I just need some help

Firstly, I want to say we get on very well with many of the people at the local main car dealership. This is the reason that I’ve written this article. Lots of our customers come to us with stories of how the dealership doesn’t seem interested in their problem of having lost their car key and won’t help them. It struck me why they can’t help.

The Dealership Problem

Let’s think about what you need. Yesterday you had a key to your car. You could get about, go to work, do what you needed to do. It shouldn’t have crossed your mind how lucky you were to be able to do this, after all, it’s just normal life. However today, you’ve lost or broken your car key and life is bad. You can’t do all those normal things, and this is stressful.

The problem is that although you just need a key, it’s not just metal and plastic. These days car keys have Microchips inside them and there are lots of stages the key needs to go through, before it ends up in your hand. On top of this, unless you have a Ford car, the chances are that the dealer won’t have a key just sitting on the shelf, waiting for you to call.

The obstacles

Think of it as a hurdles race. When you go to the dealership, it’s unlikely that you’ll deal with just one person, and there will be many people that need to do their job correctly, for you to get a key.

The Helpline

So, you have a Peugeot and you’ve lost your car key. This should be a straight forward job, we normally have our customers back on the road the next day at the latest. However, this day, you don’t know about an independent Auto Locksmith, so you phone the dealer.

In many dealerships you get to a national call centre, who’ll know you are trying to call locally and connect you to the local dealership. It won’t help to tell them you’ve lost your keys. However, this is a perfectly natural thing to say. All they’ll do is transfer you to the local branch, and if this goes ok, you’ve cleared hurdle one.

The Dealership

Next, you’ll be transferred to someone at the dealerships receptionist. It’s his or her job to take your call and decide what to do with it. In an ideal world, you’d phone up and say, ‘Hello can you put me through to parts’ because the receptionist needs to know who you want to talk to. However, the problem is, you don’t know who you want to talk to. So hopefully, the person on reception will have time to listen to you and know what department to put you through to.

Some dealerships are very good at this. We’ve found that the smaller ones, (where they all sit together and have regular customers) are better than the big dealerships. This makes sense, because for anyone to help you, you need the right people to talk to each other. So, you get someone helpful and, although they nothing about car keys, they do want to help you.

Parts or Service?

Now here’s the problem. Different dealerships manage this in different ways. You need a key and before it will start the car it needs to be programmed. This means simply that the key needs to be introduced to the car, so the car recognises it. This is done by programming with a computer, more about that later.

So, let’s assume that you’ve been put through to ‘parts’ because a key is a ‘part’ of the car, makes sense. You need to remember that the person you talk to is talking to hundreds and hundreds of people every day. Also, they deal with every part of the car (I read that there are 30,000 parts on a car!). Therefore, in all fairness, he or she is not an expert on keys. They will need some basic information such as

What is your car registration?

How many buttons are on the key?

Do you have the ‘key number’?

Do you have a log book?

Even though it seems they want to know everything, these are all reasonable questions for the following reasons.

What is your car registration?

Everything is related to your car registration. When you call and give the parts department this, they will enter it into the ‘parts catalogue’.

This is just like an Argos catalogue. Each section is dedicated to all the parts needed for a certain part of the car. There’s a chapter on the engine, one on brakes, you get my drift. Now unfortunately, car keys are not always put in the same place in the catalogue. For some makes, they are included as part of the locks and security. For other makes they are included as part of the engine chapter. It’s important that the person you talk to, knows where to look. It’s also the reason you need to be able to answer all the questions above. Inside the catalogue it gives the choice of different keys. The basic model of a Fiesta may not have a key that has buttons, whereas the sporty ST version may have a key that is ‘smart’ and can stay in your pocket.

So, if you get a good parts guy or girl, they’ll know what you need, once you have answered all the questions. However, before they can order the key, they need to see some proof that you own the car. The logbook will do fine, but unfortunately, it’s inside the car, in the glove box…that is locked.

Codes? What are they?

If you have a Vauxhall, they’ll need some special codes from you before they can order the key. You can find these special codes on a special code card. Where is that code card? Yes, you guessed, it’s part of the service book, inside the car.

If you have a Ford car, you’ll find a unique situation in the motor trade. Unlike all the other manufacturers that keep a central database, they don’t bother. Incredibly, they don’t have a central database that keeps a record of all the key numbers. Instead they rely on the salesman or woman to make a local record of the key number when they hand over the car keys. The key number is on a little plastic tag, attached to the keys and nobody we speak to ever knows what it is!

Security Codes

The other manufacturers also issue special codes to let you get keys made and these come on cards, again, usually kept in the car!

Success – You ordered the key

Eventually, after finding all the documants you need (somehow you manage to get them out of the locked car) you take them up to the dealership and order the key. Well done, this is another hurdle cleared. The good news is that you can have a long rest to recover, because you’ve got a bit of a wait on your hands. Remember we said that the manufacturers don’t keep the keys in stock. The reason for this is simply that there are thousands of different ways to cut the keys. These days, no-one at the dealership is trained how to cut keys, so they must order them from the supplier, which can take anything from a day up to three weeks!

Remember, the person on the dealership parts desk has no control over this. They have a process to follow, and if it’s ordered correctly and the factory have them in stock, then it will take as long as it takes. What’s more of a worry is if the person is new, or has a bad day (lets face it we all have them) or the factory do not have them in stock. This happens. A few years ago, Skoda ran out and we were hearing that the average wait time was twelve weeks!

So, you’ve paid your money, and are waiting for the call to say the car key has arrived at the dealership. This could be a day if it’s a BMW (very efficient as always), or it could be 2-3 weeks if it’s French. They make beautiful cars but are never in a hurry to get a replacement key for you.

Now, in the meantime, you’ll need to find alternative transport

For most people this will be bus or taxi, so if you need to go to work every day, this is going to add up to a hefty sum if you’re waiting a few weeks.

Programming – The Last Hurdle

At last you get the call. Yes, the key has arrived and it’s ready to be programmed. Alarm bells….’What do you mean it has to be programmed?’

‘Sir, we need to plug a computer into your car, so we can make it work your engine’

‘Ok….so how do I get the car up to you, I don’t have a key. This is why I’m talking to you…’

Yes, I know, but we can’t come to you, so you’ll need to get it up to us. When would you like to book in? We have appointments for ten days’ time!’

‘TEN DAYS?…I’ve already been waiting two weeks for the key to arrive!’

‘Sir. if you get the car up to us we’ll see if we can squeeze it in for you over the next few days’

‘So how do I get it up to you?’….and so it goes on, in an endless loop that leads to only one outcome.

Yes, it must be recovered, more money. The average local recovery can be between £40 – £50.  However at least it’s on its way to being back on the road.

Houston, we have a problem

So, the car is at the dealership, they have the key and all that needs to happen is that it need to be programmed in. Before you start to get your driving gloves on, there are a few things to consider. They’re unlikely to happen, but bear this in mind.

The key doesn’t fit.

This happens and there can be many reasons including

The car has been stolen previously and all the locks have been changed. But…when this was done, no-one informed the database, so the replacement key was ordered to the original shape.


At some point the original ignition has broken and the owner has been running on two separate keys. When the ignition broke, they should have ordered one in to the original shape, but it was too expensive and would have meant a two week wait. Instead,  they went to the scrapyard, bought a cheap one and off you go. Unfortunately, this is a problem now, because no-one knows what shape the key is.

It gets worse

Worst still, the dealership can’t programme the key. You’ve paid the money, waited the wait, and you still don’t have a car that starts. Although this is rare, if you have a Toyota or Lexus this is actually common. With these makes, you can only programme a new key, if you already have a ‘Master Key’. If you don’t have one, the car computer will not let you programme a new one. It’s for security and in principle it’s a good idea….until you lose the one and only master key that you have. When this happens it’s a big, big bill. The computer is normally inside the £600 ECU. ‘But I just want my car to start?’ I know it’s frustrating.

This is where we come in. When you’re an expert in your field, you know the problems and how to get around them. Like I said at the start, we get on very well with alot of the dealerships. They have their way of doing things and that’s what they do. However, we help people every day. We know that you just want your car running and a good independent Auto Locksmith will always work with you to get you up and running as soon as possible.

The important thing here is to give us a call. If it all goes wrong, and you really don’t know what to do, pick up the phone. Hopefully we’ll be able to put your mind at rest, hopefully we can give you the chance to think we’re a super hero.

Remember, keep your car keys safe, or just get a spare, it’s so much simpler.