Today's modern cars rely on more than just the standard metal tumblers and basic keys, but that extra security offered by chip-enabled smart keys also makes them harder to replace when you lose them. Many people have heard rumors that all you need is the VIN from your car to get a key replaced, eliminating the need to keep a spare around. Learn the facts about how a VIN is involved in replacing a smart key before completely relying on this method.
The VIN on your car's windshield or under the hood is a unique identifier that the dealership applies so you can properly register the specific vehicle with your state and track insurance information. While dealerships require the VIN in order to look up the key pattern and chip code for your vehicle, the VIN itself is not what's used to cut the key. This means that only someone with access to the dealership database, such as a qualified locksmith, can use the VIN to create a smart key that actually responds properly to your car.
More than VIN
Both dealerships and locksmiths require a little more than just the VIN over the phone in order to authorize the creation of a new key. They'll also want proof of ownership, such as registration paperwork, and your photo ID. Otherwise anyone standing by your car while it's parked in public could read off the VIN, get a custom key cut, and drive away.
In some cases, even the dealer can't find the proper code for the vehicle based on the VIN alone. It's not always possible to find the information necessary for cutting the right key and programming it if the vehicle is older than 10 years but still requires a chip. Removing the door panel itself may reveal a code that gives access to the lock. If it can't be found, the vehicle may need a new set of locks and an ignition replacement, along with computer re-programming to make the new keys work with everything.
When a qualified locksmith arrives at your home or work to help you deal with a missing smart key, they need to more than just cut a matching physical key. The chip must be programmed to your car, and occasionally your car itself must also be programmed, in order for it to do more than just open your doors. Locksmiths with the right equipment and training can handle the programming for almost any model, but there are a few cars where key re-programming is only possible at a dealership.
Since it's necessary to replace the locks and ignition in cases where the key code is no longer available, it's perfectly possible that any used car you purchase already has new equipment that no longer matches the original VIN. This means that even the dealership can't check the code information by the VIN, leaving you with only the option of paying for yet another new set of locks. An inspection from a mechanic can reveal if there are aftermarket ignition and lock parts on a used car before you purchase it.
There are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances of needing all new locks or even a costly re-programming fee. Most cars with smart keys have a process for allowing you to automatically program spare smart keys as long as you still have the originals in hand, so taking a chance to do that before losing your keys and keep the spare in a secure spot. Even if they're not available immediately when you lose your keys, having a spare somewhere still makes it possible to retrieve the lock code and spend less than you would on new parts.
Talk to a professional like The Lock Shop for more information and ideas.