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Vehicle Transponder Key

Heightened Automobile Security: What Is a Transponder Key?

Transponder keys are advanced types of vehicle keys designed to prevent theft. This type of key first hit the market in the 1990s as a response by General Motors in 1985 as part of the Vehicle Anti-Theft System (VATS) to reduce Corvette thefts.

Nowadays, more variations to the common transponder keys have been developed to deter car thieves. However, several automobiles still use the traditional transponder key as the system works perfectly fine.

But how do they work?

Key Takeaways

  1. A transponder key is commonly used for cars and is embedded with a microchip that sends signals to the automobile that, when matched, starts the vehicle.
  2. Transponder keys cannot be simply duplicated by any hardware store.
  3. Great Valley Lockshop specializes in improving security systems for houses and automobiles. Contact us today regarding your dilemma regarding your transponder keys.

What is a Transponder Key for a Car?

Transponder keys are devices that use microchips to transmit a low-level signal from a key that is read by a remote receiver. The manufacturer programs the microchip with a unique serial number.

This chip emits a unique code signal when the key is inserted into the ignition. The car’s onboard computer then verifies this code, allowing the engine to start if it matches an authorized code stored in the system.

Most cars manufactured in the past 20 years have transponder keys as part of their anti-theft security measures. Remote keys are also used with keyless entry systems for homes, gates, and garage door remote openers.

what is a transponder key for a car

How Does a Transponder Key Work?

Transponder keys work through a small microchip embedded in the key head. When inserted into the ignition, the car’s onboard computer sends a radio signal to the transponder.

Using RFID (radio frequency identification), the receiver must detect the correct serial number to unlock or open. Similar to key fobs, transponder keys are often used with car locks and home security systems, as well as to open gates and garage doors.

This type of key adds a layer of security for cars and other applications by hindering any other key that does not contain the exact code from accessing a unit.

Why Are Transponder Keys More Secure?

Transponder keys provide a higher level of security for vehicles in two ways. They help deter and prevent car theft by rendering ‘hot wiring’ or breaking the ignition lock ineffective.

  1. More complex mechanism. If the car doesn’t detect the key’s microchip or the exact serial number, it won’t start. A transponder key’s digital ID is virtually unique when a traditional ignition key only has a few standard cut combinations.
  2. Digital system. The use of a digital identity creates many more potential combinations than the use of standard cuts on a mechanical key and lessens the chance that someone else’s key could be used in your car.
  3. Prevents hot-wiring. This type of mechanism makes the common process of hot-wiring a car impossible.

Unfortunately, nothing is foolproof, not even transponder car keys. Criminals, even those with transponder key security, have developed ways to break into cars.

How Can I Get a Transponder Key Replacement?

The most typical way to get a replacement for your transponder keys is to contact the car dealership store where you bought your vehicle. If this fails, here are some steps for getting a transponder key replaced:

  1. Call a reputable local automotive locksmith who has experience with transponder keys. They can often replace or program a new key for less than a dealership.
  2. Provide the locksmith with your vehicle’s make, model, and year.
  3. If you have a non-working key, that can help them make a replacement more easily. Many locksmiths offer mobile service and can meet you at your location to make a new key on the spot.

Replacement and programming can often be done in under an hour for basic transponder keys. Remember that not all locksmiths or hardware stores can replace a transponder key, as the process requires special equipment.

Are you in need of a transponder key replacement? Great Valley Lockshop offers automobile services for customers around Pennsylvania. Trust our experts to provide you with the exact copy of your transponder keys quickly!


How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Transponder Key? Why Is It So Expensive?

Replacing a transponder key can cost anywhere between $50 to $200, depending on the complexity of the key.

This is probably the second most common question that locksmiths get about transponder key replacement. Getting a key with a microchip copied costs significantly more than traditional rekeying. Additionally, car dealerships usually charge much more than car owners expect for a new transponder key.

There are several factors contributing to why a transponder key would be expensive. For one, they require special equipment to produce.

Microchips, located in the head of keys, are expensive for anyone to purchase, including dealerships and locksmiths. The traditional key part of the vehicle device can be copied quite easily and inexpensively. Without the microchip, you may be able to open the doors or roll down the windows. However, the car’s engine won’t start when you turn the key in the ignition.

Can I Program a Transponder Key Myself?

No, programming the key takes special equipment and skills. But your local locksmith, in addition to the car dealership, should be able to help.

Contact your local locksmith at Great Valley Lockshop today and get your transponder key replaced.

Transponder Keys Have Made It Impossible to Lock Your Keys in the Car

You probably know the dreaded feeling that comes when you realize that you have accidentally locked your keys inside your car. It often happens at the least convenient moment, when you’re on vacation, on your way to a big meeting, or already running late. These days, with transponder keys and increased car security, you may find it’s not so easy to unlock it yourself.

What to Do If You Lock Keys in the Car

If you find yourself standing outside of your car with your keys stuck inside, here are a few ways that you can try to unlock it.

  • If your car locks have electronic buttons on the edge of the window, you may be able to use a straightened coat hanger to unlock the car. First, create a small hook on one end of the coat hanger. Then, insert the hanger into the rubber on the top side of the window frame, between the rubber and the glass. Slowly insert the wire inside the car, bending it as you go. Then, aim for the electronic button to unlock it.
  • Some vehicles allow the driver to gain access to the car through the trunk by moving the rear seats. If you can get into your trunk easily, this may be an alternative way to unlock your car.
  • Vehicles that have locks recessed into the inside of the door handle will require professional help from an emergency locksmith.

Emergency Situations

In non-emergency situations, most local police are no longer able to respond to car lockout calls, and they often don’t want to risk damaging vehicles. In an emergency, police and locksmiths will prioritize your call to unlock the vehicle.

If a child or animal has been left in a car in hot weather, or someone is trapped in the vehicle, you should call the police immediately or break the window in case of emergency. Remember, temperatures only take one hour to rise to dangerous levels.

Preventing Another Lockout

If locking yourself out of your car is a regular occurrence for you, you might want to consider taking the following preventive measures:

  • Avoid locking your vehicle using the door handle locks. Get in the habit of locking the car from the outside or using the remote lock function on the key after exiting.
  • Hide an extra key somewhere on the vehicle’s exterior with a magnetic lockbox. Make sure to place it in an obscure area to prevent burglarizing your car.
  • Most new models come with electronic lock devices that are convenient to use and which can help prevent you from locking your keys inside the vehicle. Consider upgrading to a transponder key, a car with a keypad, or a proximity device for keyless entry. This technology will ensure that you don’t lock your keys inside your car again.
  • Never give your keys to your children to play inside the car, as you may get locked out of the car while your children remain inside.

Anyone who has been stranded outside their car with no way to gain access or get their keys knows how embarrassing and inconvenient this experience can be. Yet, taking simple precautions can limit the possibility that you will need to call an emergency locksmith.

Troubles with Your Transponder Keys in Pennsylvania? Contact Great Valley Lockshop

Locksmiths possess advanced tools and techniques to assist with damaged car doors and locks, ranging from broken key extractors to clip removal tools for door handles. Car key replacements for US, Korean, and Japanese brands generally cost around $350, with certified locksmiths providing key cutting and programming support.

If you’re not sure what kind of car key you have, trust a local locksmith to guide you. Great Valley Lockshop offers affordable and efficient car key replacements for customers around Pennsylvania. Our team can even give you valuable tips for taking care of your units.

Call Great Valley Lockshop at (484) 324-2986 or use our online estimate form.



What is a transponder chip key?

A transponder chip key contains a small electronic chip that communicates with a vehicle’s immobilizer system to start the engine. This chip is embedded in the plastic head of the key and is crucial for the car’s security.

Does my car key have a chip?

To determine if your car key has a chip, you can often check the documentation of your vehicle or look for a visible chip in the key’s head. Additionally, most cars manufactured after the mid-1990s come equipped with chip keys.

How do I know if my car key is a transponder key?

You can identify a transponder key by its thick plastic head, which usually houses the chip. Another method is to attempt starting your car with a duplicate key that lacks a chip; if the car doesn’t start, your original key likely has a transponder.

What is the purpose of a transponder key?

The purpose of a transponder key is to provide enhanced security for the vehicle. It prevents the car from being started with a key that does not have the correct corresponding chip signal.

What is the difference between a key fob and a transponder key?

A key fob is primarily a remote control for locking and unlocking car doors, often containing additional buttons for other functions, whereas a transponder key has a chip for starting the engine. Key fobs may also function without physical keys, whereas transponder keys are physical keys with an embedded chip.

What is the difference between a smart key and a transponder key?

A smart key allows for keyless entry and starting of a vehicle through advanced security and communication systems, whereas a transponder key requires insertion into the ignition to start the car. Smart keys generally offer more convenience and additional security features compared to transponder keys.

What is the difference between a transponder key and a chip key?

There is no difference between a transponder key and a chip key; both terms refer to the same type of car key that uses an embedded electronic chip to communicate with the vehicle’s immobilizer system. The terms are often used interchangeably in automotive contexts.

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