Last year, we were heading out on vacation and realized we forgot to lock the deadbolt. So, my wife threw the car keys my way… and I missed. They crashed onto the pavement and the key fob broke into three pieces. Oops. So, I was quickly forced to find out how much a replacement costs.
Key fobs cost between $100 and $1000. The price covers the cost of the hardware and programming. Car owners can save money by working with local locksmiths to get a replacement as dealerships tend to charge a premium. Some online retailers also sell cheaper aftermarket key fobs.
In this article, I’ll let you know all you need to know about key fobs, what they cost, and your options when you need to replace one.
Factors That Affect Key Fob Cost
The cost of a key fob will vary between $100 and $1000. Factors that can affect the final cost include:
- The make and model of the car
- Programming labor
- Cost of the key fob hardware
Some dealerships may also have special fees for replacing key fobs, especially if you’re not an existing customer.
Most reputable dealers will ask for proof of ownership and registration. Others may require that you tow the car down to them or make a security deposit. All of these factors can significantly increase the cost of replacing your key fob.
The cheapest key fobs you can find are for older affordable to mid-range vehicles. So, the key fob for a 2015 Camry might cost around $100, while a Land Cruiser or Avalon of the same year might cost triple that amount or more.
The key fobs for luxury vehicles like higher-end BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars can cost up to $1000. It’s especially true for key fobs featuring built-in displays. These types of key fobs do more than just opening car doors and turning on the ignition. They put information like fuel levels, engine health, and more in your palms.
How to Save Money Replacing a Key Fob
Here are 6 ways you can save money when you need to replace a key fob:
1. Get in Touch With Your Car Dealership
They may offer you a new key fob at a discounted price, depending on their policies. Call them up on the phone to get a quote and decide if it’s worth the stress of going down to meet them. In some cases, you may not have a choice as some car models require that you get your fob reprogrammed by an authorized dealer.
2. Buy Aftermarket Fobs
They are a cheap alternative to go with—if you can find a design for your car make and model. Online stores are your best bet here as you’ll find a larger selection of fobs to choose from. Before you begin your search, make sure you have your car’s make, model, brand, and VIN available to make sure you get the right fob for your car.
3. Talk to Your Local Auto Locksmiths
Most qualified auto-locksmiths can help you replace your key fob for a fraction of the cost charged by the average dealership (where you have no existing relationship). Some locksmiths can drive down to your location, saving you transportation or towing costs.
Locksmiths will always be cheaper than dealerships overall—especially for people with cars more than five years old. Call them first to discuss your problem before heading out to a dealership. You can save money and support a local small business too!
4. Always Keep a Second Fob Handy
When I bought my Corolla way back in the day, it came with two fobs. The likelihood of breaking two during the life of a vehicle is remote.
If you always wait until your key fob is broken to program a new one, you’ll always spend more money on the process overall. Get a second key fob as soon as you’re down to the last one to always give yourself an option. Remember, it’s easier and cheaper to program key fobs on your own if you have one that still works.
When you’re at a dealership or a locksmith, check if they offer discounts for programming multiple fobs. If they do, consider programming multiple key fobs. From having another key fob ready for your new teenage driver or replacing a broken piece, it can save you money in the future.
5. Check Your Warranty or Insurance
Your car’s insurance or warranty policy may offer cover for key fob replacement. Checking the fine print can save you a few hundreds of dollars—especially if you have the so-called bumper-to-bumper warranty on a new car. Where the cover doesn’t completely cover the cost of replacement, you may get partial reimbursement.
6. Avoid Spending Money on Aftermarket Fobs if Unsure of the Fit
As we’ve seen above, you can program aftermarket fobs. However, you need to make sure your car model supports this to avoid causing damage to its computer system. Similarly, only use aftermarket fobs you can vouch for to ensure the internal components aren’t a fire hazard and will last long.
Do Aftermarket Key Fobs Work?
Aftermarket key fobs work for older cars aged ten years or older. The fobs on these older vehicles are easier to replicate because they don’t have some advanced technologies on modern fobs. However, you need to verify the aftermarket fob meets your vehicle manufacturer’s internal quality standards.
Once you’ve secured the right key fob for your vehicle, you can either program them yourself or talk to a locksmith to help. You may also consider going to dealers, but some will only program key fobs purchased from their shop.
How Much Does Car Key Fob Programming Cost?
Car key fob programming costs around $50-100. The exact cost will come down to variables like the vehicle model, the complexity of the key fob design, and your choice of programmer.
If you go back to your dealership to program the key fob, you may get the programming done for free or at a highly reduced cost. On the other hand, programming at a new dealership can attract a labor charge of up to an hour.
If you’d like to save money on programming the key fob, you should explore the option of reprogramming the keys on your own. The programming typically involves a few button presses on the remote accompanied by a specific number of key turns in the ignition at different stages of the process. You can find the required information in your owner’s manual or online communities.
Can I Buy a Key Fob and Program It Myself?
You can buy a key fob and program it yourself, but you may still need a working fob to program a new one. Unfortunately, programming a new key fob is then impractical if yours is broken or missing. In this case, you’ll need to explore other ways to get a key fob.
It’s why most dealers advise getting two key fobs for your vehicle. Apart from coming in handy when you lose or break one fob, having an extra set of fobs can help you get a bit more money for your car. Even when you have no plans of selling your car, having an extra set can save you money over time.
Can a Locksmith Program a Key Fob?
An experienced and qualified auto locksmith can program a key fob. They can handle any aspect of the key fob replacement problem, starting from sourcing new hardware and programming it to control your car.
You can save some money by calling in a qualified locksmith to help when you want to program or replace your key fob. The best ones have all the knowledge you’d be paying for at a dealership and the know-how to make sure your car is as secure as possible.
A professional auto locksmith can program or reprogram fobs, delete lost key fobs from your car’s computer, etc. Remember, many of them will drive down to your location. It’s an important element of customer service that sets them apart from your other options.
Call the locksmith first and discuss your car model to confirm they can handle the job. Different locksmiths have different key fob programming capabilities. Some of them can program almost any kind of key, but others can’t program key fobs for cars with keyless entry or push-button start.
Can You Program a Key Fob Without the Original?
You can program a key fob without the original if you have the right equipment. Most dealerships and professional locksmiths have equipment that can detect a key’s design and replicate it. After programming a new key fob, they disable the old one(s).
Some dealerships can complete the programming by just looking at your car’s make and model. If you don’t have the right gear, you’ll need either the original key fob or a working key already programmed to your car.
Remember, most dealerships or locksmiths will require sufficient evidence that you own the car before programming a fob without the original. Be ready to go through checks and provide the evidence you’re asked for.
Does AAA Program Key Fobs?
AAA does program key fobs for its members, but it may not be the best priced solution. First confirm your membership tier and the benefits you’re allowed. Some membership holders only get a $50 in-car lockout allowance, while others have a $150 lockout limit.
If programming costs more than $50-$150, you’ll have to explore other options outside the AAA.
It’s best to get estimates before you choose to go with AAA for programming. The potential $50-100 saved can come in handy in other situations where the AAA is your best bet.
How Long Does It Take To Program Key Fob?
Programming a key fob will take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. The specific programming method required determines the length of time key fob programmers will spend on the task—and ultimately influences how much money you have to pay.
If technicians have to access onboard diagnostics ports to program a key, the process will take longer overall. However, you can expect the actual programming process to take less than 20 minutes regardless of the process.
A few factors can increase the overall wait time. For example, deprogramming old key fobs or cutting new manual keys will add almost half an hour to the process.
Similarly, you need to account for paperwork confirmation and the time you’ll spend in a queue waiting for a technician in busy locksmith shops or dealerships.
Generally, most professional dealerships and locksmiths will work as fast as possible and notify you if any complications will lead to a delay.
How To Keep Your Key Fob Battery From Draining Quickly
In many cases where a key fob just stops working, the key fob battery is the usual culprit. Once your key fob stops working, you should replace the battery first and try it again before rushing off to buy a new one.
Most key fobs are designed to last 1-3 years, but usage behavior can make them run out a lot quicker. To help keep your key fob battery from draining quickly, follow these tips:
- Don’t use the fob when you’re more than ten feet (3.04 m) away from your car. The ideal range for most key fobs to communicate with a car’s computer is 6-10 feet (1.82-3.04 m). Any further distance, and you’ll strain the battery unnecessarily.
- Avoid storing your key fob near your car overnight. You need to ensure a distance of more than 10 feet (3.04 m) from your car. Otherwise, the fob will stay in communication with your car all night. If you do this frequently, the battery will likely die long before the advertised lifespan.
Key Fob FAQs
What Is a Key Fob?
A key fob is a wireless remote designed to interact with matching electronics in a car. Key fobs typically have multiple functions. They can lock and unlock doors, start the ignition, and more.
Some key fobs are attached to a standard key, while others are a completely digital standalone device. These devices are made of plastic and feature buttons. The design approach means they are not completely protected from damage.
While most key fobs can withstand the impact of falls, there’s always the possibility of the fob cracking open or buttons falling off and rendering it unusable.
Can Key Fobs Be Tracked?
Key fobs that feature wireless entry or start can be tracked and hijacked if the purpose is to break into the car and control it. However, it’s hard to track a key fob if the intent is to track it and see where it is at any point in time.
Manufacturers now fit many sensors into key fobs to glean more information overall. However, there aren’t any common examples of key fobs with sensors that allow you to track and find yours when it goes missing. If you want to track your key fobs in this situation, you have to rely on various third-party options.
Key finders are a popular solution. These are tiny devices you can affix to your key fob (or anything else you want to track). The range typically extends to dozens of meters, allowing you to always see the key fob’s location in real-time.
The best key finders are equipped to emit a sound to draw your attention to a position. You can find a GPS location on the accompanying app and configure the finder to send an alert once you’re a certain distance away from your key fob.
Some examples of key finders you can buy today include the following (all from Amazon.com):
- Tile Pro High-Performance Bluetooth Tracker: If you’re looking for a key finder with the highest range, this option should be high on your list. It offers 400 ft (121.92 m). of tracking range and comes with a replaceable battery that can last more than one year.
- DinoFire Key Finder: The finder comes with the anti-loss feature and allows integration with Siri and other voice assistants.
- Cube Key Finder Smart Tracker: Cube has all the features you’d expect from finders, but it goes one better by allowing you to program the button on the tracker and use it as a remote, camera shutter, etc.
So, key finders help you track your key fob and always keep it in range.
How can you deal with the problem of someone potentially tracking and hijacking your key fob? Get a portable Faraday cage.
The Faraday cage will keep in the radio transmissions from your key fob, making tracking impossible.
Most key fobs are designed to be durable, but the amount of handling they are exposed to daily increases the possibility of damage. They also go missing once in a while—sometimes indefinitely.
Key fobs can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 depending on your car’s age, make, and model. When replacing one, you can save the most money by buying a matching aftermarket product and taking it to a locksmith to program. However, this option is only available to you if you have a car that’s at least five years old.
If you have a newer car, you can save money by checking your warranties and insurance to see if your plan covers your key fob replacement. Where the plan doesn’t cover the replacement, you may get partial reimbursement.
Thanks for reading!
For more, check out How to Install a Power Outlet in Your Car (2 Ways to Do It).
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