How much do Car Keys cost? It used to be easy!
Getting a car key used to be cheap and easy, any key cutting shop could make one in seconds. Then the car manufacturers changed things, which means that in 2020, car keys are more complicated. This also changed how much car keys cost. There are four steps that will decide how much you must pay. You need to add the costs from each step to find the total cost.
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The price is worked out as follows.
Car Key Price Formula
The Key + The Cutting charge + The Codes + Programming = Total Price that car keys cost.
Step One – The Key
Firstly, you need the key.
In the olden days, you put your car key in the door to open the car, then started the car by turning the ignition. Nowadays, some keys have buttons, and some are known as ‘smart’ keys and don’t even have a key blade that you can see.
How much do modern car keys cost?
There’s a big price range here. A basic key without buttons, should be around £20 – £30. The key below is a basic Ford key and is ready to be cut.
If you move on to a key with buttons, they start at £50 (Ford and Vauxhall) and can be as much as £200 (Jeep, Mazda etc). Again, the key below is a Ford Focus key.
Lastly, the latest ‘smart’ keys from Hyundai can cost £250+ The key below is a Volvo smart key and you’ll need a small mortgage to get a spare! Read more here.
So, trying to give you an average price for the key is hard. When getting a quote, make sure you ask whether the price they give you is the key alone, or the complete job.
Now you need to add on the cost of cutting the key…
Step Two – Cutting the Key
Depending on where you get your car key from, it may need to be cut to suit your car locks. When you order one from the dealer of Vauxhall, Citroen, Peugeot, Fiat and Renault, it will come pre-cut to your car. However, if you have a Ford, Nissan or Jeep, the key will come blank.
What’s the price of cutting the key?
If the key is pre-cut, ignore this part.
If you need a shop to cut it, you should expect to pay a charge. The reason is that every time a key is cut, the blades on the machine get a little blunter. Some keys are made from metal so hard (especially if you have your own from eBay) that they break the cutter blades.
When you pay to get a key cut, you are paying a little towards a new cutter for the machine. These cutters cost from £30 – £60!
Therefore, you should expect to pay at least £10 to get a key cut.
Some key cutting shops won’t cut a key that they haven’t sold you. It’s not because they’re being awkward, it’s because with eBay or Amazon keys, the metal can be rock hard. This will cause damage to the cutters. However, with high quality keys, brass is added to make them easier to cut. So, you may struggle to find a shop to cut that ‘bargain’ key you got from the internet.
So now you have the price of the key + the price of cutting the key.
Now you need to add on the cost of the codes.
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Step Three – Programming Codes
Why do I need codes to get a key cut?
Before you can get the key cut, or programmed, you will need a set of codes.
The first code you need is one to cut the key. This is the Key Code, or Key Number. Each car key is a different shape to stop just anyone putting their own key into your door. The reason key codes are so important is simply because the person cutting your key in the factory, will never see your car. They cut the key to a code, which tells them the shape of your car lock. It’s very simple but clever.
Without the key number it can’t be cut in the factory. However, it can be copied from an existing key.
The second code is the security code. It’s also be called the Transponder or Immobiliser Code. It’s very important.
Imagine trying to get money out of the cash point, without a Pin Number. You can’t, because the pin number is there to protect you from fraud. The security code for your car works in the same way. It stops someone programming a key for your car, then stealing it.
What do the codes cost?
The codes range in price from £5-10 for Kia and Hyundai, up to £45 for Fiat. The most expensive codes we’ve heard of is £180 from the Iveco dealer! If you use an independent car key specialist, they sometimes can cut and programme a key without the need to for codes.
You now have the cost of the key + getting the key cut + any codes you need.
Step Four – Programming
Most car keys have electronics inside them. Sometimes it’s hard to believe this, because your car key may not have buttons. However, even inside the most basic modern car key, buried inside the plastic, is a small electronic microchip, like the one that you put in a Dog. This chip is the reason that car keys cost so much more than just a basic metal key.
So, any key that you want to start the car, needs to be introduced to the car.
Programming is like a first date. When the car sees the key for the first time, it doesn’t know the key and its unique chip is not recognised in the car memory. Therefore, when anyone tries to start the car, the immobiliser will not let the engine fire up.
So, when the new key is programmed, it’s introduced to the car, checked that it’s the correct type of key and then, the chip identification is memorised by the car. We like to compare it to a fingerprint. Each chip is unique and is stored in the car memory once programming is successful. Just like a second date, when the car meets the key next time, they know each other, and everything works fine.
What’s the cost of programming?
There are two reasons that programming can be expensive.
Firstly, the equipment is expensive. The average key programming computer can cost between £10,000 – £20,000. Most specialist key companies have 2-3 different machines.
The dealerships run as a franchise and equipment cost is passed on to you, the customer. So, the first part of the programming charge pays for the expensive equipment.
The second part of the programming charge pays for the clever technician that uses the equipment. Key programming is not simple. When a key is programmed, it messes with the immobiliser settings. If it isn’t completed correctly, then the car will not start! So, you should be wanting to pay someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who’s experienced.
Every Auto Locksmith gets the weekly call from someone who’s trying to do it cheap, with cheap equipment or following a YouTube video, and now the car won’t start…
What does key programming cost?
You should expect to pay somewhere between £35 – £90, depending on where you go and how long it all takes.
So, there you have it. When you add up all four steps, the final car key cost can sound expensive.
There is one more thing to consider. If you’re stranded miles from the car dealer, you’ll need to get the car to the dealer, or get someone to come out to you. Again, this will be an extra cost, although if you are lucky, you’ll have some kind of breakdown recovery that will cover the cost.
So to wrap up, when looking at how to save money on buying a key, do some research on the four steps listed. If you have all the information, it will make more sense when comparing prices.
Remember, look after those car keys!
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