28, 2019

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By Ellise Pierce

Not so long ago, misplacing—or worse, losing—car keys wasn't a big deal. There may have even been a spare attached to the car in a little box, stuck to the inside of the bumper. 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 the vehicle is, 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 the car.

If it's lost: One could call a locksmith who can come and make a new key on the spot. In some cases—an unusual or older vehicle—a locksmith may not be able to help. A new ignition lock cylinder and key from the dealer or an independent repair shop may need to be bought.

Car Key Fob

The first fobs were add-ons and meant to be a convenience. They can lock and unlock a vehicle, but a traditional key is used to start the car. The key can also be used to unlock the doors.

If lost: If only the fob is lost, it's okay. A key can still be used to unlock the car and start it. Fobs are readily available as aftermarket products and are easily programmable; a special tool isn't needed. They can be found 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 lost: 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-90s. Transponders are ignition keys that have a plastic head embedded with a computer chip; they rely on the wireless connection between the key and the car before they will allow the ignition to engage.

If lost: If there isn't a backup key, the vehicle will need to be towed to the dealership and have proof of ownership papers before a key can be purchased.

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 the 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 lost: Like the transponder key, the car will need to be transported to the dealership if there isn't a backup key, a key will need to be ordered (if the dealer doesn't have one in stock), and it will be paired to the 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.

This article was originally published on GEICO.

In business for over 75 years, GEICO gives you the benefit of great rates on high-quality car insurance. You could be eligible for a special WITI membership discount on GEICO auto insurance. In addition to your special membership discount, you'll also receive 24-hour service online or by phone, as well as efficient and fair claim handling. Visit www.geico.clm/disc/witi or call 800-368-2734.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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